For the Millers of Silverdale, Wash., Valentine’s Day is extra special this year. For the first time in five years, their calendar is free of surgeries and hospital stays for siblings Tessa and Gabriel, who were both born with heart defects.
A complicated, changing diagnosis
The Millers’ complicated journey began in 2008, before Tessa was even born. Ariana and Chris learned that she had Down Syndrome and an atrioventricular septal defect (also known as an AV canal defect). The defect occurs when the heart doesn’t form properly before birth, leaving a hole in the middle of the upper and lower chambers.
Even while she was still pregnant, Ariana began seeing Seattle Children’s Heart Center team. Soon after Tessa’s birth, she met Terry Chun, MD, who has cared for Tessa since she was just a few days old.
“This family has been incredibly resilient,” Chun says. “Even before Tessa was born they’d gotten the news that she had heart disease, but then after she was born, it turned out that she had more complicated heart disease than was initially thought.”
Most babies with Tessa’s defect will need just one surgery when they’re between four and six months old. Instead, she has had five surgeries in less than four years – the first when she was just five months old.