I Love Texas Children's Hospital With All My (Adult) Heart

February 1, 2012

Body

A little over 32 years ago, my parents learned their baby girl was born with the congenital heart defect Transposition of the Great Arteries. This meant the main arteries in my heart were switched and there was a hole in my heart.

Growing up my parents didn't make me feel any different than my older or younger sister. I only knew that I had a scar on the right side of my chest from a shunt operation when I was 5 months old, my fingernails were blue from lack of oxygen and I had to sit out in PE when I ran out of breath (which was much faster than other children). My parents did a great job balancing being protective and letting me enjoy life.

Tiffani Harrington

It wasn't until I turned 11 that my pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Charles Mullins, decided it was time for me to have open heart surgery to correct my defect. I think my parents were a lot more anxious about the surgery than I was. My main concern was having blood drawn and what item I should choose from the Texas Children's Hospital gift shop!

During my procedure in 1991, the surgeons at Texas Children's Hospital corrected my switched arteries, patched the hole in my heart and put in an artificial pulmonary valve. The surgery was a total success! I remember waking up in the intensive care unit and my mom saying, "Look Tiff, your nails are PINK!" I was beyond excited to have pink nails just like everyone else. To celebrate, my sisters bought me a very cool manicure set and we all did our nails. I'm pretty sure we thought we were professionals! Looking back, I'm thankful I did not have to worry about the decisions my parents were making and am glad I experienced the procedure through the eyes of a child.

Tiffani Harrington

If I could hug each person that worked on my surgery I would in a heartbeat. They, along with God, gave me a new found energy and the chance to graduate from high school, get 2 undergraduate degrees and a Masters degree from Baylor University.

Tiffani Harrington

Tiffani Harrington

In 2004, Dr. Mullins introduced me to Dr. Wayne J. Franklin. He was going to be my new adult cardiologist. I remember Dr. Franklin urging me to get involved and take control of my heart defect and any medical decisions that needed to be made. I was a little upset about his advice because I liked having my entourage of family members at each heart checkup and letting my dad tell me what I needed to know. Now, I have gratitude for Dr. Franklin's "pep talk".

I also met Tim that year while I was interning at an accounting firm in Houston and we were married in May of 2007. Now I had a new support person to come with me to my heart checkups.

Tiffani HarringtonWe discussed with Dr. Franklin that we wanted to start a family in a few years and asked if my heart was healthy enough for us to have children. Dr. Franklin told us about the strain that pregnancy puts on the heart and suggested I get an MRI and other tests done on my heart before we tried to start a family. After looking at the results of the MRI and other tests, Dr. Franklin decided it was best to go ahead and replace the 16-year-old artificial pulmonary valve from my prior surgery. The valve had become very calcified over the years, which made it harder for the heart to pump blood through the valve.

In 2007, Dr. Charles D. Fraser performed my 2nd open heart surgery and replaced my existing valve with a new artificial valve from a pig. I didn't realize how much of a difference the new pig valve would make. No, I didn't OINK, but I did have much more energy! Knowing I had a new valve made me feel at ease about getting pregnant whenever we were ready.

Tiffani HarringtonIn May 2009, we found out that we were going to be parents! I was beyond excited, but still a little anxious about my heart and my baby's heart. Dr. Franklin saw me once every trimester to see how I was feeling, do an echocardiogram and answer any of my concerns. I also saw a maternal fetal medicine specialist and had a fetal echocardiogram done when I was around 30 weeks pregnant. I was relieved to find out that my baby had a perfect heart!

All of my doctors followed my pregnancy very closely and worked together to come up with a birthing plan for me to deliver our baby. I was not worried after I went into labor because I knew we had a plan in place to keep the pushing to a minimum and to reduce the strain on my heart.

In January 2010, we welcomed our beautiful (and healthy) daughter into our family. Holding our daughter made all of the tests and surgeries that much more worth it!

Tiffani HarringtonIf I could give any advice to children or adults living with a congenital heart defect, I would say OWN IT! By that I mean — own your scar and show it off, be proud of everything you have gone through and survived! You would be surprised how many people ask me about my scar. That allows me to share my story and educate one more person about congenital heart defects.

The 2nd part of owning your defect is to stay educated on the type of defect you have, exercise, eat a nutritious diet and see your cardiologist annually. Understand what you have and don't just let your parents listen to what the cardiologist has to say. You need to listen and be involved too. I wish I would have been more involved when I was younger, but I relied on my parents, aunts and sisters to take care of it instead of me. Dr. Franklin was incredible in transitioning me into the adult practice and making me take charge of my health and my heart.

The last part of owning your defect is the most important to me. I know it was not by accident that I was created this way. God has a plan for my life and an incredible way to use my heart defect to His glory. To that I say, PRAISE THE LORD! Always keep your heart full of faith!

Tiffani HarringtonThank you from the bottom of my heart to all the Texas Children's heart surgeons, doctors, nurses and staff for being there for me as a child and adult. Texas Children's will always have a very special place in my (adult) heart!

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