Thursday, January 5, 2012

Zack's Special Heart

When Zack was a baby, our doctor heard a heart murmur.  At four months, it had not resolved itself so she referred us to Riley Childrens Hospital to have his heart looked at.  After performing mulitiple tests on him, they found that the murmur was an "innocent" murmur.  My entire body relaxed in relief until the big BUT came.  While they were looking around in there, they found that he has a bicuspid aortic valve which was unrelated to the murmur. 

My Angel
Bicuspid aortic valve is a congenital heart defect.  The aortic valve conducts oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle into the aorta, which carries it to the body tissues.  A normal heart functions with a tricuspid aortic valve, meaning that it has three leaflets that open and close to allow blood to pass through.  In a bicuspid conditon, two of the leaftlets are fused together so the opening is no longer triangular in shape.

I cried when they first told us - my baby didn't have a perfect heart.  But the doctor said that his heart was functioning just fine, the leaflets were sealing properly when they closed, and that we just needed to keep an eye on it to ensure that as Zack grew, the leaflets continued to grow and seal properly as well.  No need to keep him out of contact sports or restrict him in any way, come see us again in a couple of years.  Of course I was happy to hear this news - we didn't have to worry about this thing again for two entire years.  Woohoo!

But as he got older I started to notice that Zack's cheeks would turn really red and he would sweat a lot when he was running around and playing.  Yes, I recognize that most children do this, but that didn't stop me from worrying that it was because of his heart.  I found myself trying to calm him down because I didn't want him to get worked up and put strain on his heart.  Shawn kept telling me to leave him alone because he didn't want Zack thinking there was something wrong with his heart.

So at two years old we went back to Riley for an echocardiogram.  All was well, his heart was still pumping blood normally and working well!  But during that time, John Ritter died at the age of 55 of thoracic aortic disease due to having an undiagnosed bicuspid aortic valve.  This raised awareness of the condition so our doctor advised that we come back every two years until Zack reaches puberty, and then once a year since the body grows so rapidly during that time period. 

We went today for his third check-up.  They perform an echocardiogram (or an "Echo") to look at his heart.  It is basically a sonogram but they also put little electonic stickers on his chest so they can listen and time the pumping of the heart (the echo).  They took 98 pictures today from four different positions.  His heart is still functioning just fine and there is no need to be concerned.  He does have minor leakage, but Dr. Caldwell assures me this is not an issue and that many people with normal hearts have leakage much worse than his.  Zack was an angel (of course!) and was rewarded with a Brachiosaurus from the gift shop.

Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week is February 7-14 this year.  Approximately 1 percent of the population has a bicuspid aortic valve and many do not know it.  Also worthy of noting, they believe that bicuspid aortic valves are most likely hereditary.

So I can stop worrying for the next couple of years until the next time we go and I hold my breath until they tell me everything is okay.  Mostly I think he has this condition simply to give me something to worry about all the time! 

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