Birth Triggered Rare, Deadly Illness In Mom Until UT Southwestern Geneticist Solved The Mystery

By David Tarrant
The Dallas Morning News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Genetic medicine has long held the promise of extraordinary advances in healing and treatment. But new, faster, cheaper techniques, including next-generation sequencing, are seeing that promise realized in ways that are saving lives.

The Dallas Morning News

Four days after Jessica Hitt gave birth to her first child, Olivia, the new mother became delirious.

She started walking into walls and talking gibberish. Her husband rushed her to Medical City Arlington, the same hospital where she had given birth. Her health rapidly deteriorated. Twice she received the last rites from a priest.

Doctors and nurses worked furiously to figure out what was wrong. Tests showed dangerously high levels of toxic ammonia in her blood. But why? Nothing in Hitt’s medical history suggested this uncommon disorder.

The doctors treating Hitt were baffled, so they reached out to Dr. Markey McNutt, a clinical geneticist at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Hitt’s case was exactly the sort of strange medical puzzle McNutt specializes in.

Genetic medicine has long held the promise of extraordinary advances in healing and treatment. But new, faster, cheaper techniques, including next-generation sequencing, are seeing that promise realized in ways that are saving lives.

“Only in the last 10 years has this really become prominent, and only within the last two years has the cost come down so that it’s cost-effective,” said McNutt.

For Hitt, it very well might have meant the difference between life and death.

‘SOMETHING’S NOT RIGHT’
Hitt gave birth to Olivia at 10:22 p.m. on May 4, 2016. Everything had gone well and the new mom and her husband, Marshall, enjoyed those first hours and days as new parents. But back home, Jessica suddenly was not herself, her husband recalled.

“I came into the kitchen and asked her something that should have not been confusing at all, but she wasn’t getting it,” Marshall Hitt said. “And I asked her over and over again. And she’d say ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying.’ Finally, I realized something’s not right.”

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