ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque mom got some startling news about her unborn baby. It sparked a partnership between doctors in Albuquerque and Colorado, working together to save her baby’s life.
“He’s super healthy, super happy, super funny,” said Veronica Petzold, referring to her son, Sawyer.
The two-year-old has a bright future ahead. However, without the help of doctors across the country, that may not have been possible. Petzold went in for her 20-week ultrasound to see how her pregnancy was going and learn what the gender was but left the office with very different news.
“Our sonographer had noted that there was some form of a tumor within the wall of the uterus,” said Dr. Gary Joffe, a physician at Perinatal Associates of New Mexico, which is a referral practice that sees high-risk cases involving moms and their unborn babies.
The sonogram showed a chorioangioma tumor attached to the placenta. It’s a rare, benign tumor that usually happens in around one-percent of pregnancies. However, this one was extra large and extra rare; it was about the size of a baseball.
“To see a tumor like the one we ultimately diagnosed, is on the order of about 1 in 15,000,” said Dr. Joffe.
“It’s rare for them to get to the size that Veronica’s did,” said Dr. Henry Galan, a maternal-fetal medicine physician and fetal surgeon at Colorado Fetal Care Center.
The large tumor was cutting off the blood supply from Petzold to her unborn baby. In addition, it was causing Petzold’s amniotic fluid levels to skyrocket.
“This one was very large and was so vascular that it was taking a lot of the blood flow from my baby,” said Petzold. “It was causing him to become really anemic and it was causing his heart to work extra hard.”
If left untreated, Petzold could go into pre-term labor or Sawyer could go into heart failure. Doctors needed to act fast, but only a few across the country know how to take on a case like this. The team at Perinatal Associates of New Mexico kicked into high-gear.
“When I walked into the room, of course, Veronica was in tears. It was intense, looking at the screen at this tumor that’s bigger than anything we’ve ever seen. For me, the most important thing is that she knew she wasn’t alone. When you get that kind of news, your world just comes crashing down on you,” said Mia Meche, Fetal Care Coordinator at Perinatal Associates of New Mexico, who then started calling to Centers of Excellence around the country, finding who could get Petzold in ASAP. “We got that situated and she was on a plane by the end of the afternoon.”
Within just a couple days of Petzold’s 20-week ultrasound, she was on a flight to the Colorado Fetal Care Center at Children’s Hospital Colorado. The Colorado Fetal Care Center is one of the few fetal surgical centers in the country. They do everything from blood transfusions to spina bifida surgery while the baby is still in utero.
Because of the way the tumor was situated, Dr. Galan couldn’t safely do a laser ablation procedure to cut off the blood flow to the tumor, so he had to try a new procedure only reported a few times in history — injecting ethanol into the tumor.
“Instead, we went with an alternative treatment that’s been reported two or three times in literature, which is alcohol injection of the tumor,” said Dr. Galan. “In this image here, we can see the alcohol being injected into the center of the tumor.”
The ethanol coagulates — or solidifies — the tumor, preventing blood flow in and out of it and lowering its vascularity. Doctors in Colorado were also able to provide a blood transfusion to Sawyer via the umbilical cord, as well as remove more than a liter of amniotic fluid from Petzold.
After a few weeks, she returned to Albuquerque where PANM doctors closely monitored her, doing ultrasounds a few times a week. At 37 weeks, they made the decision to induce Sawyer, preventing any further stress on his heart while in utero.
These kinds of cases don’t always have happy outcomes. The doctors who cared for Petzold and Sawyer say it’s rewarding to see them happy and healthy.
“For us, it brings us incredible joy to see the little children running around,” said Dr. Galan.
“We are blessed to be in a position to help mom and babies who are in dire situations,” said Dr. Joffe.
Petzold says because of the hard work in New Mexico and Colorado, her two-year-old is on the fast track to his bright future. She also encourages other expecting mothers to be their own advocates and not be afraid to get a second opinion if they think something may be wrong.
“Everything, despite the numerous complications, turned out absolutely amazing. Sawyer is beautiful, healthy, happy two-year-old,” said Petzold. “Try to be an advocate for yourself or find someone who can get you that you need.”