After an uncomplicated pregnancy, Angie Purves happily welcomed her fifth son, Dean, into the world at Sutter Davis Hospital on Feb. 28, 2016. When Dean's pediatrician, Kristin Friend, M.D., visited him for a routine, newborn checkup the following morning, however, she delivered devastating news to Angie and her husband Chris.
Dr. Friend observed that Dean's skin coloring was off, so she did some tests to measure his oxygen levels. She also ordered an electrocardiogram to check for problems with his heart's electrical activity.
When the test results came back, Dr. Friend broke the news to Dean's parents that their son had a very rare and serious heart defect in which the two main arteries leaving the heart were reversed, or transposed. Called transposition of the great arteries, the defect changes the way blood circulates through the body, leaving a shortage of oxygen in blood flowing from the heart to the rest of the body. Without an adequate supply of oxygen-rich blood, Dean's body wouldn't be able to function properly. He needed treatment to avoid life-threatening complications.
"Our pediatrician told us Dean would need open-heart surgery right away," Angie says. "We were overwhelmed. It was hard to grasp the news."
Dean was transported from Sutter Davis Hospital to Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento's Anderson Luchetti Women's and Children's Hospital, where a care team was quickly assembled. That afternoon, Dean's parents met with pediatric cardiovascular surgeon Teimour Nasirov, M.D., as well as pediatric cardiologist Stan Wright, M.D., who would see Dean for regular follow-up appointments after surgery to monitor his progress.
"Dr. Nasirov was incredibly confident that Dean would be fine," Chris says. "It was very reassuring for us to hear that from him."
The next morning Chris and Angie met the lead surgeon, Naruhito Watanabe, M.D., who would perform Dean's open-heart surgery later that week. He and his physician assistant explained the surgery, called an arterial switch, to Chris and Angie. The pair also went over the risks, outcomes and anticipated recovery time from the surgery.
Chris immediately felt at ease when talking with Dr. Watanabe. "The first thing I noticed about him was his hands," he says. "They looked like precision instruments. We also immediately appreciated his caring demeanor."
When Dean was just four days old, he went into the operating room for the heart surgery that would save his life. During the surgery, Dr. Watanabe moved the transposed pulmonary artery and aorta to their normal positions. The pulmonary artery was connected to the right ventricle and the aorta was connected to the left ventricle. He also reattached the coronary arteries to the aorta.
Doctors prepared Chris and Angie for a variety of post-operative scenarios, including the possibility that Dean's chest would remain open for a period of time during recovery because of swelling. The also said he might require a very high level of intensive care and a month-long hospital stay.
When Dean came out of surgery, his doctors had good news: The surgery had gone extremely well. "Dr. Nasirov was very complimentary of Dr. Watanabe. He said the surgery was beautifully done," Chris says. Dr. Watanabe was able to close Dean's chest up right away and after just 10 days recovering in Sutter's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, he was able to go home.
Though Chris and Angie said it was extremely difficult caring for a newborn with a congenital heart condition, while also juggling the needs of their four older sons, they were impressed with the overall experience and the excellent care Dean received.
"The nurses were so caring and reassured us constantly," says Angie. "They let us know we could call them anytime day or night to check on Dean. They really made the experience so much easier to handle."
Dr. Watanabe's skill as a surgeon, as well as his caring and responsiveness, also impressed Chris and Angie. When they had a concern one evening about the appearance of Dean's incision, they contacted Dr. Watanabe for advice. "Dr. Watanabe called us back within a half hour and asked us to text him pictures of the incision. He got us in the next morning to prescribe antibiotics for a minor infection," said Chris.
Since coming home from the hospital, Dean has thrived. He is gaining weight and sees Dr. Wright, his pediatric cardiologist, regularly to monitor his progress and recovery.
The Purves were so grateful to Dr. Watanabe for the life-saving surgery he performed, they changed Dean's middle name from "Robert" to "Naruhito", Dr. Watanabe's first name. "Dr. Watanabe was an important part of our lives," said Chris. "He worked a miracle for our family and we wanted to honor that."