Austin and Lauren Whites' perspectives changed instantly in January 2018 when their daughter Julianna was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect during her 20-week anatomy scan ultrasound.
"It just switches everything for you," Lauren said. "You learn not to take a single thing for granted and how quickly it can go from life is smooth and normal and good to you don't know what the next second is going to bring."
But Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) specialists were with them each step of the way.
Julianna was diagnosed with transposition of the great arteries (TGA), a rare condition where the two main heart arteries are reversed.
“So the blue blood, instead of going to the lungs to pick up oxygen, actually goes back to the body,” said Dr. Amy Dossey, ACH pediatric cardiac interventionalist.
Far from a typical birth, the Whites knew Julianna would immediately be transferred to ACH to undergo surgery. She was not born on her scheduled due date, "she needed to make her own debut," her mother said, but the ACH team was ready for her.
Julianna arrived by ambulance at ACH, and within two hours, Dossey was performing a septostomy, a procedure that creates a hole in the heart to allow blood mixing.
But Dossey did more than operate on Julianna – she was a calming presence for the Whites.
“I met Dr. Dossey upstairs in the CV (Cardiovascular) Unit, and she said with a smile on her face, ‘She’s so beautiful,’ and ‘I got to change her diaper,’” Austin said through tears. “Here I am just a crying mess, but in that moment, I was so scared, and that was so reassuring to me.”
Dr. Brian Reemtsen, an ACH cardiovascular surgeon, later performed Julianna’s open-heart surgery to switch her arteries, working “his magic” on their child, Lauren said.
“It's amazing to think that this man is working on a heart the size of a walnut, and the coronary arteries that he's moving are like the size of a pencil lead,” Lauren said.
Today, Julianna is developing normally, with only a slight scar on her chest.
"She is growing and thriving and doing fantastic," Dossey said. "We will continue to watch her closely throughout her life, looking for any complications or struggles that she could potentially have later in life."
The Whites said it’s hard to explain their gratitude for the ACH team that saved their daughter’s life.
"We could not love them more," Lauren said. "You don't choose to be in this group of congenital heart defects; no one wants to sign up for that. But that staff, they choose to do that job every day. And they choose to walk into unknowns. But they do it, and they do it with strength and with being bold and with perseverance, and we're thankful for that. So thankful."
Learn more about ACH Pediatric Cardiology Care, ranked along with six other ACH specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2022-23.
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