BIG expertise heals little Henry’s heart 

 

Tallahassee family finds convenience in care collaboration with Jacksonville’s Wolfson Children’s Hospital

Like most two-year-olds, Henry Dyer is a busy toddler, zipping around the house while keeping his parents on their toes. But up until a few short months ago, things were much different.

That’s because Henry’s little heart was starting to fail.

As he rounds the corner of the couch with lightning speed, his mom Bobbie Dyer can’t help but think about another corner he recently turned, thanks to the collaborative care he received from his pediatric cardiology team at Wolfson Children's Specialty Center at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH) and at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville.

“He’s doing so well,” said Dyer. “There’s such a huge difference now in his energy level and his playfulness.”

The heart of the matter

After Henry was born at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare on March 5, 2015, he passed all of his newborn screenings, and was able to go home with his excited family just a few days later. What no one knew at the time, however, was that Henry had a hard-to-detect heart condition called an atrial septal defect (ASD) that’s not usually discovered until months or years later when a doctor hears a murmur during a check-up.

About 2,000 babies are born each year in the U.S. with an ASD, which is a spot in the heart where the wall dividing the upper chambers hasn’t finished forming. ASDs are very difficult to detect in newborns because ASD-related murmurs are quieter than those caused by other types of heart conditions. In Henry’s case, it was found after about a month. 

“I took him to his pediatrician who heard the murmur,” recalled Dyer. “We were then told that Henry needed to see a specialist.”

The Dyers took Henry to the office of Tallahassee pediatric cardiologists Drs. Louis St. Petery and Justin Vining, who conducted several tests and confirmed the problem.

Because surgical outcomes are better when babies are given the chance to get a little bigger and stronger before major surgery, Dr. Vining elected to hold off for a little while and keep a close eye on Henry. But as he neared his first birthday, Henry began getting upper respiratory infections every month and was losing weight. Both were soon traced to a surprising decline in his heart function.

“His rapid progression to congestive heart failure was atypical in a child with an ASD,” said Dr. Vining. “Typically, even large ASDs don’t present a problem until the age of 4 or 5, which is a common age for children to undergo the surgery that Henry needed much sooner. Even then, only a small percentage of these patients require medications to control congestive heart failure.”

Henry was put on the medications to try to delay surgery but after a few more months, the need to do more came. With his blood recirculating through his lungs instead of supplying oxygenated blood to the rest of his body, his surgery was scheduled at the C. Herman and Mary Virginia Terry Heart Center at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in November 2016.

Michael Shillingford, MD, chief of Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, and pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Eric Ceithaml, MD, explained to the Dyers what was going to happen before Henry went back.

“I kept cool in front of the doctors but once they went back to perform his surgery, I fell apart,” said Dyer. “That was my baby, and it was very scary.”

Henry did well, however, and was soon recovering in the Cardiovascular ICU. Two weeks later, he got to go home, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Care in the heart of Tallahassee

“Henry has bounced back so quickly!” said Dyer. “He’s put on five pounds since his surgery, and his little scar is healing nicely.”

“His symptoms of congestive heart failure have resolved, and we have been able to stop his heart medications,” said Dr. Vining. “His long-term prognosis is excellent, and functionally, his heart is normal.”

Henry’s follow-up appointments will include electrocardiogram and echocardiogram testing to check his heart function, which he’ll be able have done right in Tallahassee. That’s a huge convenience for families like the Dyers.

The partnership between TMH and Wolfson Children’s Hospital was designed to expand specialized pediatric health care into the Tallahassee area. The outpatient Wolfson Children’s Specialty Center at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare began a year ago with the expansion of pediatric cardiology care in the Tallahassee Primary Care Associates (TPCA) office of Dr. St. Petery, who was joined by Dr. Vining in March of last year. In the future, more pediatric specialties will be added.

“This partnership is ideal for our patients because expanding the care available from pediatric cardiologists who live and practice locally improves patient care tremendously,” said Dr. Vining. “Pediatric cardiology has laid the foundation in this area; adding more pediatric specialists to Tallahassee will continue to bring much needed care to the children of our area.”

For little Henry Dyer, that means more time to run his parents ragged as he races past them through the house.

Find out more about congenital heart disease, our children’s heart specialists at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, and the services offered by the Wolfson Children’s Specialty Center at tmh.org/Wolfson.

Wolfson Children's Logo Click here to find out more about Baptist Health