LENOIR CITY (WATE) – Each year 40,000 babies are born with a congenital heart defect, according to the CDC. It’s something you don’t often hear about, but comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s story of his son undergoing heart surgery just days after being born is putting CHD in the national spotlight.
Holding back tears, the Jimmy Kimmel Live host talked about these terrifying moments in his opening monologue Monday night.
“They did a cardiogram, which is a sonogram of the heart, and found that Billy was born with heart disease, something called Tetraology of Fallot with pulmonary atresia. It’s hard to explain but basically the pulmonary valve is completely blocked, and he has a hole in his heart from the left and right side of his heart,” said Kimmel.
Kimmel assured viewers this story is a happy one and baby Billy had a successful surgery Monday at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
There are lots of people who deal with CHD including in East Tennessee. One little girl in Lenoir City went through open heart surgery at five days old.
Nora Worley is now four years old and is just like any other child, playful and sassy.
“She loves little things. She loves kittens and dogs and puppies,” said her mom April Burger.
The little girl was born with a special heart, diagnosed at three days old with atrioventricular septal defect.
“Basically there was a hole in all four ventricles of her heart,” said Burger.
Within a few days of being born, her mom says little Nora went through her first open heart surgery
“They heard a murmur at the very beginning but they checked her out, we were about to leave and they still heard the murmur. So they brought in an echo and then our whole world was flipped upside down,” she said.
Over the years there have been a number of doctor’s visits and more procedures. A second open heart surgery was done when Nora was just six months old.
“I was all focused on her. Nothing hurt me other than seeing her hurt,” added Burger.
Through it all, Burger says Nora has been a trooper and they’ve leaned on the shoulders of other heart families. “They’re strong. Kids are so strong.”
While little Nora is feisty, she isn’t entirely out of the woods just yet.
“They say in her teens or 20s, she’ll have to have a pacemaker,” said Burger.
That means Nora has a full happy and healthy life ahead of her.
“Starting kindergarten this year is a huge step for us,” added Burger.
Pediatric cardiologist at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Dr. Jeff Jennings, says a CHD is the most common birth defect even though it occurs in just under one percent of all babies born. In the most serious cases, defects can be picked up over a fetal echocardiogram before a baby is even born. If a heart defect isn’t detected, screenings are done on all newborns in Tennessee according to Dr. Jennings.
“Pulsox symmetry is the little red light that they can put on a baby’s finger or ours to monitor during surgery. It picks up the level of oxygen in the blood stream. A newborn might have low oxygen because of lung disease but they might also because of a heart defect where there’s abnormal or too little blood flow to the lungs,” said Dr. Jennings.
If you’re a soon to be mom, CHD doctors say to look out for these signs and symptoms once your baby is born: blue tinted nails or lips, fast or troubled breathing, tiredness when feeding, along with sleepiness.
Dr. Jennings says if congenital heart defects run in your family or you’ve had a child with a murmur, it’s best to talk to your doctor about early screening.