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From Patient to Caregiver, Katie's Giving Back from the Heart

Born with a congenital heart defect called ventricular septal defect (VSD) – often described as a hole in the heart – Katie underwent her first open heart surgery at the tender age of 3. Annual follow-up tests with her cardiologist never revealed any further complications. Katie was symptom-free and enjoyed a healthy, active childhood.

A Young Heart with Big Dreams

As Katie grew, so did her interest in cardiac medicine. It seemed her early exposure to medicine left her with ambitious goals.

"Ever since my first surgery at the age of 3, I wanted to work in pediatric cardiology," says Katie. "As a child, I remember playing with my doctor kit and the Operation game. I even took premedicine magnet classes in high school."

But soon, Katie's dreams of helping other pediatric cardiology patients were put on hold. While pursuing her degree in premedicine, Katie began experiencing some of the very symptoms she was learning to diagnose and treat.

"It wasn't until I was in college that I began having chest pains and felt short of breath," says Katie. "A visit to the cardiologist revealed another congenital heart defect. I needed open heart surgery, again."

Comprehensive Cardiac Care Close to Home

At 20, Katie was diagnosed with a double-chambered right ventricle in which an extra muscle obstructs normal blood flow. Her cardiologist suggested an out-of-state hospital for surgery. But after seeking a second opinion, Katie was referred to Richard Perryman, MD, Chief of Cardiac Surgical Services for Memorial Regional Hospital and Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. As a young adult with a congenital heart defect, Katie would benefit from the comprehensive care of the Memorial Adult Congenital Heart Center, a joint program of the Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute and the Cardiac Center at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital at Memorial.

"We liked the fact that we found world-class cardiac care close to my family and home," says Katie. "And Memorial's patient- and family-centered care philosophy meant that my mom could stay at my bedside and my family was kept involved in my care. That was very important to me."

While recovering after surgery, Katie met a young woman who made a huge impact on her future.

"Alison was a physician's assistant student with the cardiac team that came to visit me daily," says Katie. "I wasn't familiar with the role of a physician's assistant or PA, so she explained their role as state-licensed, certified members of the medical or surgical team. Her level of involvement and care is what inspired me."

Just six weeks after her surgery, Katie was back at college and more determined than ever to pursue her dreams. After graduating, Katie went to school to become certified as a physician's assistant. Once again, she contacted Dr. Perryman. This time, she was ready to begin helping other cardiac patients.

"Now I'm working side-by-side with the same doctors who saved my life," says Katie." "Together, we're helping save heart patients, just like me. It's amazing to be able to give back."

As a physician's assistant at the Cardiac Center at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, Katie is a strong liaison and advocate for children and families.

"I can share my first-hand experience, show them my scars and really connect with our patient families," says Katie. "Just recently, I had a congenital heart patient in her 40s afraid to have surgery. After I shared my story, she was ready. She told me that I'd inspired her. It was an awesome feeling."

Another Dream

Katie continues to receive follow-up care through the Memorial Adult Congenital Heart Center. Now, her care team includes a Memorial obstetrician. Katie and her husband, Ben, recently welcomed baby Parker to their family.

"It would not have been possible without the support and coordinated care of my obstetrician and the entire cardiac team," says Katie. "They saved my life, gave me the most rewarding job, and now they are caring for me again as a mother. It's been many dreams come true for me at Memorial."


 

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