Ivy and Maya Salooja are more than sisters; they’re best friends—always laughing, playing and drawing together at their home just outside of Albany, NY. Their connection extends beyond sisterhood, forever tied to Cohen Children’s Medical Center after lifesaving surgeries cured their congenital heart defects.
Sarah and Navi Salooja lived in Long Island, NY, in 2013, when they were expecting baby Maya. A routine prenatal ultrasound led them to Cohen Children’s for additional imaging.
Their unborn daughter had a cluster of four congenital heart defects that together make up tetralogy of Fallot (TOF). The condition includes a hole between the lower two chambers of the heart (ventricular septal defect), narrowing of the pulmonary artery (pulmonary stenosis), an enlarged aortic valve and a thickened wall of the right ventricle (ventricular hypertrophy). Babies with TOF often need surgery immediately after birth. The Saloojas were referred to the medical center’s Fetal Cardiology Program and Elizabeth Mitchell, MD, pediatric cardiologist, for the remainder of the pregnancy. “We were followed very closely and developed a very close relationship with the care team at Cohen Children’s,” Sarah said.
Born on March 12, 2014, Maya received care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for five days. By the time she was 18 months old, Maya had undergone two surgeries performed by David Meyer, MD, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at Cohen Children’s. At 6 months old, her first procedure repaired the hole between the two bottom chambers of her heart. A year later, he corrected a ring of blood vessels that were compressing her esophagus, and making it difficult for her to eat and keep food down.
“Even though that wasn’t a full open-heart surgery, it was still done by the cardiothoracic team, which made us feel so secure about Maya’s care,” Sarah explained.
When Maya was almost 2 years old, the Saloojas moved to the Albany area. Soon afterward, Sarah became pregnant with another girl. “We made sure our doctors in Albany knew about Maya’s heart condition, but the chances were low that Ivy would also have a problem,” she said.
Unfortunately, an ultrasound revealed that Ivy also had ventricular septal defect which caused a large hole between the lower chambers of her heart.
“Everyone was concerned about it because it was so large,” Sarah said. “We decided to involve our team at Cohen Children’s again, so we knew we’d get the best care.”
The family’s doctors in Albany worked closely with Dr. Meyer, Dr. Mitchell and their team to monitor Sarah during her pregnancy. The couple considered delivering the baby on Long Island, but the physicians all agreed it was safe to give birth near the Saloojas’ upstate home, with follow-up care and any necessary surgeries at Cohen Children’s. “It was never a question,” Sarah said of returning to Cohen Children’s. “If Ivy needed any kind of surgery, we were going back to Long Island and Dr. Meyer was doing it.”
Ivy was born on December 21, 2016. Her parents hoped to repair her heart defect when she was a few months old, but concerns about the size, location and possibility that she had additional heart defects led them to change the plan.
“The hole in her heart was allowing too much blood to flow to her lungs,” Dr. Meyer said. “We did a small operation called a pulmonary artery band to help control the heart failure and help her grow.”
Six months later, Ivy had the final open-heart surgery to make the full repair. “We were very happy to be able to wait until she was a bit bigger to do the surgery,” Dr. Meyer said. “She came through it great.”
Now 5 and 2 years old, Maya and Ivy are both healthy and happy. Although neither is likely to need any additional heart surgery, the Saloojas keep in close contact with Dr. Mitchell, Dr. Meyer and the team at Cohen Children’s, just in case. “It’s good to know that if something does come up, we will catch it quickly and they’ll be there for us,” Sarah said. Even if they never need medical attention from their doctors at Cohen Children’s again, the Saloojas will keep them close.
“We send pictures to the whole team all the time,” Sarah said. “We keep pictures of them in our home. They are such an important part of our lives. They will always be special to us.”