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Living to the beat of a normal heart: Cameron's story

August 22, 2014

Four years ago when Heather was 36 weeks pregnant, she went in to her doctor’s office for what she thought would be a routine check-up. However, her OB/GYN, Dr. Emma Fritz, told her she needed to go immediately to Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, as her unborn son’s heart needed emergency treatment. As a flurry of emotions rushed over her and her husband, Ryan, they put complete faith in the hands of the specialists at Winnie Palmer Hospital and Arnold Palmer Hospital who would soon care for their baby boy.

Expecting the unexpected leading up to Cameron’s birth

Heather was used to going in for testing at her OB/GYN’s office several times a week throughout her pregnancy. Her unborn son, Cameron, had been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat in the early stages of Heather’s pregnancy, requiring frequent check-ups to monitor his condition. Going in for her 36-week appointment, Heather wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. But one look at her doctor and she knew this time, things were different.

Due to a change in Cameron’s heart rate, Heather was told she needed to go to Winnie Palmer Hospital immediately, so that doctors could perform the life-saving care Cameron needed to survive. On the way to the hospital, Heather was filled with excitement as she was ready to meet their unborn son, but also the fear of not knowing just how serious his condition might be.

“You want this perfectly healthy baby, and it took us three years to have him. It’s different when they tell you ‘there’s something wrong with your baby.’ It’s not the picture you had in your head.”

With her husband by her side, Heather gave birth to Cameron on March 24, 2010, weighing 6 lbs. 2 oz. After holding him for a brief second, Cameron was whisked away by the nurses and staff to perform the necessary treatments to stabilize his heart rate.

Heather knew that Cameron was a fighter from the moment he was born and that he would be able to overcome whatever challenges lie ahead.

Cameron was diagnosed with Automatic Atrial Tachycardia, a condition characterized by a “misfiring” of cells within the heart that takes over the normal rhythm, causing an irregular heartbeat. Shortly after birth, his condition could be stabilized with medication, allowing Cameron to go home the same day as Heather.

Finding healing at The Heart Center at Arnold Palmer Hospital

At Cameron’s one-month check up at The Heart Center at Arnold Palmer Hospital, his parents were once again hit with the unexpected. They were told that the medicine wasn’t working to stabilize his heart rate anymore. Not showing any of the typical signs or symptoms of a child with a heart condition, they were shocked.

After spending a week in the cardiac ICU, Cameron’s heart rate was once again stabilized with medication. While their stay wasn’t always easy, Heather knew they were in the best hands.

“Everyone makes you feel welcome and at home. It was important to us that they took the time to explain Cameron’s condition to us so that we could understand it.”

Even though Cameron’s heart rate was being controlled through medicine, there was always a lingering fear in the back of Heather’s mind. Not knowing if something might go wrong at any moment, Heather was apprehensive to leave Cameron in someone else’s care, afraid that they might not know the signs to look for or what to tell someone if something unexpectedly happened to him.

Cameron’s chance at a normal-functioning heart

Knowing that medication was a temporary solution to Cameron’s condition, surgery would be needed to fix his irregular heartbeat once and for all. In December of 2013, at 3 years old, Cameron underwent a catheterization procedure so that “doctors could fix the boo boo on his heart,” according to Cameron. Under the care of Dr. Nehgme and his team, the abnormal cells causing the irregular heartbeats were destroyed, allowing Cameron’s heart to beat normally again – without any additional medication.

What would’ve required open-heart surgery years ago could now be done through catheterization, allowing Cameron to go home the next day and resume his normal activities. The first thing he did when he got home was go for a bike ride. And for the first time, Heather felt the freedom to let him go, knowing that he now had a perfectly healthy heart that could sustain him through any activity he chose to participate in.

According to his mom, Cameron is a smart, energetic 4-year-old who has never let his heart condition get in the way of the activities he wants to get involved in. Wanting to be just like his dad, Cameron has recently picked up ice hockey, and is a few weeks into lessons at the RDV Sportsplex, a local recreation center. Now having had the surgery, his parents can be at ease as they watch their little boy chase after his new dream with dedication and determination.

Looking back on the care they have received at Arnold Palmer Hospital, Heather says,

“It’s been a dream come true for a dream we didn’t want to have. I don’t think we would’ve had the same outcome had Cameron not been treated at Winnie Palmer Hospital and Arnold Palmer Hospital. The fact that everything was here in our backyard – the NICU, The Heart Center at Arnold Palmer Hospital, the pharmacy – and we didn’t have to leave was huge. It was like a one-stop shop for our family.”

After visiting The Heart Center for Cameron’s last follow-up appointment, Heather explains, with tears of joy and sadness in her eyes:

“It’s bittersweet. It’s a great feeling knowing that he is healed, but the staff is like family. We’re done, but we’re not ‘done.’ Now it’s our time to support other families going through a similar experience.”

In their desire to give back, Heather and their family have recently become involved in Mended Little Hearts to be able to connect to other heart families. They have also joined “Team MoMo,” created by Juan and Sara Gonzalez in memory of their son Monroe “Momo” Gonzalez, to fundraise for this year’s Miracle Miles Run, benefiting the NICU at Winnie Palmer Hospital.

And don’t think Cameron isn’t playing his part, too. This year for his birthday, he chose to collect toys and art supplies for the cardiac ICU at Arnold Palmer Hospital instead of receiving gifts. He will also be running his first 5K at this year’s Miracle Miles Run and has already raised over $350 for his team!

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