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OU Medicine Children's Experts Save Infant's Life

Friday, April 04, 2014 - Campus News -

Looking at 2-month-old Levi Carter, it's hard to imagine he's already faced frightening, life-threatening struggles in his short life. While he's home and healthy and living like a typical baby now, his introduction to the world was fraught with drama his family won't soon forget.  

Levi is alive and well thanks to the expertise of OU Children's Physicians and their medical teams of experts at The Children's Hospital who cared for his congenital heart problem—even before he was born. If his medical condition had gone undiagnosed and he hadn't had open heart surgery after birth, Levi could have died.

Last fall, Levi's mother Whittney and his father Rory thought they were experiencing a typical pregnancy. An ultrasound changed that. Whittney's obstetrician-gynecologist suspected Levi had a heart problem called transposition of the great arteries, an often-fatal heart defect that deprives the blood of oxygen. 

"I said okay. Then I went home and really freaked out," Whittney Carter said.

Only five of every 10,000 babies in the U.S. are born with transposition of the great arteries. The condition occurs when the two main arteries of the heart are switched, or transposed. Blood that returns from the body typically goes to the lungs for oxygen. Because the two main connections are switched, blood goes back to the body without the oxygen it needs. 

Whittney's ob-gyn sent her to Children's high-risk pregnancy expert Dr. Marvin Williams, who confirmed the defect and sprung into action the highly specialized team at the OU Prenatal Diagnostic Center.

"In situations like this, it's imperative we follow these moms closely. She came to us at almost 37 weeks pregnant.  Most important was mobilizing the care—making certain the baby is stable—and mobilizing the subspecialties," Williams said.

The OU Prenatal Diagnostic Center is strategically located in the same building as the state's most comprehensive pediatric hospital—The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center. Expectant mothers have quick access to a wide variety of specialized services, including pediatric surgeons, cardiologists, urologists and neonatologists. 

"It's a true testament to how we took this potentially complex cardiac case and mobilized our care team, which included our pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, pediatric cardiologists, our neonatal perinatal team, and a perinatal nurse navigator," Williams said.

It was an anxious time for the Carters. Well into Whittney's pregnancy, they had to entrust their baby's care to relative strangers. They quickly bonded with the team, which also is trained to counsel families like the Carters.

"I was a little scared of course—because it was a newborn having surgery—but I was confident going into it," Whittney Carter said.

Dr. Williams delivered Levi at full term on Jan. 27, 2014. Levi stayed in the Children's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where he adjusted to his new world before undergoing open-heart surgery only three days later.

Once again, the Carters placed their trust in another physician:  a new surgeon to Children's who was heavily recruited from the famed Mayo Clinic.

As Levi's parents anxiously waited, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Harold Burkhart performed an arterial switch operation to repair Levi's heart. The procedure switched his arteries to their proper places; but in order to do that, Levi's heart had to be stopped while a heart-lung machine handled respiration and blood circulation.

"Dr. Burkhart was really honest. He told us how it was going to be," Whittney Carter said. "He was very caring and confident. He made us feel it was going to be OK." 

And it was. Even though transposition surgery is considered one of the more serious operations performed on newborns, Burkhart said Levi's surgery went off without a hitch.

"We've taken a blue baby and made it a pink baby with essentially a normal heart. That's gratifying," Burkhart said.

It wasn't long after the surgery that Levi was moved to Children's NICU Village, a unit where parents room-in with the baby to care for him before going home.   

"I was finally able to relax," Whittney Carter said.

On Feb. 12, 2014, Levi went home for the first time with his family. 

"It was surreal.  In two weeks all this happened and then we were able to come home with him on nothing but aspirin," Whittney said. 

The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center has 326 inpatient beds and is the only freestanding comprehensive children's hospital in Oklahoma. The Children's Hospital's pediatric staff  have years of specialized pediatric training with education, research and technology to treat conditions ranging from cardiothoracic and oncology-related illnesses to neonatal specialty care and pediatric solid-organ transplants. The Children's Hospital's 88-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit provides the highest level of neonatal care in Oklahoma. The Children's Hospital was one of the first hospitals in the country to provide total, comprehensive care for mothers and their newborns all in the same building. Additionally, the Women's & Newborn Center at The Children's Hospital provides family-centered newborn care for all types of deliveries—from routine to complicated, high-risk births—and offers the most comprehensive obstetrics program in the state. To find out more, visit or

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