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Sisters at Heart

Two sisters, two CHD diagnoses, and Sibley Heart Center Cardiology has been part of their lives from the beginning.

Brooke Dorris, 23, was diagnosed with sinus venosus atrial septal defect at 20 months old, and Mallory Dorris, 16, was diagnosed at one week old with ASD and VSD. Both girls had open heart surgery to repair their CHDs at young ages with the same pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Kirk Kanter, MD. Their pediatric cardiologist, Robert Campbell, MD, has followed the sisters into adulthood.

Brooke’s CHD took her parents totally by surprise as she had appeared to be a perfectly healthy baby and toddler before she contracted a cold in 1997. When doctors put her on albuterol, which causes the heart to beat faster, her heart murmur was enhanced and identified for the first time. Figuring it would turn out to be innocent, her mom and dad, Dana and Jeff, took Brooke for further testing at Sibley.

I was at Sibley looking around at all the poor little babies and little did I know in a few minutes Brooke would be one of them,” Dana said.

Mallory was a different story. She was lethargic right off the bat and had a bad case of jaundice. Dana couldn’t get bilirubin lights to bring home, so she took Mallory to Kennestone Hospital for treatment. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because doctors there discovered Mallory’s murmur, which led to her CHD diagnosis. Mallory struggled for 12 weeks to put on weight, and finally she could wait no longer for surgery. After surgery, she transformed from a “failure to thrive” baby to a normal, healthy child, but the road started out rough.

“I went back to see her for first time after surgery, and she looked terrible,” Dana said. “Her eyes were half open, and she was so white. I nearly passed out. I staggered back, and the nurse got me a chair. She asked me, ‘What’s concerning you most about what you’re seeing right now?’ I said, ‘She looks terrible. She looks like she’s dead.’ And she said, ‘Actually, she looks really good to me.’ It was very comforting. Pediatric nurses have a special calling.”

Dana said she appreciates how Sibley not only cares well for the children but also considers the feelings of the parents.

“We were scared to death both times,” Dana said. “It’s a sinking feeling to hand your child over at the surgery door and know they are going to stop her heart and put it on bypass.”

She also is grateful for how the doctors at Sibley work together and with outside providers, like the girls’ pediatrician, Elizabeth McGee, MD, to provide the best care for their patients.

“They are truly the subject matter experts,” Dana said. “It was comforting to us to know they take cases like these before a panel prior to performing surgery, to make sure all the doctors are in alignment with treatment plan.”

Brooke and Mallory have not needed further surgeries and now they follow up with their cardiologists every five years. Brooke is engaged to be married in September. They have lived happy and healthy lives with no restrictions placed on them.

“It hasn’t slowed them down one bit,” Dana said. “They both had open heart surgery at very young ages, so they’ve never known any different. CHD kids may need specialized care in the future, but they can live very healthy lives. And neither girl is the least bit self-conscious about her scars. I’ve always called their scars their badges of courage or beauty marks, so maybe that’s why they’re not self-conscious about them.”

The sisters agree and want to share that message with other families facing CHD.

I hope the interview and story give hope to parents of young kids and babies that their children can grow up and live normal, happy, strong lives,” Brooke said.

For more information about Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.

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