Photo: Paul Staniscia, Aeva, 8 weeks and Ruth Staniscia. Picture: Josie Jayden

First published in the Herald Sun on 15 December 2017
Lucie van den Berg, Medical reporter

RUTH Staniscia could never have imagined she’d have a suspected spider bite to thank for detecting her potentially life-threatening heart condition.

A swollen finger after school camp had the Melbourne teacher fearing an encounter with an angry arachnoid so she visited the doctor.

There was no sign of a bite, but a quick health check revealed her heart had a deafening murmur serious enough that it threatened to derail her chance to start a family.

Becoming pregnant could result in an enlarged artery in her heart rupturing; threatening her own life and her baby’s.

“I remember saying to my husband, maybe this is a sign from the universe that I wasn’t meant to have kids?” Mrs Staniscia said.

But her lifelong dream of having a baby was soon realised when she discovered that with specialist medical care at Monash Health, she could still become pregnant.

Monash Heart cardiologist Dr Siobhan Lockwood said Mrs Staniscia had a congenital condition called Bicuspid Aortic Valve.

“Her aortic valve, which allows blood to leave the heart, has two leaflets instead of three, which the majority of people have,” she said.

“In Ruth’s case the valve was also leaky and of most concern was that her aorta — the main pipe that attaches that valve to the body — was a lot bigger than it should be.”

If the pipe grew larger during pregnancy, it could tear.

“That can be lifethreatening for the mother and obviously a risk to the baby as well.”

A two-hour round trip from Caroline Springs to Clayton ensured she could be closely monitored by the cardiology and obstetric specialists co-located at Monash Health.

While most first time mothers worry, Ms Staniscia had concerns about how her organ was coping with the demands of a growing baby.

“At night I would lie there and my heart was pounding so hard and loudly that I could hear and feel it,” she said.

At 38 weeks her obstetrician Dr Annie Kroushev, also from Jessie McPherson Private Hospital, induced her.

“The combination of her blood pressure rising and the increasing palpitations now bothering her, it was the safest option to bring the pregnancy to an end,” she said.

Baby Aeva was born via an emergency caesarean section eight weeks ago.

Even though the medication she was taking to manage her heart problem put her unborn baby at risk of being born small, Aeva came out with big chubby cheeks and a mop of dark hair.

“Seeing this gorgeous healthy looking girl was just amazing,” Mrs Staniscia said.

“Even though it was a difficult pregnancy we felt so well looked after.”

Mrs Staniscia will one day need valve replacement surgery and her daughter’s heart will also be monitored.

But for now the pair are two months into getting to know each other and they couldn’t be healthier or happier.

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