Ashlyn’s Story: A Mother’s Instinct Leads to Lifesaving Care at CHRISTUS Children’s for an Undiagnosed Congenital Heart Condition
When Analicia and Tyler England of Del Rio, Texas, learned they were expecting a child in the spring 2022, the couple was beyond excited. They already had a little girl who was just over a year old, and they couldn’t wait to tell her she would soon become a big sister.
But just before Easter weekend, Analicia began bleeding and feared the worst.
“I thought for sure I was miscarrying, so I put myself on bedrest and called my doctor first thing Monday morning,” Analicia said.
Thankfully, an ultrasound confirmed a heartbeat, and the rest of Analicia’s pregnancy was fairly uneventful.
“That was the first hint,” Analicia said. “The anatomy scan came back normal, which was reassuring, but for the rest of my pregnancy, I still felt like something was wrong.”
Analicia tried to push down those fears, however, and on October 27, 2022, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Ashlyn.
“We were beyond happy, but shortly after her birth, Ashlyn started having problems,” Analicia said. “She had a hard time feeding and then she started having choking episodes.”
A Mother’s Concerns
At the hospital in Del Rio, the nurses and doctors had to suction her stomach after one particularly troubling episode.
“We were told she had a lot of mucus, but that was about it,” Analicia said. “We were then discharged home and told to follow up with our pediatrician.”
At home, Ashlyn didn’t act like her sister had acted as a baby – something that continued to concern Analicia.
“She never cried at all and was tired all the time,” Analicia recalled. “Even though she was a newborn, her sleep seemed excessive.”
At her pediatrician appointment, Analicia expressed her concerns.
“I kept trying to tell myself that maybe it was just her personality, but my instinct was telling me it was something else. It was just scary,” Analicia said.
Her pediatrician then examined the baby and told Analicia that she thought she heard a heart murmur, and that she recommended an X-ray to see if it could shed some light on any potential problems. When the X-ray came back, it showed fluid in Ashlyn’s lungs – something that concerned her enough to send Ashlyn to San Antonio – two and a half hours east to be exact – to CHRISTUS Children’s for specialized testing and further evaluation.
Care at CHRISTUS Children’s“She sent the referral on a Tuesday, then on Wednesday we got the phone call from San Antonio to come in that Friday,” Analicia said. “So, we packed our bags and went. We had no idea what was in store for us.”
On Friday, November 11, Ashlyn was scheduled for an echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound technology to give specialists a detailed view of the heart and its structure.
“The gentleman who was doing the echocardiogram did a really good job,” Analicia said. “He was able to keep her at ease and he took his time doing the exam. But then we started to realize that it was taking longer than we originally thought, and he kept focusing on one area. We were in that room for over an hour.”
A Diagnosis Confirms Analicia’s Instict
When the test was complete, the Englands finally had a diagnosis: Ashlyn had a severe complex congenital heart disease. She had coarctation of the aorta, a hypoplastic (small) aortic arch and descending thoracic aorta and a large ventricular septal defect, and atrial septal defect.
Coarctation of the aorta is characterized by a narrowing of the aorta, which is the large blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle of the heart to all the organs in the body. For babies with a coarctation, the left ventricle must work extra hard to force the blood through the narrowed vessel. This can lead to not enough oxygenated blood flow to the organs of the body, and in Ashlyn’s case, it was causing diminished blood flow to her stomach and legs as well as a weaker-than-normal pulse.
“We were lucky to admit Ashlyn as soon as we did, because she was already beginning to show signs of early heart failure,” Dr. Pierce said. “We needed to have her monitored closely under expert care until we could perform surgery to address the structure and function of her heart.”
On November 21, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Victor Bautista-Hernandez performed heart surgery on Ashlyn.
“To fix a coarctation, we remove the narrow portion of the aortic arch and reattach the two remaining ends so that blood can flow normally through the aorta,” Dr. Bautista-Hernandez said. “For Ashlyn, we also decided to enlarge her aorta and to close both the ventricular and atrial septal defects to make her heart as strong as possible.”
The surgery was a success, and Ashlyn was able to go home on December 22, just before her first Christmas.
“We were so impressed with everyone and the care she received at Children’s,” Analicia said. “All the doctors and nurses were amazing, even the wound care technician and the CNAs. They were all so wonderful.”
Analicia said that in addition to knowing her baby was in the best hands possible, she was happy with how accessible everyone was – no matter the time of day.
“It was so hard to leave our newborn in the hospital for that long, but they made us feel as comfortable as we could,” Analicia said. “They encouraged us to call whenever we wanted and they were always available to us and always reassured us.”
Today, Ashlyn’s heart is strong and healthy.
“She’s a completely different baby, and she finally found her voice,” Analicia said. “She cries like a normal baby and she’s gaining weight like a champ. She’s the happiest baby and is always smiling, always trying to babble and talk.”
And just as predicted, her 2-year-old big sister adores her.
“We are so lucky to have her and we are forever grateful to the doctors and the team at Children’s for everything they’ve done for her.”
To learn more about CHRISTUS Children’s Heart Center, visit https://www.christushealth.org/locations/childrens-hospital.