Last September I became involved in the Mikva Challenge, a civic program that challenges high school students throughout Chicago to be active participants in the political process through elections, activism and policy-making programs. I had been a part of a couple of their projects when I was offered the opportunity to come to a gathering of local leaders. I met a number of fascinating people including Jaime Parent, vice president and associate chief information officer of Information Technology Operations at Rush University Medical Center. I mentioned my longstanding ambition to be a pediatric surgeon and he generously offered to set up a meeting between Dr. Ziyad Hijazi, one of the world’s premier interventional cardiologists, and me.
I can honestly say the meeting with Dr. Hijazi was one of the most fascinating hours of my life. We talked about different noninvasive procedures he had developed to fix holes in infants’ hearts using balloon-expandable stents. One of the remarkable things about Dr. Hijazi is his ability to explain complicated medical procedures. I noticed this talent in the meeting and later when I had the unbelievable opportunity to shadow him for a week. During consultations with patients, he would explain the procedure they would undergo in such calm and confident way that I rarely saw anyone become anxious at the prospect of heart surgery.
Like many parents, my husband, Mike, and I weren’t prepared for the day our son, Brayden, was born. We’d chosen that weekend to move and, generally speaking, I don’t think any first-time parents are prepared until they are holding their beautiful baby in their arms. It’s like a switch flips, and you want nothing more than to protect and love them. The amount of love that instantly grows is immeasurable; we were on cloud nine. So when the pediatrician stopped by for a routine visit after Brayden was born, we didn’t think much of it. All of the tests done while I was pregnant came back perfect — why would anything change now? And then she told us: Brayden had aortic valve stenosis (AVS). In an instant, it felt like all of the air had been sucked out of the room.
For the next month, we were living under water, shuttling our innocent little bundle to doctors for echocardiograms, researching AVS and trying to make sense of what was happening. And then, the day before Brayden turned one month old, the decision was made that doctors would need to intervene and do a balloon procedure on Brayden’s tiny, baby heart. We were to report for surgery the next day at 6 a.m. Continue reading →
Matthew lives in the Michigan woods, 300 miles from Chicago. Just in his 20s, he loves bow hunting and dreams of going back to college and working overseas. He also was born with a heart defect, a hole in his heart that kept him out of the military after high school — dashing one long-held dream.
Matthew received a frightening reminder that the defect could keep him from achieving other goals when he developed endocarditis, a serious heart infection that landed him in the hospital. It was so serious that he needed intravenous antibiotics for six weeks. Doctors told him a future infection could be deadly.
People like Matthew who have holes in their hearts are predisposed to long-term health complications, such as endocarditis, Hijazi says, which makes closing the holes the best option for some people.
Open-heart surgery was an option. But surgery would have involved cutting the breast bone in half, spreading it apart, putting the patient on a bypass machine and stopping the heart — a process not without risk. “Also, the location of the heart defect would have made it very difficult to reach without cutting through the muscle of the heart,” Hijazi says. “Obviously, that’s a big deal.” Continue reading →