Vincent’s story: How my ‘heart warrior’ son beat the odds after life-saving surgeries
For 6-month-old Vincent Prince, his vibrant smile says it all. He is a happy baby boy who loves to talk and is extremely close to his twin sister, Isabella. While the two are inseparable, they have different personalities. Isabella is energetic but relaxed, and Vincent is more cautious and guarded. After undergoing a procedure to fix two heart issues at 2 months old and spending the first half of his life in the hospital, Idalia and Alfred Prince say their son is a courageous heart warrior.
“We consider our babies double miracles,” said Idalia. “While going through fertility treatments, it took us a while to conceive, but when it happened, my husband and I were excited. Our dream of becoming parents – to not one, but two babies – finally was coming true. When I was pregnant, I was extra careful with everything and went to my regular appointments. I saw my fertility doctor the first two months of my pregnancy before I transferred to my OB-GYN in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). Then, when I was around five months pregnant, my OB-GYN noticed one of the twins was smaller. Up until that time, the ultrasounds were normal for both babies. My OB-GYN referred me to a maternal fetal medicine (MFM) physician in Edinburg, Texas, who I began seeing towards the end of 2021. He found out about Vincent’s heart issues and referred me to a pediatric cardiologist to monitor Vincent’s heart while he was in my belly.”
Vincent was diagnosed with two heart conditions. He had coarctation of the aorta, a birth defect in which a part of the aorta – the large blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood to the body – is narrower than usual. This narrowing can block normal blood flow to the body. If left untreated, the heart defect can back up blood flow into the left ventricle, making the muscles in the left ventricle work harder. Coarctation of the aorta often occurs with other congenital heart defects. Vincent also had a vascular ring which occurs when the aorta forms a ring around the trachea and esophagus.
“My doctors couldn’t do anything until after Vincent was born,” said Idalia. “During my pregnancy, the doctors and nurses were monitoring me and my twins’ hearts. I had regular appointments with my OB-GYN, MFM physician and the pediatric cardiologist which mainly included ultrasounds. The last few weeks of my pregnancy, I had two to three appointments per week. I was anxious going to my appointments because I did not know what the doctors were going to tell me. To help us cope with our situation, my husband and I just took it one week at a time. When I had my last ultrasound, my MFM physician noticed speckles floating in Vincent’s amniotic sac. It looked like what you’d see in a snow globe. Those tiny speckles indicated stool in my womb. My doctor told me it was best to deliver the twins early because if the stool entered their lungs it could lead to a dangerous lung infection. I wanted to do what was best for my babies. I was close to 34 weeks when the twins were born.”
On February 18, 2022, the Prince family welcomed their twins, Vincent and Isabella, at Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen. Vincent was born first and then Isabella came a few seconds later. Vincent was the tiniest of the two which was to be expected. He weighed 3 pounds, 6 ounces and his sister weighed 4 pounds, 7 ounces.
“I was happy when I heard them cry, but I was also worried about our babies since they were born prematurely,” said Idalia. “After my C-section, Vincent and Isabella were sent to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Isabella had a slight heart murmur, but the main concern was Vincent. As soon as he was born, they checked his heart and did the EKGs and echocardiograms. I was trying to take everything in and make sense of the situation. I didn’t meet my babies until the day after their births which was my birthday. They were hooked to oxygen and were on separate sides of the room. Isabella was in the warmer and Vincent was in an isolette. Vincent’s little body had more surprises for us. The breast milk placed in his stomach was not advancing. Initially the doctors thought he had an obstruction due to his heart conditions. He was later found to have an obstruction in his small intestines. Because there were no pediatric heart surgeons in the Valley to treat our son’s heart condition, the doctors at the McAllen NICU referred us to CHRISTUS Children’s where Vincent could receive surgical care for his intestinal and heart issues.”
When Vincent was 6 days old, he was transported by plane to CHRISTUS Children's. While Idalia stayed with Isabella at the hospital in McAllen, Alfred accompanied Vincent to San Antonio. Once Vincent arrived at CHRISTUS Children's, he was admitted to the NICU. He was given medication to keep his patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) open. A PDA is an opening between the aorta and pulmonary artery that normally closes several days after a baby is born. Vincent’s PDA had to stay open to provide more blood flow to the lower part of his body past the area of coarctation. When a coarctation occurs in the aorta, the narrowing worsens when the PDA closes.
