Parents welcome a less invasive childhood heart procedure with faster recovery and less scarring

3-year-old Greta Osterholm underwent heart surgery which had a faster recovery time than the more traditional method.

Three months after heart surgery and Greta Osterholm is feeling great, bouncing around a playground like a three-year-old should on a sunny July afternoon.

“She’s basically in good health,” said Ryan Osterholm, Greta’s father. “We might register every year for a few years. After that, that’s settled.”

Greta was born with a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart – a significant health problem if left untreated. A first attempt to repair the defect with a catheter procedure through her leg failed because the hole in her heart was too large. Osterholm’s initial medical team then said the next option was full-fledged open heart surgery, requiring her breastbone to crack.

“Panic, shock,” Ryan said. “We didn’t expect to have to do this. You obviously do what you are given. It was a very difficult day obviously.”

The family sought a second opinion at the University of Minnesota’s M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital, where pediatric cardiac surgeons refined a unique procedure performed at a few medical facilities across the country.

The procedure, called a vertical right lateral thoracotomy, allows the repair to be made through a small incision under the patient’s armpit. It produces the same results, but does not require cracking of bones, does not have long term surgical scars on the chest, and has faster recovery.

Greta was in and out of the hospital in just a few days.

“The overall goal of treating these children with congenital heart disease is to try to make them as normal as possible,” said Dr. Gurumurthy Hiremath, pediatric cardiologist at M Health Fairview. “That’s what we want to achieve. And I think that with innovative surgery like this, we were able to make her become a child as soon as possible.”

“It’s one of the things we all learn from operating on infants and newborns,” said Dr Sameh Said, congenital heart surgeon at M Health Fairview. “You have to be absolutely precise and meticulous, and pay attention to all the details. All the details.”

For Greta’s parents, the return of their little girl home made all the difference.

“It was amazing,” said Monica Osterholm, Greta’s mother. “Better than we expected upon entering. Spend two nights in the hospital and exit, literally chasing me to the car. We are so grateful.”

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