Advances in heart research are saving lives. 11-year old Shayla Bleidissel is living proof.
Shayla was among the 35,000 babies the American Heart Association says are born in the U.S. every year with congenital heart defects.
Now in sixth grade, Shayla is like most kids. She likes hanging out with her friends, shopping, going to the beach and singing. But her start in life was a bit out of tune.
Shayla's mom, Stacy, remembers everything being normal until the morning after Shayla's birth, when her doctor walked in to tell her there was a problem. Doctors noticed shayla had a heart murmur. They moved her to Stormont-Vail's neonatal intensive care for more tests and learned malformations in her heart weren't letting her blood get enough oxygen.
Shayla's dad, Joe, says it was overwhelming. He says he'd bought his first daughter a pink dress that he expected to dress her in to take her home that day. Instead, he says, he and Stacy were thrown into a crash course on how the heart operates. Instead of going home, at two days old, Shayla was loaded into a helicopter and flown to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. At four days old, doctors operated on her heart.
Ten days later, Shayla got her pink dress and a welcome home. A second surgery at age four closed a hole initially left open, and today, Shayla is growing up fast.
Joe Bleidissel says what impresses him most is when people hear their story and say they had no idea Shayla had a heart defect. He says that's what they want is for Shayla to be treated like everyone else.
That's not to say life is without challenges. Shayla admits sometimes gets tired. She has a weaker stamina and needs to watch how hard she plays, so as not to overwork her heart. But she keeps her little brother in line, and there's no limit to her dreams for the future. She and a friend want to be cosmotologists. She's also thinking about being a nurse or veterinarian.
It's a future her parents are grateful to see unfold.
"It's a true blessing, a complete miracle," Stacy Bleidissel says.
Shayla may need more procedures in the future. For now, she and her family are helping the American Heart Association work to further the advances that saved her life. They're ambassadors for a gala fundraiser Saturday night. The Bleidissel's say the research the money funds is what saved Shayla's life.