May 16, 2017
Within hours of the birth of Jimmy Kimmel’s son, baby Billy’s skin turned purple due to a blocked pulmonary artery. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 2,500 babies is born with a set of four heart-related defects called tetralogy of Fallot. In most children with the condition, the artery is narrower than normal; in the case of Billy Kimmel, the condition was especially severe.
Thankfully, Billy is home after successful surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. However, it’s worth knowing that his condition could have been diagnosed via ultrasound during pregnancy.
Prenatal diagnosis means surgeons can be prepared to operate post-birth if needed, and parents have time for training and education. When infants are diagnosed with heart defects, doctors use prostaglandin drugs to keep the ductus arteriosus blood vessel open, which normally closes after birth. Keeping it open allows the baby’s blood to remain oxygenated until surgery can be performed.
To diagnose prenatal tetralogy of Fallot, sonographers would check blood flow to the lungs and the body. In fact, the guidelines of several medical societies call for this very check, which can be done when regular 20-week ultrasounds are performed on the pregnant woman.
The CDC lists the four heart defects that make the tetralogy of Fallot:
- Hole in the wall between the two lower heart chambers
- Narrowing of the pulmonary vale and main pulmonary artery
- Aortic valve is enlarged
- Muscular wall of the lower right chamber of the heart is thicker than normal
Tetralogy of Fallot is considered a critical congenital heart defect. Infants with tetralogy of Fallot have a bluish-looking skin color (cyanosis) because their blood isn’t carrying enough oxygen.