Baby survives rare, complex heart surgery while still in the womb

Rylan will need another surgery to reposition sternum

One family has a lot to celebrate this Heart Month after their baby son survived a rare and complex surgery. Doctors operated on him while he was still in the womb after discovering a problem that just couldn’t wait. Samantha Custer was 25 weeks pregnant with her son, Rylan, when a routine ultrasound revealed a life-threatening problem.

CLEVELAND – One family has a lot to celebrate this Heart Month after their baby son survived a rare and complex surgery.

Doctors operated on him while he was still in the womb after discovering a problem that just couldn’t wait.

Samantha Custer was 25 weeks pregnant with her son, Rylan, when a routine ultrasound revealed a life-threatening problem.

“What we saw was a very large tumor and this tumor was sitting exactly in the wrong area, where it was squishing the left side of the heart,” Cleveland Clinic Dr. Darrell Cass said.

Cass is the director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Fetal Surgery and Fetal Care Center. He told Custer and her husband, Dave Drinnon, that they need to act fast.

“If we would have waited, like, it would have taken over this whole entire heart cavity so it would have compressed his whole entire heart. He would have died,” Drinnon said.

Cass along with a team of surgeons quickly formulated a plan to remove the tumor.

“Once the tumor was off, it was amazing. Basically, the left atrium in the heart, like, opened up and you could see blood flow change,” Cass said.

Rylan was then carefully placed back in the uterus. Custer gave birth to Rylan 10 weeks later. Now, the family is back home and doing well.

Read: Complete Heart Month coverage


About the Authors:

You can watch Kimberly Gill weekdays anchoring Local 4 News at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. and streaming live at 10 p.m. on Local 4+. She's an award-winning journalist who finally called Detroit home in 2014. Kim has won Regional Emmy Awards, and was part of the team that won the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast in 2022.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.