The Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) cardiology service is the centre for congenital interventions for Victoria and Tasmania, and as part of this service takes care of women through their pregnancies.
Head of Cardiology at the RMH, Professor Leeanne Grigg has seen many women navigating congenital heart disease throughout their pregnancies, but one patient particularly stands out as unique.
33-year-old Amy Rickarby was born with congenital heart disease. Undertaking her first surgery for the condition when she was only seven days old.
Throughout her lifetime she has undertaken many surgeries to look after her heart.
“Amy suffers from a congenital heart defect, which saw her undertake several surgeries throughout childhood, when she was 21 years old, we needed to repair her leaky valve, but because of the type of repairs, the decision was made to replace the valve instead,” Prof Grigg said.
“If we had repaired the valve, she would have needed surgery every few years to repair the valve, so the decision was made the replace the leaky valves with mechanical ones," Prof Grigg said.
The pressure pregnancy has on the heart meant Amy was told she would be unable to have children, because of the impact being pregnant would have on her on heart.
“When I was 21 there was no other option than to have open heart surgery to replace two of my valves, it was really devastating hearing I wouldn’t be able to fall pregnant because of the pressure it would place on my heart,” Amy said.
When Amy eventually met her now husband Tom they started tentatively discussing whether falling pregnant could be an option for them.
Under the guidance of Prof Grigg and after undertaking several tests on her heart, under the close watch of the RMH cardiology team, Prof Grigg signed off on letting them try for a baby.
“I know Dr Grigg was very supportive, but this was a new experience for the whole team, as far as I am aware I’m the only woman to have two mechanical valves in Australia and get through pregnancy,” Amy said.
The pregnancy was monitored closely by a larger team including a haematologist and obstetrician, based across the Parkville medical precinct.
Despite the numerous concerns, the couple were thrilled to safely bring their daughter Arabella into the world in December 2020. She was a healthy baby with no congenital heart disease.
After the birth via c-section Amy was transported to the RMH cardiology ward where she spent the next three days being closely monitored.
"I couldn’t fault the staff on the ward, they looked after me so well," Amy said.
She is now 28 weeks into her second pregnancy and once again being closely monitored by Prof Grigg and the RMH team.
“From being concerned we wouldn’t be able to have a child to having our beautiful Arabella and then to be so close to meeting our next baby is so exciting, I feel so grateful for all the care and support I have received undertaking this journey,” Amy said.
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