Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Little Hearts Big Cause

We're extremely excited to feature a guest blog post for an amazing local mom founded non-profit, the Sam Vlasics Foundation.

My name is Dana Vlasics.  I am a life-long resident of the Lehigh Valley, currently residing in Nazareth.  I am employed part time as a dental hygienist in Bethlehem.  I am happily married to my husband of eight years, Paul, and we have two beautiful boys together, Jack and Sam.  
Jack is seven years old, and is in 2nd grade this year, which I can hardly believe.  He is unbelievable sweet, very sensitive, and has quite an imagination.  He has an ear for music, and has my husband’s sense of humor.  He has an affection for Minecraft and all modes of transportation, including roller coasters.

Sam is my five year old.  He eats, sleeps, and breathes sports. He is rarely seen without some type of sports jersey, and he isn’t too particular about his teams yet.  He’ll eat just about anything and is quite the socialite.  He and his brother are the best of friends.

Both pregnancies with the boys were pretty normal and had no complications. The day Sam was born was pretty normal.  Relatives came and visited, including big brother Jack.  Everyone left in the evening, and Sam and I settled in for the night.  I told my husband to go to work the next day, because I would rather him spend his time off with us at home than with me while I’m just siting in the hospital. My dad came for a visit early that morning, and shortly after, Sam went back to the nursery to wait for the pediatrician to do his exam.   So I sat and waited, and waited.  I asked the nurse when I could have him back and she said the Dr just came and was checking him.  The pediatrician came in to talk to me and mentioned he had examined Sam.  He said he was having a hard time feeling his femoral pulses, explaining that they can be hard to feel, so he was having the nursery run some tests just to make sure everything was ok.  When he left the room, I googled “lack of femoral pulses in a newborn”.  What I read seemed bad, but I figured it probably wasn’t accurate, that the Internet usually exaggerates.  Unfortunately, google was pretty close.  Sam had a life-threatening heart defect.  Doctors and nurses started filling my room, asking questions.  My husband happened to call and I couldn’t even tell him what was happening.  A nurse explained what she knew, and Paul rushed right over.  My mom called me at lunch to see how we were, and all I could utter was, “Mom, there’s something wrong with Sam’s heart”.  My whole world was flipped upside down.  
Sam was airlifted to St Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.  His first diagnosis was an Interrupted Aortic Arch. His descending aorta, the part that oxygenates the lower half of your body, was not connected to his heart.  His body was visibly half red, half blue.  His other defect was found the morning of his surgery, an aorto-pulmonary window.  This combination of defects was so rare; the doctors had very little experience with his case. They were able to stabilize him until he could receive surgery.

His first open heart surgery was at one week old.  They were able to repair his aorta, and patch the hole in his heart.  It’s hard to believe that the doctors can work on such a tiny heart with such precision. After a total of three weeks in the hospital, Sam came home.  It was tricky adjusting to caring for a special needs newborn, and dealing with a two year old big brother at the same time.  Thank God family and friends were always close by to help.

Part of the original plan of treatment was to do a cardiac catheterization three months after Sam’s surgery.  They were going to balloon areas in his heart that were repaired, breaking scar tissue to release pressure in his heart.  When they did the cath, they found the original repair was unsuccessful.  The tissues they used in the first surgery never grew with him.  Basically his heart looked the same as when he left the hospital after his surgery, but now he was three months old.  He needed a second open heart surgery.

This story does have a happy ending.  Today Sam is a healthy, thriving, crazy bundle of fun.  We do not know what lies ahead for Sam, but we know the fighting spirit that has brought him this far will continue to serve him well in the future. 

Our family and friends are dedicated to raising congenital heart defect awareness.  We are the only Lehigh Valley based heart defect awareness group.  When Sam was born, we felt very alone in the CHD world.  We didn’t want anyone else to feel that way so we created the Sam Vlasics Foundation to help other families affected by CHD.  We spread awareness in a few different ways.  Each year we hold the Warm Hearts 5K.  Money from that event has allowed us to print information about heart defects, to be handed out at public events such as Iron Pigs games, and Levitt Pavilion concerts.  We do special projects such as pillowcase projects for St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.  We also provide families there with backpacks, a notebook, pen, and an expandable file folder to keep track of all of their child’s medical info.  We hold Wish List drives for the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House on Front & Erie, as well as cooking dinner there annually for Sam’s birthday.  This year, we are able to send four mothers to Hayden’s Heart’s “Healing of the Heart” retreat.  This retreat is a unique peer experience for grieving mothers of heart angels.  Our newest event, the Little Hearts Mini Golf Classic, will happen on Sunday, October 4th, 2015, at Putt U in Center Valley.  Come join us for a morning of mini-golf and raffles to support SVF! 

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