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Active Teenager Reflects on Her Open Heart Surgery at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital

February 2006 — "When Olivia was almost 8, she was only about 40 pounds. We thought she took after me because I am petite," says Jan, Olivia's mother. "But when we look back at Olivia's childhood videos and photos, it's obvious that something else was going on."

A Timely Diagnosis

That "something else" turned out to be atrial septal defect, which in Olivia's case translated into a hole the size of a quarter in the top two chambers of her heart. "Olivia had been diagnosed with an "innocent heart murmur" at a very early age, and her pediatrician monitored her closely and believed it would correct itself. "Because our niece had 'outgrown' a heart murmur, my husband, Richard, and I expected the same for Olivia," says Jan. But Olivia was exhibiting other symptoms.


In addition to her low weight, Olivia normally took long naps after school and went to bed early. "I got tired easily when I played or rode my bike, and I couldn't run for very long," remembers Olivia. "Her pediatrician just never connected the dots," adds Jan. Those "dots" were the symptoms of atrial septal defect: a heart murmur, low weight, fatigue and failure to thrive.

Olivia's grandfather, Richard Hoover, MD, an orthopedic surgeon now deceased, recommended that she see a cardiologist. She had been sick, and he noticed that her heart murmur had become more pronounced. Her pediatrician said that a fever could cause this to occur, and that they shouldn't worry. But her grandfather insisted on taking Olivia to a pediatric cardiologist in West Palm Beach.

That pediatric cardiologist was Harry Bayron, MD, who is on the medical staff at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. Dr. Baron knew immediately that there was an issue. He performed a complete physical exam, an EKG and an echocardiogram. On Olivia's 8th birthday, Dr. Bayron made the diagnosis of atrial septal defect. "We were all amazed that there was this massive hole in my heart," says Olivia. Dr. Bayron was confident it could be repaired and referred them to the Congenital Cardiac Surgery Program at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital.

Comprehensive Treatment and Compassionate Care

In early August 1998, Olivia and her parents met with the pediatric cardiac surgeons at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. "We discussed the options available," says Jan, "and her surgeon even said that he would try to leave only a 3-inch scar - which he did." The surgeons performed a new procedure that didn't require cutting the breastbone as in traditional open heart surgery. To repair Olivia's heart, they grafted part of her pericardium over the hole.

Jan was amazed by how well Olivia handled her diagnosis and the surgery that followed. "Olivia never showed any fear," says Jan. "She didn't fret over it or resist in any way, like she understood it was part of her destiny. Even when the cardiologist gave her the diagnosis, she didn't flinch. We were so proud of her."


Olivia's parents spent 3 nights in the Conine Clubhouse, a free-of-charge "home-away-from-home" for families of hospitalized children. "It was a wonderful spot to regroup," says Jan. "We did round-the-clock watches on Olivia and would take turns sleeping at the Clubhouse. It was so nice to be able to walk across the street and just be there for her."

While Olivia recuperated, Jan and Richard were amazed by the care she received. "The whole staff gave us a really warm feeling," Jan remembers. "I missed them when we left because they gave us such special, special treatment." Lotsy Dotsy, the resident clown, visited Olivia to entertain her, and the day Olivia left their care, her physicians and nurses signed a stuffed autograph puppy to let her know they would be thinking of her.

An Amazing Turnaround

Olivia returned home and felt well enough to ride her bike later that day. "I got in so much trouble!" says Olivia. "By the end of the month, I joined a cheerleading squad. The year after my surgery I gained about 30 pounds and grew a foot taller. Now I'm almost 5'7"." Jan adds, "We are really blessed. No one would believe Olivia had undergone open heart surgery. Olivia has flourished since the operation."

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