About one in every 100 babies born today comes into the world with a heart defect. Just a generation ago, many of these babies would never make it to adulthood, but today, over 85 percent do, and currently there are over 1.2 million American adults who are living and thriving with congenital heart disease, leading to a whole new medical specialty.
Every day, her scar reminds 45-year-old Kimberly Tellez of the four major heart surgeries she’s had … the first of which came when she was barely four … the latest, two years ago.
Tellez told Ivanhoe, “I joked with my kids that I’m bionic now, because I have a mechanical valve in my heart and I have a pacemaker, so I still have to see a cardiologist.”
Her doctor knows how lucky Kim was to be born when she was.
“Kim is very fortunate to be alive today. She had very good care as a child. These people are pretty much miracles from a prior generation, and it’s our job to be the shepherds, to guide them through later life,” said Ari Cedars, MD, Director for the Center for Adults with Congenital Heart Disease at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital.
Adults with congenital heart disease face different problems than those with acquired heart disease. Almost all need follow up surgery to fix and refine earlier surgeries.
“We kind of refer to ourselves as warriors, because you go through all of these things. Two weeks before my surgery at 17, I went out and bought my first bikini,” Tellez said.
Kim proudly wears her badge of honor, earned with several trips to the operating room.
“In reality, I think they should wear it with pride, because it’s a testament to their success as a human being in overcoming adversity that the majority of us will never have to face,” Doctor Cedars told Ivanhoe.
And just because someone has a congenital heart defect doesn’t mean they’re immune to more heart disease later in life. So stay in touch with your doctor.