Let's pick out a crib, and a mobile, and toys. Let's register and plan a baby shower. Let's buy that cute onesie for our little boy! And that one, too! Let's start thinking of boy names! What will his face look like? Will he look like me or like you? I wonder what his personality will be like. Your baby has two legs and two arms, ten fingers and toes. Look...that's the baby's spine. That's his brain. Do you see his nose? There are his kidneys...good...and his stomach. Here is your baby's heart...Let's just take a second look at that. Hmm, one more look. Everything is okay but I am going to call the doctor in for a quick look. Doctor, is the baby all right? Well, I can't get a good look at his heart. Schedule a fetal echocardiogram just to be on the safe side. I am sure everything will be fine.
Dr. Cardiologist, is our baby okay? Yes, your baby boy looks beautiful, but... he has something called Pulmonary Stenosis, a narrowing of a valve in his heart. I suggest you transfer your care to Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan.
When you hear news like this, your world stops for a few minutes. And then, when you come up for air, all you can do is cry. You can't hold it back. For days, I woke up and went to sleep with tears streaming down my face. I didn't want to buy anything anymore. I didn't want to plan a shower anymore. I didn't want to be excited anymore. I was too frightened for the future of this baby, whom I had already grown to love deeply.
But everything changed when we got to the Center for Prenatal Pediatrics at the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital at NewYork Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia University Medical Center (MSCHONY, NYP-CUMC). The medical attention and support my family and I received at CUMC, from the day of that first appointment through my son's birth and eventual heart surgery, was incredible. Our OB, Dr. Russell Miller, a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist at CUMC, took the time to get to know my husband and me. He always explained the medical updates to us and fielded our questions with patience. Dr. Miller was professional and thorough and yet remained lighthearted; joking with us and reminding us that everything was going to be okay. He listened carefully, and recalled details about us and the pregnancy from one appointment to the next, even when our visits were a month apart. The cardiologists we saw prenatally and after our son’s birth were phenomenal. Drs. Levey, Glickstein, and Lai were attentive and clearly at the top of their field. All three were thorough in explaining the workings of the heart, our son's condition, and how we could expect his condition to develop over time. Dr. Allison Levey, in particular, developed a relationship with us and followed our case throughout the pregnancy and after our son's birth. Her warmth and kindness made us feel important and cared about at the hospital.
Dr. Alejandro Torres is also an expert in his field, but more importantly, he is a hero to us. Using a catheter, he quickly and deftly entered our one-month-old's heart and widened the narrowed valve, allowing the blood to flow more smoothly. As we stepped out of the elevator to check on our son, immediately after the procedure, we found Dr. Torres waiting to tell us in person that the procedure went well. This personal attention, the recognition that having a baby with a medical problem is traumatic and stressful for parents, is what sets NYP-CUMC apart from so many other hospitals. Of course, the outstanding doctors and nurses at CUMC, often the best in their fields, made a big difference, too.
Our experience at Columbia was also shaped by the excellent staff, particularly at the Center for Prenatal Pediatrics (CPP). When I learned of my baby's heart problem, I had to quickly make decisions about whether to undergo amniocentesis and whether or not my health insurance would cover all of the procedures and tests I needed. On our first day at the center, we sat down with Genetic Counselor Ashley Mills, who explained the facts about our baby's condition and about genetic disorders for which we were at risk. On the one hand, Ashley was clinical and gave us the statistics and scientific information we needed; on the other hand, she was warm, empathetic, and encouraging. It was the perfect combination for us, and it enabled us to make decisions we felt great about. The insurance/financial coordinator, Kim Cordero, at the Center served as the liaison between the Center and my insurance company. She even reached out to my primary care physician for referrals. As a full-time attorney, I didn't have time to wait on hold with doctors and the insurance company. Kim saved me a tremendous amount of time and stress by coordinating all of this for me. The support staff at the CPP was extraordinary. By the end of my high-risk pregnancy, I had appointments at the hospital at least once a week. The receptionist, Carolina, knew me by name and was always aware of what appointments I had. She was warm, yet completely professional. The CPP facility itself was a comfortable and welcoming environment.
Ultimately, what defined our great experience at the hospital was our confidence that no matter what test or procedure we were facing, it was being performed by some of the best doctors in the world. At the end of the day, this reassurance is what matters to a patient. The knowledge that we had experts working on our case was the only thing that balanced our worries and the news about our son’s diagnosis. And, today, we have a handsome and healthy baby boy, thanks to them.
Sara Gilbert Nadler-Goldstein has an insider’s view of the medical profession. Not only had she worked for many years as a medical social worker, but she was a seasoned patient, who had three surgeries at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in less than three years. However, news that she needed a fourth operation for a hysterectomy shook her up. “I was a train wreck,” she admitted. Sara was concerned that the complexities of her case would challenge any surgeon, who would need to understand not only her current gynecological issues, but her history of chronic back pain and previous surgeries. Her surgeon would have to avoid disturbing Sara’s implanted Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) that generates electric pulses to alleviate her back pain. Sara was referred to Dr. Jody Blanco, Director of Urogynecology and Assistant Clinical Professor in Columbia University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology for surgery. She found Dr. Jody Blanco, “always very patient and compassionate.” His thorough research and careful coordination with her other CUMC doctors reassured Sara. She speaks appreciatively of his detailed explanations and willingness to answer all her questions. “Dr. Jody Blanco is an excellent communicator, whether speaking to me in his office after an exam or in a discussion over the phone. He took the time to explain everything to me so that I fully understood my condition.” Sara noted that it was Dr. Jody Blanco's concern “for my emotional as well as my physical well being that convinced me I was in good hands,” and won her trust. Dr. Jody Blanco cemented that trust with his daily visits to her hospital room, assuring her that her recovery would go smoothly. Dr. Jody Blanco successfully performed Sara’s hysterectomy without disturbing the SCS device and she recovered without any complications. While his clinical skills helped her to heal physically, Sara believes that it was Dr. Jody Blanco's sense of empathy and concern for her as an individual that promoted her full recovery. Dr. Jody Blanco helped her to understand that her operation did not diminish her in any way; “He never allows me to feel any different as a person or a woman.”