Normally we think of watching TV as a guilty pleasure, but this story might change some minds!
Dr. Doaa Saleh is a “Grey’s Anatomy” superfan, but she never thought her favorite show would wind up leaving an indelible mark on her family’s life. Yet, when Doaa was 20 weeks pregnant with her second daughter, an ultrasound showed that the infant had a rare, life-threatening heart defect.
Doaa and her husband Ali were devastated to learn that their baby, Nadine, might not survive pregnancy. Worse yet: Doctors in Dubai, where they lived at the time, said there was nothing they could do to help. Even if Nadine survived birth, doctors said she’d need three heart surgeries and would live with “half a heart.” They predicted she’d be behind developmentally and might not live past age 30.
“I don’t remember crying like this in my life and I had lived through wars,” Doaa wrote on Instagram. “I needed to catch my breath, my eyes closed, everything is black. Out of nowhere this scene jumped in my mind, the vision of pink lights in the womb, the music of the scene. If you watched it before, you will remember how special it was. Why did I even recall it at the moment…I still have no idea!”
Doaa immediately started researching surgeries for infants still in the womb. Sure enough, the “Grey’s” episode was right — there are surgeons who can correct heart defects like Nadine’s after all!
Doaa and Ali immediately started researching doctors who could help Nadine. Doaa says they didn’t sleep for the next 48 hours as they contacted hospitals around the world. Eventually, a research paper led them to Dr. James Strainic, who works as a pediatric cardiologist and surgeon at the Congenital Heart Collaborative at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. When he said he could help Nadine, Dr. Strainic became their “real-life McDreamy!”
“That moment changed everything!” Doaa recalled. “7000 miles away, this amazing human knew how critical this time was to save my baby and how scared I was.”
The Saleh family packed up their older daughter and flew 22 hours from Dubai to Cleveland, placing all of their hope in a man they’d never met, in a city they’d never heard of, on the other side of the world.
“The fact that they put that much trust in us, is humbling,” said Dr. Strainic.
In Cleveland, Dr. Strainic was able to successfully perform the fetal pulmonary valvuloplasty surgery on Nadine in utero. In this rare procedure, doctors use ultrasound to guide a tiny needle through the mother’s abdomen and into the fetus’s heart to open a stuck valve.
“And the way we do that is with a really small balloon,” Dr. Strainic explained. “It’s only about 3-4 mm in size. We blow up the balloon and it kind of rips open the door and we prevent something called hypoplastic right ventricle, or half-of-a-heart syndrome.”
The procedure took just 20 minutes, and it changed their lives forever! While about 10% of babies die in the uterus even after the surgery, Nadine pulled through. She was born healthy, and now she’s a robust 3-year-old who rules the roost!
Nadine finally got to meet Dr. Stainic a few months after she was born. Both the doctor and Doaa are sharing Nadine’s story to spread awareness for this rare procedure. She wants to prevent any mother from ever hearing “we have no options” for half heart disorder again.
Doaa is also incredibly grateful that “Grey’s Anatomy” featured this surgery.
“We couldn’t imagine after the first diagnosis that we would reach this point now,” she said. “It is beyond amazing.”
While appearing on “Good Morning America” Ali and Doaa were surprised with a video meet-and-greet with one of the actors in that pivotal scene. Giacomo Gianniotti, who plays Dr. Andrew DeLuca on “Grey’s Anatomy,” says he knew the story was special when they made it, but he had no idea how life-changing it would be for this family!
“I remember shooting that scene and just thinking, ‘Wow, this is really remarkable that we are able to do this.'” said the actor. “It just is a testament to how far ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ reaches.”
The Saleh family now lives in Montreal, Canada, and are still devoted “Grey’s Anatomy” fans who never miss an episode. We can’t blame them a bit. Looking at little Nadine’s face makes us want to binge-watch a few seasons, too!
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