Stories about: congenital heart defect

Experience Journal: ‘Heart defects won’t keep me from reaching my goals’

Emily Ryan was born with coarctation of the aorta and a ventricular septal defect (VSD). But these congenital heart defects have never kept her down. Even though she’s had a pacemaker since age 4, she’s always led an extremely active lifestyle.

Emily’s parents and her team of caregivers from the Heart Center at Boston Children’s Hospital have helped Emily understand her heart condition and have given her the confidence and encouragement to realize her full potential — both in the classroom and on the track.

Now a competitive Division 1 athlete and outdoor leader in college, Emily wants everyone to understand, “Just because you have a congenital heart defect, doesn’t mean you can’t be active or do whatever you want to do.”

The Experience Journals are collections of stories, videos and personal experiences from families about what it has been like to live with their children’s illnesses. This video is part of the Heart Experience Journal, created by the Department of Psychiatry and the Heart Center.

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Thank you from the bottom of my three-chambered heart

Austin is the first person with a 3-chambered heart to run the Boston Marathon.
Austin hugging his father at the finish line of the 2017 Boston Marathon. Photo credit: Joseph Kelly

When people ask me what it was like to run the Boston Marathon, I don’t just think about the race itself. I think about about my entire life journey and all the people who helped get me to Boylston Street. Yes, the actual marathon day is one day in time that people can point to on a calendar, but it’s the long journey with all its ups and downs and the people you meet along the way, that makes it all worth it.

My journey has come full circle, as I went from my mom and I waiting for my dad at the finish line 19 years ago, to them waiting for me as I finished a marathon of my own.

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Experience Journal: From Venezuela for the chance to live

At five months old, Diana was diagnosed with tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia, a congenital heart defect (CHD) that couldn’t be treated in her home country of Venezuela. “Being told that your child has no chance of surviving is devastating,” says Diana’s mom, Alejandra. “We were given no hope.”

Research into where in the world Diana would receive the best treatment led her parents to the Heart Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Throughout Diana’s journey to health, Alejandra relied on support from her husband, her sisters and the community she found in Boston. “From the beginning, we felt that everyone — from social workers to physicians to staff at the Hale Family Center for Families — worked together so that my daughter could have a chance to live.”

With Diana now through surgery and thriving, Alejandra shares her family’s experience to offer hope and guidance to other families coping with pediatric heart disease.

The Experience Journals are collections of stories, videos and personal experiences from families about what it has been like to live with their children’s illnesses. This video is part of the Spanish Voices Journal made possible by support from Milagros para Niños

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Mending a ‘backward’ heart

Joe, who has congenitally corrected transposition of the great arteries , sits with his dog OdieThe first clue came with a murmur.

At a mere week old, Joe LaRocca was diagnosed with an extraordinarily rare heart defect. Both ventricles were reversed.

Fortunately, with this particular defect, the arteries are reversed too, essentially “correcting” the abnormality. That’s where it gets its name — congenitally corrected transposition of the great arteries (CCTGA).

In a normal heart, the demanding duty of pumping oxygenated blood into the body is handled by the left ventricle, and the right ventricle pumps blood a short distance into the lungs. But Joe’s heart was far from normal.

“The right ventricle is not meant to do the harder work,” says Dr. Elizabeth Blume, Heart Failure and Heart Transplant Program medical director at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Since the ventricles are reversed in patients with CCTGA, over time, this muscle tires out.”

For the past three decades, the team at Boston Children’s Heart Center has medically and surgically managed Joe’s condition. And at 33, his heart is still ticking.

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