Ultrasound technician sets new care standard

A Winnipeg ultrasound technician is being credited with saving the life of an unborn baby and setting new guidelines for care in Manitoba.
Karen Letourneau has implemented a new ultrasound screening technique in Manitoba. ((CBC))

A Winnipeg ultrasound technician is being credited with saving the life of an unborn baby and setting new guidelines for care in Manitoba.

Karen Letourneau doesn't use new technology or expensive procedures, she uses ultrasounds to take pictures of fetuses and diagnose potential problems.

When Steinbach, Man., resident Cezanne Horne was pregnant with her now four-year-old daughter Kaylan, Letourneau's technique alerted doctors to a potentially fatal congenital heart defect in her unborn baby.

"I had this growing uncomfortable feeling that I might not be able to recognize an abnormal heart in a fetus, and it's hard to say that you don't know how to do something, right?"

So Letourneau insisted Horne return to the hospital several times so her fetus' heart could be looked at from different angles, revealing the heart defect.

"It was a huge shock, I remember clearly just coming home and being stunned," said Horne. "It's like … everything you expected was now different."

Letourneau's discovery meant doctors were ready to operate when Kaylan was born, not scrambling to save her.

It also gave doctors the opportunity to move the birth to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.

"The team is there," Horne said.

"If I had decided to have my baby in Steinbach not knowing that she had a serious heart problem, I mean — you can't predict what would have happened, but I can only imagine how much more stressful that would have been."

New checklist saves lives

Letourneau has now set a new standard for ultrasound technicians in Manitoba — using the same equipment but going beyond the mandatory guidelines to screen the hearts of fetuses from different angles.

Cezanne Horne is grateful her daughter's heart defect was found before she was born. ((CBC))

Pediatric cardiologist Reeni Soni said Letourneau came up with a new checklist of things to look for.

"The difference was sometimes life or death."

Soni said the expanded ultrasound checklist means abnormalities are now detected in about 24 fetuses every year, giving those babies a better chance for survival — without costing the health care system a penny more.

For Horne, that checklist made all the difference in the world when Kaylan was born.

"There wasn't any scary surprises," she said.

"We knew exactly what we were dealing with, and so she got … the best care."

Horne said Kaylan knows firsthand what it all means.

"This is her story and she lives with it everyday and now she's of an age where kids ask about her scar and she tells them. I think she's proud."