By Stephanie Stahl


CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) – Two lives were at stake during a heart procedure in South Jersey. The heart team at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center does valve replacement surgeries all the time, but last week the team had a case with all kinds of complications. Their solution had never been done before.

It was a pregnancy that was in jeopardy, and so was the life of 25-year-old Elenilza Souza, who’s from Brazil but lives in N.J. with her husband of six months.

“I started feeling really short,” Souza said.

It was her mitral heart valve failing again, damaged by rheumatic fever as a child.

Arthur Martella is the chief cardiothoracic surgery at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. He thought it was a routine case until they found out Souza was pregnant.

“We don’t plan the baby, a big surprise for us for sure,” Souza said.

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“That changed the dynamic of things but it also meant that we were on a clock,” Martella said. “Then we had to do this is a certain time frame when it was the least risky to the baby.”

Another challenge is that it would be Souza’s second transcatheter valve replacement.

Interventional cardiologist Ibrahim Moussa said this kind of procedure had never been done before on a pregnant woman.

“You can’t let your emotions play a role into your decision making,” Moussa said.

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They mapped out a detailed plan for a big team of Lourdes specialists.

The surgery would take place just as Souza reached her second trimester.

“It was scary,” Souza said. “I was scared for my life and for the baby’s life.”

In surgery, there was yet another complication.

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Doctors couldn’t access the valve going through the groin, so while keeping her heart beating, they went between the ribs.

The valve replacement was a success and the baby did well too. He’s active and normal.

“It’s a really strong baby and I just want the best for him,” Souza said.

The baby is due Oct. 11. Souza will be carefully watched, but doctors say they don’t expect to see any more complications.

Stephanie Stahl