For Bonnie and Jay, February 14 will never be what it once was. On that day in 2017, with hearts everywhere—on candy, cards and chocolates—the new parents learned that the heart of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, had a hole in between its two upper chambers.
Ava was born with congenital heart disease, a condition where there is an issue in the structure of the heart. At the time of Ava’s birth in November 2015 her condition was unknown and it wasn’t until a month before her first birthday that Bonnie and Jay became concerned. Ava became increasingly sick with fevers, a cough and laboured breathing.
“It felt like something was ‘off’ to me,” said Bonnie. “When Ava was not recovering from her sickness like the other children in her daycare we did everything we could to find answers.”
Through the following months Ava saw several health professionals when a physician discovered that she had a heart murmur. Once the murmur was detected, the toddler was referred to BC Children’s Hospital which led to further testing by a cardiologist at the hospital’s Heart Centre. Ava was diagnosed with her condition on Valentine’s Day, 2017.
Her diagnosis was Superior Sinus Venous ASD with PAPVR. This diagnosis meant there was a hole between the two upper chambers of the heart with abnormal drainage of the pulmonary veins that bring blood with oxygen from the lungs to the heart; normally, the veins connect to the left atrium, but in Ava, some of those veins connected to the right side of her heart, draining blood from the lungs back to the wrong chamber of her heart.
It was after this diagnosis, that Ava’s parents were told she needed open-heart surgery.
In the early hours of March 9, 2017, the health care team, including cardiac surgeon Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, brought Ava to the operating room (OR) where she was attached to a heart-lung machine, a state-of-the-art technology that supports the heart and lungs by maintaining appropriate blood pressure and oxygen levels. A perfusionist ensured the delivery and distribution of oxygenated blood to her body, routing blood around Ava’s heart and lungs through the equipment, allowing Dr. Gandhi to complete the cardiac repair without compromising her organ function.
Three hours later Dr. Gandhi walked out of the OR and approached Bonnie and Jay in the waiting area with a smile to deliver the news they were hoping for—Ava’s surgery was a success.
“Open heart surgery always carries significant and very serious risks but, with a well-established team, the rate of complications can be minimized,” said Dr. Gandhi. “Ava will need lifelong follow up with cardiologists, but she should be able to live a completely normal, happy, healthy life.”
Today, almost a year after her surgery, Ava has been able to live like most two-year-olds. She loves drawing pictures, watching Paw Patrol and playing with her plastic animals; she can often be seen wearing her pink tutu too.
“There are no words for our gratitude to Dr. Gandhi and BC Children's,” said Bonnie. “In the most difficult of times staff guided us gently through some of the most difficult information we’ve ever had to process, answered our questions and supported us. We are truly blessed to have had access to such world-class care.”
This Valentine’s Day marks the anniversary of Ava’s diagnosis—and with hearts everywhere, Bonnie and Jay can find comfort knowing that their daughter’s heart is whole.
February is Heart Month, a time to bring awareness to the importance of cardiovascular health and reduce risks of cardiovascular disease.
Worldwide, congenital heart disease affects one out of 100 children with one in four requiring heart surgery or other interventions to survive.
BC Children’s Heart Centre
provides leadership and excellence in the care of infants and children with congenital and acquired heart disease, from antenatal (fetal) diagnosis through to early adulthood. The Heart Centre cares for children across British Columbia and in the Yukon, with Heart Centre staff travelling to remote communities across the province to provide clinical care and expertise. As the first centre in Canada with this new state-of-the-art technology, the Heart Centre also cares for children from partner sites in the Western Canadian Children’s Heart Network.