'Baby Bridget' beats the odds, has baby of her own

abredeson@islandpacket.comDecember 9, 2012 

  • Hilton Head Island native Bridget Vitto has serious congenital heart problems. She recently survived a major strain on her body -- pregnancy. To keep up with her recovery, go to www.gofundme.com/bridgetvitto.

Like many young women in their early 20s, Bridget Vitto worked a lot and spent time hanging out with friends.

That is, until she found out she was pregnant.

She and her boyfriend, Antonio Lee, had not planned to have a child, but she knew she wanted to be a mother one day.

Bridget asked two of her friends to go with her to her parents' house to give them the news. They were happy, but also surprised -- because this was not your typical surprise pregnancy.

This could kill her.

Born with a slew of heart problems, Bridget, a native of Hilton Head Island, underwent several surgeries as a child, went to school hooked to oxygen and spent a lot of her childhood traveling back and forth to Boston Children's Hospital.

"It was very hard for all of us," Bridget's mother, Katherine, said.

Bridget was an honorary chairperson for the local American Heart Association for three years. In the early 1990s, former Hilton Head Mayor Jerry Barkie proclaimed July 15 as "Baby Bridget Day."

Katherine said many longtime Hilton Head Islanders still remember Bridget as "Baby Bridget."

Bridget's father, Bill, said the doctors used to say Bridget would never have hair and that her growth would be stunted.

"She's 5'7" with hair down her back," he said, adding that they also said she'd never be able to get pregnant.

Katherine said the first eight years of Bridget's life were very difficult -- but after that point, she had a pretty normal life, other than bouts with pneumonia. Bridget was an active child, participating in cheerleading, karate, softball and dance.

Because of her complicated medical history, Bridget's pregnancy was considered high risk, and she was sent to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

The Vittos said MUSC couldn't handle her condition. The doctors painted a bleak picture for Bridget if she chose to keep the baby.

But Bridget, 22, said nothing could convince her to terminate the pregnancy. So in August she went back to the place that treated her as a young girl -- this time to the Boston Adult Congenital Heart Service, a joint program of Brigham and Women's Hospital and the children's hospital. The doctors came up with a plan for her care and followed her from afar as the pregnancy progressed.

"I knew I was high-risk, but once I met with my doctors, and they told me all the details then I realized it more," Bridget said.

The baby was taking all of her oxygen, and she was struggling to breathe. Bloated and hooked to an oxygen tank, the young woman who seemed so healthy just months before, was once again fighting for her life.

Bridget's lifestyle quickly changed after she found out she was pregnant. She had to quit her job at Wild Wing Cafe, have labwork done weekly, watch her diet and wear a heart monitor.

Bridget was hooked up to oxygen 24 hours a day and had to monitor her oxygen pulse. She was receiving injections daily.

Eventually Bridget returned to Boston for a prolonged stay. She was admitted Oct. 4 and monitored closely throughout the remainder of the pregnancy.

At 28 weeks gestation, Bridget had serious complications and underwent an emergency C-section.

"I was in a lot of pain," Bridget said. "Everything happened so fast. ... It was scary, and I didn't really know what was going to happen."

The situation was all too familiar for Bridget's parents, who spent countless hours sitting in a hospital in Boston, praying for a miracle for their little girl.

Now, after years of their daughter being healthy, she was in danger once again.

The operation was a success, and baby Taniah Lee was born at 12:41 a.m. Oct. 29, weighing 2 pounds and measuring 14 inches.

She will remain in the neonatal intensive care unit for another month or so.

Bridget's cardiologist, Dr. Michael Landzberg of the Boston Adult Congenital Heart group, said Bridget might be one of the first in the country with hypoplastic left heart syndrome to make it through pregnancy. He said she is at the leading edge of people not only surviving -- but thriving -- with this underlying anatomy.

"There is no such thing as a safe pregnancy for somebody in Bridget's situation," he said. "It takes a tremendous amount of work from the person, from their life partner, from their family, from their community and from the medical system."

Bridget was released from the hospital Nov. 16. Landzberg said while he can't predict Bridget's future, he can say that she has a long road ahead of her.

"We recognize the potential for Bridget to have a limited motherhood," Landzberg said. "In the same breath, everything that Bridget Vitto and her family and her community represent says to us that we're going to do our best to not let that be the case. And so that is our hope and plans -- to have Bridget not just be a mother but a grandmother. ... Whether statistics suggest otherwise is a different story. But being educated about those statistics just allows Bridget to make sure that that statistic isn't her."

Landzberg said now that she's given birth, Bridget should be able to undergo some much-needed cardiology-based procedures, such as catheterizations.

Despite Bridget's long, difficult journey, the Vittos say they are proud of their daughter for sticking it out and having the baby.

"She wanted this baby, whatever it takes," Katherine said. "It's been a real tough journey, but she's alive, and the baby is here."

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