Nathan has big dreams in his sight; he wants to be on the television show American Ninja Warrior Junior. His reasons for being on the show are unique to other contestants, as he wants to represent kids like him. “I want to be on American Ninja Warrior because I want to stand up for kids with heart conditions. I want to encourage them that they can do anything they want to.”
Unlike other children who have been diagnosed with heart conditions prenatally or days after they were born, Nathan was diagnosed with an absent left pulmonary artery at the age of six. In March 2017, his mother Jennifer took him to the doctor when he was sick with the flu. His doctor listened to his heart and heard a heart murmur. They were immediately sent to Sibley heart Center Cardiology for an EKG and ultrasound, and shortly after they received the diagnosis.
“We saw Dr. Heaton soon after his diagnosis. She is the one who believed she could place a stent through the cath lab. He needed the stent to open up his left pulmonary artery (which was about a fourth of the size it should be at that time),” Jennifer says. “The hope was that by placing a stent and allowing blood flow through, that artery it would grow large enough for Dr. Shashidharan to surgically connect his artery correctly at some point in the future.”
Dr. Heaton successfully placed the stent through the cath lab (which saved Nathan from an additional open heart surgery) at age seven. At age eight, Dr. Shashidharan successfully reconstructed his left pulmonary artery to connect successfully.
Dr. Heaton was amazing. She was realistic with us and honest in the reality that this may not work, but she gave us hope when other doctors told us we should not even try because it was unlikely to work at his age,” says Jennifer. “She has gone above and beyond for us, spending as much time as needed to explain and talk with us about what was going on and answering all of our questions.”
Two weeks after his surgery, he had his follow-up appointment with Dr. Phelps, and she was pleased with his healing progress.
Today, Nathan is a very active kid who enjoys sharing his story with other patients. Through his journey, he’s become a young advocate for other kids with heart conditions, going as far as visiting the Capitol for CHD Awareness Day. He spoke with Georgia’s House Representative Derek Jackson, who also has a heart condition and was told he couldn’t be in the Navy because of it. When Derek shared that he was in the Navy Seals, that sparked even more inspiration for Nathan that he could do anything he wanted to if he set his mind to it.
Through his time at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology, Nathan and his family have become close with the doctors and medical staff. From talking about their favorite Harry Potter books to teaching Nathan everything there is to know about his heart condition through 3D and hand-drawn pictures, the family has been more than pleased with how Sibley Heart Center Cardiology has gone over and beyond for them.
Anyone who has met Nathan can agree that his future looks bright. With his goal to be on American Ninja Warrior and a passion for sharing his incredible story, the sky’s the limit for him.
“As a parent, you don’t want your kid to face something this hard, and you want to protect them. But, what I’ve seen from Nathan, this whole situation has shaped him into this amazing kid, and I don’t know if he would be the same if he didn’t have to experience what he has,” says Jennifer.