MUM tells of joy after her and unborn baby survive dangerous open- heart surgery during pregnancy. A MOTHER has praised surgeons who performed open- heart surgery on her when she was pregnant, saving the life of both her and her unborn baby. Rachael Prince, 27, conceived without knowing she was on the brink of heart failure putting the life of her and her unborn baby at risk. Medics were shocked that she was still alive when a scan at four months pregnant showed she was at immediate risk of sudden death. In fact it was only because she had been taking it easy since falling pregnant that she was still standing as any exercise or exertion would have caused her heart to fail killing her and her baby. Her only chance of survival was open- heart surgery to replace her heart valve. Delaying the operation until after delivery was not an option or both mum and baby would die. But performing open heart surgery on a pregnant woman was so risky that Rachael was offered the option of terminating her pregnancy before the operation. She refused but was warned that if she continued with the pregnancy there was a high chance she would miscarry of her baby would be still born or brain damaged. But to her utter joy five months after the open- heart surgery Jack was born fit and well and has now turned one with a clean bill of health. Rachel said: ‘I feel like the luckiest mum alive. To both survive feels like a miracle. I can’t praise the surgeons enough. ‘They were amazing. ‘I was terrified about losing my baby but without the surgery we both would have died anyway. We’ve been through so much together.’ The terror started when insurance broker Rachael found out she was pregnant by now husband William in March 2012. Rachel had been born with a condition called aortic stenosis – tightening of the heart valve. She’d undergone heart surgery as a baby and the condition was thought to be under control. But when she learned she was expecting she immediately contacted her GP who arranged a scan. Initial tests did not raise concerns and her pregnancy progressed well until four months when medics arranged for a more in depth echo scan at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester. Rachael explains: ‘ I felt glowing, absolutely fine, so when I sat down with the cardiologist after the scan I was smiling because I was sure everything was perfect.’ But things were far from well and Rachael was told in no uncertain terms she was not leaving hospital. ‘The consultant basically said I was at immediate risk of sudden death. I was not leaving the hospital. ‘I couldn’t believe it because I felt great. I burst into tears of shock.’ Rachael was admitted immediately and told she would need surgery the following day. The heart valve needed replacing but because of the serious risk that posed to her unborn baby’s life, medics hoped to be able to stretch it – delaying surgery until after the birth. But it was not successful. It meant her only chance of survival was dangerous open- heart surgery to replace the valve using a heart bypass machine. The risk to her unborn child was so severe that Rachael was offered a termination. She refused, but was warned it meant her baby had a one in three chance of still birth or miscarriage during the operation. If he did survive there was a one in three chance of brain damage. Rachael said: ‘The odds were awful but I had to believe we’d been lucky so far for a reason, and that we would both be ok.’ Two days before the operation she found out she was having a boy. She said: ‘In one way it made it harder but in another way I felt stronger because I knew.’ Rachael was wheeled into theatre for the six- hour operation on May 30th 2012. She says: ‘ My thoughts were for my baby but my family were also worried sick about me. I had been told there was still a one in 20 chance that I might die.’ After the operation she was relieved to hear her baby was still alive – but faced an anxious wait to know if he’d suffered brain damage. She spent a further six weeks in hospital for both her and baby to be closely monitored for any signs of distress. Finally on June 10th she was discharged. ‘It was lovely to go home but we still had a shadow hanging over us. Nobody knew if our baby had been brain damaged.’ But medics arranged for a scan six weeks later when she was six months pregnant, which gave the couple some hope that their son had escaped unscathed. Rachael says: ‘There were no obvious signs of brain damage on the scan but we were told we wouldn’t really know until he was born.’ Doctors arranged her labour to be induced at 37 weeks so she could give birth with a heart surgeon on standby just in case. Finally Jack was delivered on October 19th 2012 weighing 7lb and 3oz and placed in his mum’s arms. ‘The relief was indescribable. To hold him and know he was finally safe was amazing. I didn’t care at that point if he was brain damaged or not. He was alive.’ When he was two months old Rachael and partner William married. She explains: ‘ We’d all come so close to losing each other we just wanted to make it official and unite as a family.’ Thankfully regular checks have shown Jack is meeting all his milestones and he celebrated his first birthday with a clean bill of health. Rachael’s consultant Dr Sarah Vause said: ‘ When Rachael attended the clinic she had an echo scan of her heart and we realised that the problem with the aortic valve was much more severe that had previously been thought and she was at sudden risk of death. ‘Rachael has proved inspirational to many women who have been having serious heart problems in pregnancy. ‘She’s a truly amazing woman and mother.’