In the fall of 2019, Jesse and her husband, Telmo, were expecting their second child. The due date was mid-February, but the baby had other ideas. In the middle of November, at 27 weeks, she gave birth to a son, Telmo, Jr. (aka Junior).
He weighed only two pounds, seven ounces and was so small he could fit in Jesse’s hand. Or he would have, if it had been possible to hold him. But Junior, as Jesse and Telmo call him, had to go straight to a specialized bed. “The first ten days,” Jesse says, “he was in a device where you could only put your hands in through the arm holes. I could only put a finger on him. He was so tiny. And he had the oscillator going, which shakes his whole body. [The oscillator pulses oxygen to the baby.] That was very hard to see. I have a picture of the first time I held him. It’s the most emotional picture I think anybody has ever seen.”
Any baby as small as Junior faces challenges because his organs are not yet fully developed. That’s why he needed the oscillator, to help his still-growing lungs. He also suffered a significant and stubborn brain bleed. But his biggest problem was in his tiny heart.
When a baby is in the womb, there is no air to breathe, and the fetus gets oxygen from the mother’s blood. So the arteries leading from both halves of the heart are connected to pump that oxygen to the body. Once the baby is born, the valve between those arteries closes, so oxygen-depleted blood coming back from the body gets pumped to the lungs to pick up new oxygen and then back to the other half of the heart to be pumped out to the rest of the body. In Junior’s case, that valve did not close when he was born, and blood was going to the wrong places.
It was an emergency situation that required heart repair right away. Fortunately, Connecticut Children’s skilled interventional cardiology team was able to do this repair noninvasively, using a catheter fed through a blood vessel to reach the open valve. Once there, the physician placed a tiny mesh coil—the smallest such device ever implanted in the state at that time—which blocked the passage and allowed blood to flow in the proper channels.
Today, Junior is thriving. He’s walking and talking and hitting all of his developmental goals. “He is 100 percent boy,” Jesse says. “We had a girl first, Alessia, who is five, and she was very sweet, very easy. But this kid, oh, he has a personality. He’s very social, very loving. He loves to give kisses and hugs. He loves talking. He’s very expressive: you always know exactly what he’s feeling by looking at his face.” And if he is swimming or playing with trucks, what he’s feeling is pure joy.