Although Katarina Anja, or “Katja,” De Groot was born with a rare heart defect called truncus arteriosus, the active toddler never let her condition stop her from running, playing and going to the park.
However, when she was 2 years old, Katja began sleeping for most of the day and withdrawing from the activities she usually enjoyed. That was when her mother knew something was wrong.
“She wasn’t herself anymore,” said Jennifer De Groot. “My daughter is usually a happy-go-lucky child who loves to live life to the fullest. I didn’t know how much longer we could see her like that. It’s like we had reached the point of no return.”
De Groot’s concerns grew, and she knew she needed to seek help for her daughter. Dr. Maggie Likes, Katja’s cardiologist at Seattle Children’s, noticed a difference in her echocardiogram. It showed her aortic valve was not functioning properly.
“We had hit a tipping point,” Likes said. “Between the concerning changes on her echocardiogram and what her mom was seeing at home, it was time to do something about her aortic valve.”
De Groot knew her daughter wouldn’t be able to lead an active lifestyle with a mechanical valve because it would mean that Katja would have to undergo a lifelong regimen of anti-coagulants, commonly known as blood thinners. She made a bold move and asked the Seattle Children’s Heart Center team if they could perform an innovative surgical technique that would repair her daughter’s aortic valve – an unexpected suggestion that led to a collaborative decision.
At 2 years old, Katja would become the youngest child at Seattle Children’s to undergo the Ozaki procedure.