CLEVELAND -- During an ultrasound in late April 2021, Sam and Dave Drinnon learned their unborn son had a large mass on his heart. That led them to the Cleveland Clinic where a rare life-saving fetal surgery would change their unborn son's life.

What You Need To Know

  • Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic performed a rare fetal surgery that had only been done once before

  • The surgery was done 26 weeks into Sam Drinnon’s pregnancy to correct a rare condition that could lead to heart failure

  • Ten weeks after the surgery, Sam and Dave Drinnon gave birth to Rylan

  • Five months after the surgery, Rylan is said to be happy and healthy, but undergoes routine blood draws

“It was very scary, not knowing what was going to happen next," said Sam.

It turned out to be a rare condition, an intrapericardial teratoma with fluid accumulation leading to fetal heart failure. In need of a rare solution, the couple was sent to the Cleveland Clinic. 

“Even though the odds weren’t really there for us, we just felt in our gut and with the confidence our doctors were showing us," Dave said. "We just knew they were going to be able to perform this surgery perfectly."

A team of surgeons at the Clinic came up with a plan. They would operate on the 26-week-old fetus to remove the tumor, a procedure that had only been successfully completed with continued pregnancy and birth at one other medical institution. 

“It's a pretty rare and a precise surgery. You know, I would say how we respond to a clinical situation like this is really depending upon where you are in the world, and probably in many locations, people would just think this is just not possible, or not something you should do," said Dr. Darrell Cass, the director of Cleveland Clinic’s Fetal Surgery and Fetal Care Center.

“There were a lot of tears; more fear, especially that there had been so few done. But we had to just believe that we were doing the right thing," said Sam.

The surgery was successful. On July 13, she gave birth to Rylan Harrison Drinnon, a happy, healthy little boy. Five months later, he's doing well, she said.

“He’s doing really good. They’re very happy with everything. He has to get blood drawn every month to check for cancer because there were cancerous cells in his heart and the numbers are going down just like they want them to," said Sam. 

Sam and Dave are hopeful Rylan’s story will provide hope for other families and guidance for other doctors.

The Drinnons said after this, they're confident that Rylan can make it through anything.

“Never lose hope. That's the thing. It will always find a way," said Dave.