This article was originally featured on the Brigham Bulletin.
When doctors told Jasmine Taylor, 30, five years ago that pregnancy would be a life-threatening condition due to her poor health, including a complex heart defect she’s had since birth, it didn’t come as a surprise to her. It was something Taylor had heard from her care providers since adolescence. Still, as she and her husband, Damon, dreamed of starting a family, that didn’t make the news any less heart-wrenching.
Today, however, her heart overflows with love. Seemingly against all odds—and thanks to the support of Taylor’s passionate and collaborative multidisciplinary care team at the Brigham and Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH)—the Stoughton couple welcomed their son, Jaydan, to the world in July.
“When I heard him cry for the first time in the delivery room, I thought, ‘I want to protect and love him forever,’” Taylor said.
Getting to that point was a long and difficult road, one that Taylor said she doesn’t take for granted. She was born with a severe form of tetralogy of Fallot, a cardiovascular disorder that restricts the passage of blood to the lungs. By the time she was a teenager, Taylor had undergone three open-heart surgeries—the first one performed when she was just 8 months old.
Upon reaching her 20s, her health continued to decline. She became overweight and diabetic and struggled with high cholesterol. On top of that, she wasn’t keeping up with the long list of medications she had been prescribed to treat these issues; at 23, she had a stroke. The frightening event was a wakeup call, Taylor said.
She began taking her medications dutifully. She adopted a healthier diet and intensive exercise regimen, leading her to drop 100 pounds in one year and safely come off most of her medications. Taylor said she did it all with one aspiration in mind: getting healthy enough to become a mother.
“There was a chance—a hope—that I could become a parent, so I was very determined to make it happen,” Taylor said.
‘We’re Going to Do This’
Even with the dramatic improvements to her health, Taylor’s weak heart would make pregnancy challenging. Among the many changes women undergo while pregnant is a significant increase in blood volume—sometimes almost doubling to nourish a fetus—which puts more stress on the heart to pump blood through the body.
“I told Jasmine, ‘It’s going to be hard work,’” recalled obstetrician Katherine Economy, MD, co-director of the Brigham’s Pregnancy and Cardiovascular Disease Program. “She just looked at me and said confidently, ‘None of this is a problem for me. My goal is to have a baby,’ and I said, ‘That is my goal now for you, too. We’re going to do this.’”
Economy is just one member of the large interdisciplinary care team that worked together over the past two years to achieve a safe pregnancy and childbirth for Taylor and baby Jaydan. But just as important as the advanced, comprehensive care they delivered was Taylor’s fierce commitment to staying healthy and starting a family, her providers emphasized.
“It takes more than a village of expert care, compulsiveness, outreach, detail, innovation, coordination and attention to quality outcomes at every step,” said cardiologist Michael Landzberg, MD, senior staff member, founder and immediate-past director of the Boston Adult Congenital Heart and Pulmonary (BACH) Program, a joint effort of the Brigham and BCH that cares for adults born with heart conditions. “That said, without identifying and utilizing her unique strengths, Jasmine could never have accomplished what she has near-miraculously done. She remains a hero to each and every one of us.”
After facing fertility challenges unrelated to her heart condition, Taylor was referred to the Brigham’s Center for Infertility and Reproductive Surgery, where she underwent two rounds of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) at the center’s Weymouth clinic. Even at this stage, her complex health needs influenced how her fertility care was planned, said reproductive endocrinologist Janis Fox, MD.
“There were definitely unique considerations in performing IVF on someone with her history,” Fox said. “I very much wanted to avoid rare but known complications such as ovarian hyperstimulation, and I absolutely wanted to avoid a multiple pregnancy, as we all felt that would be an unnecessary challenge for her heart.”
Throughout her pregnancy, Taylor’s providers were in near-constant communication and, via the Pregnancy and Cardiovascular Disease Program, met monthly to discuss her progress and anticipate possible complications. The team also involves experts from other disciplines—including anesthesiology, cardiac surgery, neonatology and nursing—to ensure they are fully prepared, said cardiologist Anne Marie Valente, MD, co-director of the program.
“We coordinated and developed a written care plan so that at any point, no matter who was on call, each of us would know exactly the potentials and treatment plan,” Valente said.
As a patient, Taylor said her providers’ extraordinary commitment, support and compassion have been remarkable: “These are priceless people in my life. They are like my extended family.”