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A Physician’s Story: Raising My Children to be Heart-Healthy

“Your daughter has a heart defect” is something I didn’t expect to hear after delivering my second child. I had assumed she would be born without any health issues just like my first child who is now two years old. Although I’m a physician, when it’s a member of your family, any abnormality is difficult to process. The diagnosis of atrial septal aneurysm and patent foramen ovale, a rare cardiac defect that is essentially a “door” between her right to left atrium, should seal as time goes on. Dr. Kip of Children’s Heart Center, delivered the finding to our family. As shocking as this was, receiving the information from a trusted professional eased my mind.

Coping with the fact that my newborn has a defect in her heart, even if it’s likely to remain stable or resolve over time has been extremely difficult – something that is a constant in my mind. My perspective on congenital heart defects has completely changed in my profession as a family physician. I am more aware of potential heart defects when examining my patients. Some symptoms may include pale gray or blue skin, rapid breathing and swelling in the legs or abdomen. Luckily, my daughter was diagnosed before any of these scary symptoms occurred.

My daughter’s cardiac defect was initially found due to a standard recommendation to evaluate for cardiac disease based on my history of lupus and a clotting disorder. This created a potential for associated neonatal cardiac issues that can develop. Knowing you family history and obtaining health screens based on your personal or family history is extremely important. What if myself or my doctor were not proactive and didn’t request the test? What would happen to my daughter in the future because of this?

Now six-months-old, my daughter has remained stable and her follow-up appointment revealed the defect is still present, requiring additional follow-up. I believe every parent expects to hear their baby is completely healthy. As a family, we are more aware of congenital heart defects and the importance of continued evaluation with her pediatric cardiologist. My daughter is a normal, happy baby and I have hope she will continue along this path. I hope the cardiac defect will heal on its own, like so many with this diagnosis do.

I will be raising both of my children to know what it means to be “heart healthy.” I will make sure they know their family history and make healthy choices when it comes to diet and exercise. In 2017, Saint Mary’s Health Network in partnership with the American Heart Association of Northern Nevada, kicked-off an initiative called Little Hats, Big Hearts to support this idea. This program was developed by the American Heart Association and the Children’s Heart Foundation, where red hats made by volunteers are given to newborns to raise awareness of heart disease and congenital heart defects, while educating on the importance of heart health from birth to senior. Every baby born at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center will be given a red hat in support of this program. Together we can help educate our families on the importance of heart health through a lifetime.

For more information about the Little Hats, Big Hearts program, visit saintmarysreno.com/smlittlehats.

Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell oversees Saint Mary’s Medical Group’s urgent care clinics and is instrumental in enhancing the patient experience. She is passionate about family medicine and collaborating with her team and patients to provide quality medical care. Born and raised in northern Nevada, Dr. Curry-Winchell is a wife and mother of two beautiful girls.

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