When Kurt and Lorrie of Rochester, Pennsylvania received a gift subscription to Reader’s Digest in 1999, they never imagined that this would be one of the most important gifts of their lives.
Kurt & Lorrie were then new parents of a tiny little girl with some very big medical problems. Born without a pulmonary artery and with a hole between the lower chambers of her heart, 10-month-old Raegan was severely ill. Already, pediatric heart specialists in Pittsburgh had told the family there was nothing they could do for the child.
That’s when Raegan's parent's opened the gift magazine and read about a little girl born with similar heart complications who was thriving after surgery at the Congenital Heart Institute at Miami Children’s Hospital.
After Raegan was evaluated at Miami Children’s, Drs. Redmond P. Burke, Director of Cardiovascular Surgery, and Evan Zahn, Director of Cardiology, met with the Hertzogs and described a care plan that they believed would offer Raegan at least a 50 percent chance for survival. “That was such a moment for us. It was the first hope that we had since Raegan was diagnosed,” said Kurt, an Army reservist.
The biggest initial hurdle for the interventional team was the pulmonary artery. Raegan was without even the beginnings of an artery, which would make her surgery especially challenging. In the first stage of this complex procedure, Dr. Burke used donor tissue to create an artery and connect it to the child’s heart.
Next, the team focused on expanding the two undersized arteries connected to Raegan’s lungs that were inhibiting blood flow. Over several years, Raegan had multiple interventional catheterization procedures at Miami Children’s that gradually expanded the arteries, which were especially small and non-elastic.
In 2004, Dr. Zahn employed an innovative “cutting balloon” device that proved effective in opening the child’s constricted arteries. Later that same year, Drs. Burke and Zahn collaborated for a surgical/catheterization hybrid procedure during which they replaced the initial donor tissue with a larger one more appropriate for Raegan’s age and further expanded her small lung arteries with the use of intraoperatively implanted metal stents.
All of this has paved the way for the final phase of Raegan’s heart repair, expected to take place in 2005. After Dr. Zahn further enlarges the stents in the catheterization laboratory, Dr. Burke is slated to close the hole in the lower chambers of Raegan’s heart, which will allow the organ to function completely normally for the first time.
To meet Raegan today, one would never guess all that she has faced in her short life. The dynamic 6-year-old loves dinosaurs and alternately makes plans to be a paleontologist, surgeon or veterinarian. She enjoys singing and dancing, and knows all the songs to the Broadway show “Cats.” “Raegan is a determined child who will not take ‘no’ for an answer,” said Lorrie. “I think having all this in her life has given her tremendous strength.”
For Pediatric Cardiology & Cardiovascular Surgery Information or if you wish to make an appointment, please call 305-662-8301.