Heart Research Benefits Patients Of All Ages

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - As two-and-a-half-year-old Miah Stewart races through the hallways, she appears like any other toddler in the "terrible twos."

Her mom, Desiree, describes her daughter as "very energetic."

"Mom has a hard time keeping up with her," Desiree says.

She and her husband, Jay, are more than happy to see it.

Miah was born with a heart condition, preventing her body from getting enough oxygenated blood. At six months, she underwent the first of two open heart surgeries.

"It felt like your whole world had ended until they came back to tell you she was fine," Desiree recalls.

Jay says, for him, it was the feeling of powerlessness.

"You just depend on the Lord and pray He guided the surgeon's hands to fix her heart," he said.

The Stewarts aren't alone. Each year, 80 to 120 babies born in Kansas have a serious heart defect.

Dr. Kenneth Goertz, a pediatric cardiologist with KU Medical Center who also sees patients through an outreach clinic at Topeka's Cotton-O'Neil Heart Center, says treating these tiny patients takes a unique approach.

"The challenge is treating whatever condition they have in a way that promotes normal growth and development," he says, "and that can be a struggle."

Goertz says, nowadays, even the most complex defects can be repaired. But work remains. For example, he says, if surgeons replace a valve in a child while they're still growing, they know the child will outgrow the valve. Research continues on developing valves that could perhaps be expanded as the child grows or a valve that comes from the patient as opposed to a donor.

Miah may need additional surgery in her teens, but, for now, she's like any other toddler - and she's living proof that research on the tiniest patients has big benefits.

"It's made her where she's at right now," Jay says.

The Stewarts will share their story Saturday, February 16, at the American Heart Association's annual benefit gala.