When Tanisha Torresfirst visited MGH Cardiology in 2009, she was armed with a long list of handwritten questions. Though Torres jokes it was due in part to “only child syndrome,” she knows those questions stemmed from years of confusion about how best to treat her heart condition.

Diagnosed with a severe case of hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy (HOCM) at age 12, Torres wasn’t referred to the MGH until age 20. She says soon after her initial appointment with Michael Fifer, MD, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, “there was a clear plan of action on how to get my symptoms under control.”

The first step was open heart surgery to address thickening of the heart walls, followed by the implantation of a defibrillator to monitor and stabilize her heart. Torres was ticking off the questions on her list, but one question remained.

“I had been hinting at my desire to start a family,” she says. “But I had been told years earlier that pregnancy might not be an option.”

To address that question, Torres was referred to the Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program, founded at the MGH 10 years ago. “Our program focuses on the unique issues tied to women’s hearts – in preventing heart problems and treating them,” says Nandita Scott, MD, program co-director. “One of the many services we offer combines cardiologists, maternal-fetal medicine specialists and anesthesiologists to work together as
one team.”

That group guided Torres through her pregnancy in 2016 with weekly appointments and sometimes nightly emails. “I would often reach out to Nandita about something I was feeling – and I knew I would get a response right away,” says Torres.

When Torres went into labor at 34 weeks in November 2016, an individual treatment plan – created by clinicians in Cardiology and Obstetrics and Gynecology – went into action. “My water had broken and we arrived at MGH to a sea of faces on the labor floor,” says Torres. “I may not have known any of the nurses’ names, but thanks to Nandita and Laura Riley, MD, director of MGH Labor and Delivery, they all knew my name.”

Torres’ daughter Layla will celebrate her first birthday this month. “The feeling of motherhood is indescribable,” she says. “I wasn’t sure I would ever have that.”

Torres now returns to the MGH periodically for checks of her defibrillator, and Layla will be monitored as she gets older for any signs of HOCM, which can be genetic.

“I urge women to ask questions – and as many questions as they have – of their doctors,” Torres says. 

Read more articles from the 11/10/17 Hotline issue.