Sinclair Cares: Treating children with heart defects

February is National Heart Month. While many heart problems can affect anyone at any age, congenital heart defects are the most common types of birth defects, affecting one in every 100 babies each year. It is also the leading cause of all infant deaths in the United States.

But medical advances being made in pediatric cardiovascular units are giving parents hope.

Four-year-old Emma Wasson was born with two heart defects and a rare genetic condition known as Turner syndrome.

"So we lived here in this place right here for nine months," said Kenny Wasson, Emma's father, referring to the Fetal Heart Center at Arkansas Children's Hospital.

The combination affected only two other people in medical journal history. After two open heart surgeries and multiple other procedures, Emma is the only known survivor.

"It really is a miracle that she's here," said Jerilyn Sualve-Wasson, Emma's mother.

Dr. Josh Daily, a cardiologist at Arkansas Children's Hospital, said 50 or 60 years ago, children diagnosed with a congenital heart defect would have died in infancy.

"We've now reached a point where most infants born with congenital heart disease live into adulthood. So the focus has now been shifted to how can we optimize their quality of life," Daily said.

According to the American Heart Association, about 40,000 babies are born with a heart defect each year. For some, like Emma, the cause is genetic

"But in most cases, it's usually a combination of a lot of factors, and in many cases we simply don't know," Daily said.

As researchers look for answers as to why it happens, there are also advancements in treatment. Because of that, Daily and Emma's parents say her prognosis is very good.

"At this point, her heart is functioning very well. She has two ventricles, which pump blood to her lungs and her body respectively, and her function appears to be excellent," Daily said.

"She's making a lot of progress. She can't walk. She can't eat. She feeds through a side port, but we're hoping and we're not giving up hope that one day she'll be able to walk, talk and maybe eat like you and I," Kenny Wasson said.

Sinclair Cares is focusing on heart health during the month of February.

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