On March 2, 2022, a gastrointestinal surgeon at CHRISTUS Children's performed an ileostomy on Vincent when he was almost 2 weeks old, this operation relieved the obstruction in his small intestine. The procedure bypasses the intestinal blockage and allows bodily waste to temporarily pass through a surgically created opening (stoma) on the abdomen and into an external pouch.
“It was difficult when the surgeon told me that Vincent would need intestinal surgery especially hearing about this over the phone. I wanted to be there so badly, but I couldn’t because I was with my other baby several hours away waiting for her to get better and to be discharged from the NICU in McAllen. I was still healing from my C-section so my mother-in-law and mom would take turns driving me to visit Isabella. Thankfully, my husband was with our son for his surgery. Vincent had to wear an ostomy bag for two months while we waited for him to gain more weight. His cardiothoracic surgeon did not want to operate on Vincent yet since he was too fragile, and he needed to gain more weight before he could have another surgery. He was taking heart medication to keep his PDA open.”
A few days after Vincent’s ostomy surgery, Idalia, Isabella, and her mother-in-law made the four-hour drive to San Antonio where the family reunited. As Vincent recovered from his surgery, Idalia and her husband met with Dr. Daniel Nento, their son’s pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon. As he discussed Vincent’s upcoming surgery, the Prince family had to make a critical decision – whether to repair both heart conditions at the same time, which was a larger procedure with higher risks, or fix one problem and monitor the other issue.
“We had to fix the coarctation of the aorta; it was life threatening,” said Idalia. “We were not sure if we wanted to correct the vascular ring as well, but at the same time, we didn’t want our son to undergo more surgeries or choke in his sleep because the aorta was wrapped around his trachea and esophagus. We ended up deciding for Dr. Nento to repair both heart issues at the same time. Dr. Nento was very thorough with explaining everything to us. He gave us the attention and care our baby needed and answered all of our questions and concerns. He never felt rushed. He and the cardiology team took their time explaining things to us. They wanted to make sure we were comfortable with everything and were always available.”
On April 26, 2022, Dr. Nento and Dr. Victor Bautista performed open chest surgery on Vincent to treat his coarctation of the aorta and to alleviate compression from the vascular ring. Vincent had a very complex and unusual type of vascular ring where the aorta branched off to the right rather than the left of the trachea. To treat this, Drs. Nento and Bautista divided the vascular ring to release the vessels pressing against the trachea and esophagus. To fix the narrowing of the aorta, they enlarged the area of the aortic obstruction with a bovine pericardial patch. After his surgery, Vincent spent six days in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) before returning to the NICU. A week and a half after his heart surgery, the gastrointestinal surgeon reconnected Vincent’s intestines, removed the ostomy bag, and placed a G-tube in Vincent’s stomach. Vincent spent four months in the NICU before he was discharged on June 21, 2022.
“Our son is alive today because of the wonderful care that he received at The Children’s Hospital,” said Idalia. “We are grateful to Dr. Nento, Dr. Bautista, and the NICU and PICU doctors and nurses who took excellent care of Vincent during this critical time, and the staff at the Ronald McDonald House of San Antonio who gave us a home away from home while Vincent was in the hospital. Today, our 6-month-old son is doing well. I am thankful that both our twins are alive, and they are getting the care they need. It was so nice to see Vincent and Isabella together again. They were separated for a long time while Vincent was recovering in the hospital. Besides our faith and the support from our family and care team, talking to other families at the Ronald McDonald House where we stayed gave us strength and hope during this difficult journey. Vincent has come a long way and we are blessed to finally be home with our babies.”
For more information about the Heart Center at CHRISTUS Children's, please visit: Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery | CHRISTUS Health. To learn more about Pediatric Services, please visit: Pediatric General Surgery | CHRISTUS Health; and to learn more about the NICU, please visit: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit | CHRISTUS Health.