SACRAMENTO, Calif. — During a routine ultrasound checkup, and at just 29 weeks pregnant with their son, Khae Saertern Angeles and her husband Bobby Angeles found out there was a problem.

“They told us he had fluids in his lungs, they call it hydrops. They rushed us to the hospital,” recalled Khae.

Hydrops leads to fetal heart failure. According to Dr. Shinjiro Hirose, director of the UC Davis Fetal Care and Treatment Center, most babies pass away before they are born if the condition is left untreated.

“In this case, the problem with the heart was that his chest was full of fluids, and that fluid was pressing on the heart and the blood vessels that feed the heart. It made it to where he couldn’t get enough blood back into the heart to help it pump,” explained Hirose.

Shortly after the diagnosis, Khae and Bobby were looking at an option which included “breaching” or pulling out the fetus, but the risk was too high, so they opted to wait in the hope that doctors at UC Davis Medical Center could come up with a different solution, and they did.


A fetal thoracic amniotic shunt became the best option. It was also the first time doctors at UC Davis Medical Center would perform this type of operation. The goal was to drain the fetus’ chest while still in the womb.

“The first thing we do is, using ultrasound guidance, we gave the fetus some medicine to reduce pain and to reduce movement. Then we used a needle and placed that through the mother’s skin, then in through the uterus into the amniotic cavity, and using ultrasound we find the right spot on the baby's chest to enter. And then we place that large-bore needle into the baby’s chest and drain the fluid out, and deploy the small tube through that needle,” Hirose said.

The operation was a success, but the danger wasn’t over. Shortly after, Khae went into labor at just 32 weeks.

“Even after that fluids kept building up in him, so he still had to have the shunt in him and constantly draining,” said Khae.

After a few months in the hospital, baby Matthew, as he was named, was finally able to go home.

“The first year was scary because we had to keep him in a bubble. We couldn’t allow anybody to come over. We used to have hand sanitizers all over the house. We also put an air purifier in the house. If you came over you couldn’t have been sick in two weeks. There was a lot of stuff the doctors didn’t want us having him around. The first year was scary because, if he got sick, he would be right back in the NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit). But after the first year, it has been nothing but fun," said Bobby.

Matthew is now 2-years-old and has had very few complications from his prematurity. Doctors expect him to have a normal life.

“Medicine today, doctors today are amazing. I knew he would be okay especially when people would say 'that’s a hydrops baby?' I knew, okay my son is going to make it. He’s a fighter,” said Bobby.

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