Program delivers for high-risk moms, babies

Darcy Owen of Amarillo received frightening news during a routine pregnancy sonogram a few months ago. The left side of her son's heart was not forming properly, and he would need very specialized care immediately after birth to survive.
The condition, called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, is a rare congenital heart defect. Few doctors - and none in her hometown - have the expertise needed to treat the problem.
"I honestly didn't know how bad the situation was at first," Ms. Owen said. "I had never heard of hypoplastic left heart, but when the specialist explained to me how serious it was, I zoned out and started to cry."
That all changed, however, once she found that physicians at UT Southwestern could help. Thanks to the medical center's new maternal transport service, obtaining access to the specialized care she would need for her newborn son was as easy as a phone call from her physician.
The service, which started in July 2003 and is run by UT Southwestern's maternal-fetal medicine doctors, provides infrastructure and reinforces a network that the medical center's physicians have created through the years to help obstetricians elsewhere ensure that their patients receive the highly specialized care they need. Patients who use the service come from Dallas' suburbs, including Mesquite or Grapevine, or from cities much further away, such as El Paso, Amarillo and Albuquerque, N.M. So far this year more than 35 women have been transported to UT Southwestern for care.
"We take pride in the fact that whatever the complication, we can care for that patient," said Dr. Kevin Magee, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and chief of OB/GYN services at St. Paul University Hospital.
"When you come to UT Southwestern, you don't just get the expertise of a nationally recognized OB/GYN department, you are tapping the resources of the entire medical center," he said. "That is very comforting to expectant mothers as well as physicians in the community."
Physicians can call on the service anytime - day or night. UT Southwestern physicians will review the case with the referring physicians and help them make sure the woman is stable enough to transport. The patients may be sent via ambulance, helicopter or fixed-wing airplane. Once the decision to transport the mother has been made, UT Southwestern physicians begin to coordinate the appropriate experts in preparation of her arrival.
Ms. Owen arrived in Dallas a few days before giving birth. Her labor was induced and a team of specialized medical experts was on hand to take care of both mom and baby. Her son, Cooper Martinez, was taken to Children's Medical Center Dallas shortly after birth so that UT Southwestern's pediatric cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons could begin treating him. Cooper underwent his first heart surgery to repair the defect when he was only 3 days old.
"I just didn't want to take any chances," Ms. Owen said. "I am so glad we came here."
In addition to highly specialized care, the transport service allows mothers and babies to stay together during an emotional time, which is extremely important not only to the family but doctors, too.
"The worst thing you can do is separate a mother and baby after birth," Dr. Magee said. "That's the beauty of UT Southwestern - it's all here on campus."
In cases when the expecting mother is not stable enough to move, a special team from St. Paul's neonatal intensive care unit is dispatched to pick up the baby. The baby is brought back to UT Southwestern for treatment.
Since its inception, the transport service has facilitated treatment for complications ranging from mothers with pregnancies complicated by brain tumors and heart attacks to birth defects requiring fetal therapy and surgery in the newborns.