Lowcountry Hearts

This past Saturday, I walked into a restaurant to meet friends for dinner (notedly: before the Garth Brooks concert). Glancing into the sea of people, I spot Andy first. Hair in a chignon, stunning earrings, and a white faux fur coat that's bound to catch anyone's eye. First impression, this is Andy. She's beautiful, bold, and wasn't afraid to rock a 15 pound wedding dress when she married the man of her dreams this past year. But we're not here to talk about Andy's fashion (oh, but maybe we are closer to Charleston Fashion Week), we're here to talk about her heart. Andy's true passion, outside of her close-knit family that includes her husband Travis and French bulldog, Bernice, is her selfless job as a Certified Cardiovascular Perfusionist at the Medical University of South Carolina. One where she wears a beeper at all times, to be on call for the lives of others. Just like she's on call for her friends 24/7, with a heart (and love) of gold.

And now we present to you...


Doesn't it seem like there's a holiday for everything these days? Just last week, I saw where it was National Chocolate Donut Day. Right before everyone's favorite, Valentine's Day. We expect to see heart shaped boxes, chocolate hearts, heart shaped balloons, and love all around, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.  Silently hiding underneath the Hallmark giant, is a smaller, less celebrated February date that makes our collective hearts skip a beat. It’s Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) Awareness Week. 

CHD Awareness Week is meant to bring awareness to the community and bond those individuals and families who are affected. CHD is an umbrella term for any defect in heart structure present at birth. It can take many forms, ranging from a simple “hole in the heart”, to a Blue-Baby, to syndromes incompatible with life.

The cause of a CHD is often unknown. Each year approximately 40,000 babies are born in the United States with a congenital heart defect and approximately two to three million individuals are thought to be living in the United States with CHD. Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect, with 1 in every 100 children born having CHD. Those statistics are too haunting for any mother or family to bear alone.

Luckily, as if life isn’t perfect enough living in the Lowcountry, we have MUSC Children’s Hospital. MUSC is the only pediatric cardiac surgery center in the state. Every neonate, infant, toddler, child, pre-teen, and teenager with CHD will pass through MUSC’s door. MUSC is something truly special. It has a highly specialized team of professionals who dedicate their lives to saving the smallest members of our community; the Pediatric Heart Program.

Read an email directly from the Chief of Pediatric CT Surgery, Dr. Scott Bradley:

“To all-I want to let you know some good news about our program. We recently learned that the MUSC Pediatric Heart Program received the highest rating (3-stars) from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) Congenital Heart Surgery Database. The STS database includes essentially all of the pediatric heart programs in North America; there are currently 117 participating programs. [ . . .] overall outcomes are graded from 1-star (worse than expected) to 3-star (better than expected)[. . .] Only 10 out of the 117 programs in the database received a 3-star rating in the most recent public report. Due to the statistics involved, it is particularly hard for a smaller program to achieve a 3-star rating, which makes our accomplishment even more significant [. . .] this achievement reflects the efforts of everyone involved in the pediatric heart program. We should all be very proud of this -- Congratulations!”

MUSC is one of the top 10 hospitals in the country for little hearts, ranking next to giants in NYC, Philadelphia, and Boston. This achievement is a conglomeration of years of dedication, research, studies, practice, and education. And of course, love. Many times, the team operates on a small, sick baby for hours, and the surgeon stays scrubbed in from 7am until 7pm, never taking a break or even breaking scrub. And after an entire day in the operating room, I see the surgeon’s pull a chair next to the baby’s bed in the ICU. Instead of going home to their own families, they spend the night at their patient’s side. That’s love. 

Image: The Room2Cru, the pediatric heart team operating

Image: The Room2Cru, the pediatric heart team operating

Here are stories of the lives CHD has touched, specifically MUSC's own success story Jake Paul.

How You Can Help
There are dozens of organizations, volunteer programs, and funds that aid the Children’s Hospital. From radio-thons, luncheons, sporting events,  and races, the Lowcountry really cares about is children. Here is a quick list of upcoming events to help you get more involved.

Alicia and Andy at the MUSC's Little Hearts walk

Alicia and Andy at the MUSC's Little Hearts walk

What's Next
As an extra reward, MUSC is building a brand new Women’s and Children’s Medical Pavillion. The MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital plans are already underway. It will be a beautiful, and much needed, addition to the MUSC district. It will mirror the current Ashley River Tower, and will be a state-of-the-art medical center for South Carolina’s women, children, and babies. It will open its doors in 2019. 

My Final Thoughts
MUSC’s Children’s Hospital is a center for hope. The Lowcountry, and all of South Carolina, is beyond fortunate to have such a special organization in its own downtown. Congenital Heart Disease, although the most common birth defect, is just one of the many medical issues threatening our families and their happiness. The more we educate and familiarize ourselves and our community, the more progress we can create.  If there is one thing I have learned as a member of this amazing team and community, there is more love in those hospital walls and sandy beaches than all the Valentine’s day cards combined.

-Dafne Andrea Chianella Collins, CCP