Sunday, February 21, 2010

Shaun White

Greetings, Friends! Facebook is a twitter with news about Shaun White! At least the congenital heart defect Facebook community is raving about this inspiring young man. Everyone is talking about "The Flying Tomato" -- an amazing 23-year-old snowboarding sensation.

What most people don't know is that Shaun White was born with a severe, congenital heart defect known as tetralogy of Fallot.

Tetralogy of Fallot was one of the first severe congenital heart defects for doctors to attempt to "fix." Dr. Helen Taussig is known for saving "blue babies" -- babies born with tetralogy of Fallot and other congenital heart defects which result in poor oxygenation, thus causing the babies to look blue. She, like Shaun White, is a hero.

Most people don't know that Dr. Taussig lost her mother at the tender age of 11 and that she suffered from dyslexia. Not only did she overcome her disability, she went on to earn a degree from Radcliff College and eventually earned a medical degree from John Hopkins University -- one of the few universities which accepted women at the time. Taking on an internship in cardiology, Dr. Taussig noticed something that had been missed by other doctors -- some blue babies lived longer than others and she realized why. There is an opening (patent ductus arteriosus) which closes shortly after birth. For some babies, the closing of their PDA was a death sentence. Dr. Taussig realized that if she could somehow keep the PDA open, or create an artificial pathway, blue babies could do better.

In 1941, Dr. Alfred Blalock met Dr. Helen Taussig at Johns Hopkins and she suggested the creation of a PDA. Thus began the collaboration of Blalock and Taussig (and Alfred Blalock's brilliant technician, Vivien Thomas) and a life-saving surgery often called "The Blalock-Taussig Shunt" which is sometimes part of a surgery needed to save children with other heart defects. My son had his B-T shunt when he had his Norwood Procedure, as do many children with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

Thanks to Dr. Taussig and Dr. Blalock, some people born with broken hearts have a chance to live a normal life. Or in the case of Shaun White, an extraordinary life. I imagine Shaun White doesn't even know that Dr. Helen Taussig had to overcome prejudice against women and her learning disability and that Vivien Thomas had to overcome prejudice against African Americans in order to create the surgical technique that was probably used to save Shaun's life. What he doesn't realize is that just by virtue of the fact that he is competing in the Olympics, he is helping to defeat yet another prejudice -- the belief that if a child is born with a broken heart, he will not have a good quality of life. Shaun White is proof that even if a child is born with a broken heart, he just might go to the Olympics. He just might realize a seemingly impossible dream.

Congratulations, Shaun White! From one American to another, I'm proud you're representing our country in Vancouver. From a congenital heart defect advocate to a CHD survivor -- you're an inspiration and a joy to behold. Thanks to people like you, my son has a shining example of how a person's heart defect doesn't have to define him. I, like the Facebook community I belong to, applaud and honor you.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Baby Hearts Press February Special!

Greetings! Baby Hearts Press has a special for February - Heart Month. Buy a book and get a free item. See for more details!