HOUSTON -- When an ultrasound detected a likely fatal congenital heart defect at her 16th week of pregnancy, doctors gave Ashley Cardenas three options.
She could give comfort care to her infant daughter after her birth and watch her pass away quietly, she could opt for risky surgery minutes after the child would be born, or she could terminate the pregnancy since her baby’s condition had just a 10 percent survival rate.
"It was a very emotional day,” Cardenas said of that doctor’s visit at her Midland-Odessa home.
Cardenas chose the risky surgery option and a surgical team was ready five weeks ago when Audrina Cardenas was delivered via C-section with a condition called ectopia cordis, her heart beating outside her chest.
“Yes I did,” said Ashley Cardenas when asked if she’d made the right choice. “As you can tell, that little girl is here and (it was) the best choice ever!"
Only eight per one million babies are born with ectopia cordis. Ninety percent are either stillborn or die within the first three days of life. One-third of Audrina’s heart protruded through her chest and skin. On October 16th, shortly after her delivery, doctors performed six hours of open-heart surgery to reconstruct her chest cavity to make room for the heart and to close the skin over her chest.
“This risky operation on such an uncommon condition required specialists from a variety of care teams, including cardiovascular surgery, plastic surgery, and general pediatric surgery,” said Dr. Charles D. Fraser, surgeon-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital. “Audrina is a true fighter and we are so excited that this was a good outcome.”
"The pregnancy was given to me for a reason,” said Ashley Cardenas. "She's here. She's made it this far. That's my baby I would never give her back. And I would never wish that I made a different decision than I did."
"And now she's doing quite well, doing very well. And we hope to move her out of the ICU soon, said Dr. Larry Hollier the chief of plastic surgery at Texas Children’s Hospital who was also part of the surgical team. "But I think she's going to do great. She'll go home with mom and be a nice normal little baby."
But while the prognosis for Audrina is good, her mom has not yet been able to hold her newest daughter who remains in cardiovascular ICU. Ashley Cardenas is also the mom to 5-year-old twins.
“No I haven't yet been able to hold her. Waiting, waiting patiently, but I'm waiting,” she said.
And doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital say she might not have to wait much longer. If Audrina continues to thrive, she could be going home with her mom and siblings within the next month.
“Our family has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, especially the team at Texas Children’s who saved Audrina’s life,” said Cardenas. “We look forward to the day when Audrina can come home with us and we can be reunited as a family.”