Heart Failure Threatens to End Baby’s Life Before He’s Born


Mom-to-be Sara Roberts received some alarming news roughly 20 weeks into her pregnancy. Florida residents, she and her husband Dillon were at a routine ultrasound appointment when the doctor pointed out an abnormality.

At a follow-up appointment with her specialist,  they learned their unborn baby, Ellis, had a broncho-pulmonary sequestration (BPS) which was causing his heart to work too hard.

The sequestration eventually caused Ellis’ internal organs to shift to one side of his body, increasing   a dangerous build-up of fluid in his scalp and intestines. If left untreated, Baby Ellis could suffer heart failure and die.

Their OB/GYN recommended Sara and baby Ellis travel to Houston to meet with internationally renowned high risk pregnancy specialist Anthony Johnson, D.O., Co-director of The Fetal Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital that is affiliated with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

“When I asked what my doctor would do if it was his baby, he said he would definitely head to Dr. Johnson and The Fetal Center,” says Sara.

The Fetal Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital located in the Texas Medical Center is a leader in providing diagnosis, treatment and complete care for mothers with high-risk pregnancies and babies with congenital anomalies or genetic conditions. Experts at the Center develop a tailored, comprehensive plan of care for both mom and her baby for before, during and after birth.

When the Roberts arrived in Houston and met with Dr. Johnson, they  learned that if their baby’s condition was left untreated, it would most likely result in a fatal outcome; surgery was urgently needed. The procedure, known as the BPS Laser Ablation surgery, had only been done 26 times before in the world, but had a 95 percent success rate.

During this minimally invasive fetal intervention, a small needle is inserted into the Bronchopulmonary Sequestration (BPS), a laser fiber was inserted through the needle and laser energy was targeted at the abnormal blood vessel going to the BPS. The laser blocks the blood flow, causing it to stop growing. The goal of the operation is to reverse the process by which the BPS is causing heart failure in the fetus. After the surgery, the BPS takes less blood flow from the fetus, and the heart and lungs start growing more normally as the BPS shrinks in size.


The surgery was a success and Dr. Johnson confirmed there was no blood flow to the sequestration. Sara herself could even feel a difference.

“Our team at The Fetal Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital is proud to be the first team in the state of Texas to perform this procedure,” said Dr. Johnson. “This innovative technique will allow Ellis to grow and live a very normal life.”

“The nurses and staff who cared for me at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital were absolutely wonderful,” says Sara. “You could tell they were used to helping people during their worst moments. They truly made this terrifying ordeal bearable.” After the surgery, the Roberts returned home to Florida, where Sara carried baby Ellis to 41 weeks.


Ellis, now five months old, is thriving. His parents report he is ahead of all of his milestones and a very happy baby. They are grateful for a healthy son who was given a chance, even before he was born, thanks to a groundbreaking procedure only available at select fetal centers across North America, like the one right here in Houston.

Learn more about life-saving procedures performed at The Fetal Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.


Tashika Varma