Fetal Balloon Aortic Valvuloplasty for Critical Aortic Stenosis

Fetal Balloon Aortic Valvuloplasty for Critical Aortic Stenosis 1024 575 Abbie Miller
Fetus in utero receiving valvuloplasty

Some heart defects, such as aortic stenosis can be detected on fetal ultrasound. For some fetuses, an intervention can be beneficial before birth. Aimee Armstrong, MD, director of Cardiac Catheterization and Interventional Therapies at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, performs fetal balloon aortic valvuloplasty among other fetal heart catheterization procedures as part of the Congenital Heart Collaborative, a partnership between University Hospital’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s and Nationwide Children’s.

When critical aortic stenosis is present in a second trimester fetus, the left ventricle becomes enlarged and weak. As a result, there is less blood flow through the left side of the heart. This can cause the left ventricle to stop growing, leading to hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). Through fetal treatment of the critical aortic stenosis, doctors hope to prevent the formation of HLHS.

In HLHS, the left side of the heart is underdeveloped. Patients with HLHS have one pumping chamber that must send blood to both the lungs and the body. This causes both short- and long-term problems, including many open-heart surgeries, catheterization procedures, and, eventually, heart transplantation.

Heart with HLHS compared to typically developed heart

The Procedure

First, the mother has an epidural placed. Then, a needle is used to provide pain medicine to the fetus through an injection in the thigh.

Next, a needle is inserted into the mother’s abdomen and uterus, through the fetus’s ribs and into the fetus’s heart.

Heart cross section with balloon catheter

A wire and tiny coronary angioplasty balloon are placed through the needle across the aortic valve. The balloon is then gently inflate to make the opening of the aortic valve bigger. The balloon, wire and needle are then removed.

After the procedure, doctors watch the mother and baby with many fetal ultrasounds an fetal echocardiograms. The goal is for the mother to deliver as close to full term as possible.

Read about a uniquely successful fetal balloon aortic valvuloplasty for critical aortic stenosis case here.


This story appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 print issue. Download the full issue.


Image credits: Mandy Root-Thompson for Nationwide Children’s

About the author

Abbie (Roth) Miller, MWC, is a passionate communicator of science. As the manager, medical and science content, at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, she shares stories about innovative research and discovery with audiences ranging from parents to preeminent researchers and leaders. Before coming to Nationwide Children’s, Abbie used her communication skills to engage audiences with a wide variety of science topics. She is a Medical Writer Certified®, credentialed by the American Medical Writers Association.