When asked to describe themselves, one word that comes up for Carrie and Brant is "family oriented." Much of the Grapevine, Texas, couple's lives revolve around their 1-year-old daughter Caroline, and they enjoy spending time with relatives in the Dallas metroplex. Given their health journey, they also consider a dedicated cardiology team as part of that extended family – including a father and son physician duo who have been in Carrie's life since she was born.
As a congenital heart defect survivor herself, Carrie never expected to be on the other side of the patient-caregiver relationship. But when her daughter was born with the same heart condition, she found continued support with experts from Pediatric Heart Specialists, The Heart Center at Children's Health℠.
A childhood not limited by congenital heart disease
Shortly after Carrie was born in Tyler, Texas, she was diagnosed with transposition of the great arteries, a rare and serious heart defect. She was transported to Children's Medical Center Dallas, where she had a balloon atrial septostomy performed by Penn Laird, Sr, M.D. Seven months later, she had open heart surgery.
Growing up, Carrie's heart didn't hold her back. She even looks back on her annual cardiology appointments fondly, as fun days she could take off school and spend time with her parents.
"My heart condition was never a scary thing, and I was really lucky in that I didn't have any limitations at all," Carrie says. "I was able to play, exercise and even became a runner."
When Carrie started attending college in Denton, Texas, she needed a nearby cardiologist for follow-up appointments. She began seeing Dr. Laird, founder of Pediatric Heart Specialists and the same cardiologist who had performed her atrial septostomy when she was just 1 day old. "He would write long letters home to my family, letting them know how I was doing," Carrie remembers.
Eventually Carrie started seeing Dr. Laird's son, Penn Laird II, M.D., cardiologist at Pediatric Heart Specialists, about every other year for care. After she married Brant, Carrie began the conversation with Dr. Laird II about the possibility of pregnancy and her heart health. Tests showed that Carrie's heart was strong, and there were no concerns with Carrie and Brant starting a family.
Carrie's baby is diagnosed with a heart defect
When Carrie got pregnant, she set up her care team, which would involve seeing Dr. Laird II every trimester for monitoring. But when she was five months pregnant, a level 2 sonogram revealed a surprise and Carrie's worst fear: Her baby's heart had an abnormality.
"They immediately called Dr. Laird, and he said to come right in to his office," she remembers.
A fetal echocardiogram confirmed that the baby had transposition of the great arteries – the same congenital heart defect Carrie had as a newborn.
"I remember thinking, how could this happen? The defect was not supposed to be genetic, and in the moment, it was really overwhelming and emotional," Carrie says.
As Carrie struggled to comprehend the news, she remembers asking the question that so many moms ask if anything happens to their child: Was it something she did?
"I remember Dr. Laird immediately told me no, that it was nothing that I did. It was hard, but that was comforting," she says.
Throughout the rest of pregnancy, Carrie worked with her care teams to closely monitor her baby's growth. Due to an elevated blood pressure, Carrie was put on hospital bed rest for the last month of her pregnancy. During that time, Dr. Laird II and his nurses would come to check on Carrie frequently, providing support as her baby's birth approached.
"We're always going to put our patients first and do all we can to make sure they feel as good about a situation as they can," says Dr. Laird II. "Part of that is showing up every single day and sharing a positive word of encouragement. That's a huge part of being a physician and caring for a patient."
Treating Caroline's heart defect
Caroline was born on the morning of October 4, 2018. Immediately after birth, Dr. Laird II performed a balloon atrial septostomy, the same procedure his father had performed on Carrie after birth. Caroline was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and just a few hours later, Carrie was able to see her baby girl.
Four days after being born, Caroline was ready for open heart surgery. Eric Mendeloff, M.D., a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon at The Heart Center at Children's Health, performed the surgery. Carrie and Brant's entire family surrounded them as they waited for hours, and finally, they heard the good news that the surgery had gone well.
"It was so emotional to see her after," Carrie says. "I remember looking at her, and just telling her that I was sorry. It's a really hard thing to see your child go through that and feel like you can't do anything to help them."
Caroline spent the next month in the NICU recovering and building her strength. Then, on her 1-month birthday, Caroline was cleared to go home.
Baby Caroline thrives
Since going home, Caroline is not only surviving – she is thriving.
"She is a true gift, and I feel like that she is a reminder every day that if life throws you challenges, that does not define you," says Carrie.
While Caroline is petite, she is growing, active and happy. Caroline and Carrie will both visit Dr. Laird II for follow-up appointments together, jokingly referring to them as "mother-daughter checkups."
"With their specific heart defect, Carrie and Caroline's story is pretty rare," says Dr. Laird II. "It's great that Carrie has done as well as she has, and I'm so glad that Caroline is doing just as well."
Through it all, Carrie has appreciated the personal level of support, empathy and encouragement she's received from her care team. She enjoys sharing pictures as Caroline grows, and is reassured by having an expert level of care nearby for both her and her daughter.
"My hope for Caroline is that this does not limit her, and that she has a healthy, happy childhood," Carrie says. "That's all we want, but if something does happen, I know we're in good hands."
The nationally renowned team of pediatric cardiologists and subspecialists at Pediatric Heart Specialists, The Heart Center at Children's Health treat the whole spectrum of pediatric heart problems, with a commitment to excellence. Learn more about our cardiology programs and treatments.
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