How do you break it to an active, healthy 7-year-old that he needs open heart surgery? And how do you tell him that his beloved baseball season will be cut short because of it? This was the dilemma facing Lauren and Ryan when their son Reece was diagnosed with a CHD.
At Reece’s annual well check in 2021, his pediatrician noticed that his soft heart murmur discovered in toddlerhood had seemed to become louder and harsher. He referred Reece to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Cardiology and Dr. Glen Iannucci. Reece was diagnosed with Superior Sinus Venosus ASD/ Partial Anomalous Venous Return (PAPVR), and they began talking about repair.
“We were shocked but really grateful we didn’t have to go far to get the best care,” Ryan said. “We were honest with him. Reece doesn’t get flustered. He’s a brave kid, and he asked probing questions. We were amazed at how well he was taking everything leading up to surgery, but the one thing that upset him was finding out he wouldn’t be able to finish his baseball season with his team. That was hard, but Reece understood that the surgery would help him get back to baseball healthier and stronger and was resilient about moving forward.”
Reece had surgery last October and spent just three nights in the hospital. Lauren, who worked at Children’s as a child life specialist for 14 years, said she never thought they would be on the other side with their own child. She reached out to her peers for resources and support so that she could focus on her role as Reece’s mom.
“Dr. Iannucci and Dr. Shaw explained the procedure so thoroughly to us, which gave us confidence that we were in skilled and compassionate hands,” Lauren said. “The whole staff was phenomenal and gave him as much control as possible over what was happening. They went out of their way to take care of Reece but also made sure we were comfortable. That made the whole process much easier.”
Reece is very active and enjoys sports. He was home from school for two weeks after his surgery, and after six weeks he was released to get back to the things he loves, including baseball. He attended Camp Braveheart this summer, where he shared fun camp experiences with other heart warriors. He says he would like to play in the MLB (as an Atlanta Brave, of course) or become an engineer when he grows up. His parents have no doubt he’ll do it.
“Reece has a calming and gentle spirit about him,” Ryan said. “He makes friends easier than anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s super curious and cares deeply for others. He’s been through some challenges, but he’s always optimistic, and we know he’ll use his experiences in the future to help others. He’ll want to give back to this cause.”
On his “heart-iversary” this year on Oct. 1, Reece wanted to make sure the children in the hospital had what they needed to cope while they recovered. Family and friends donated items from the Child Life Heart Center wishlist. Reece asked his parents if they could make it an annual occasion. Reece also has plans to ensure the snack carts at Children’s are well stocked with his favorite snacks: Cheetos and Cheez-Its.
“Throughout this journey it has been so helpful to connect with other people who have been through it, like the Kids at Heart community. Our story is all about gratitude. From the initial insight of our pediatrician to the great heart community here to being fortunate enough to live near Children’s, where there was no question that we were receiving the best possible care,” Lauren said. “Our perspective on life is forever changed, and we’re so blessed.”
For more information about Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.