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Mother and toddler share bond over surgery to repair ‘hole in the heart’

August 21st, 2020 · Leave a Comment

Rashad “Deuce” Gholston Jr. is all boy. The active 2-year-old, born in Tallahassee but who now lives in Daytona Beach, is always on the go.

“He’s always running and jumping, and doing backflips and cartwheels,” said Dwyronyelle “Dee” Gillard, Deuce’s mom. “He loves football and wants to tackle like his dad.”

Deuce’s father, Rashad Gholston Sr., is a former wide receiver for the Florida State University football team from 2010 to 2014. Dee also is very athletic and was an accomplished basketball player at Atlantic High School in Port Orange.

The energetic mother and son have something else in common – both were diagnosed at age 2 with congenital heart disease (CHD) and had open heart surgery to repair atrial septal defects (ASD). A congenital heart defect, ASD is characterized by an opening in the wall (the atrial septum) between the heart’s two upper chambers (the right and left atria). Deuce received outpatient pediatric cardiology care at Wolfson Children’s at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare specialty center and life-saving surgery at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville. Dee had the same heart surgery as her son in 1997 at a central Florida children’s hospital.

The most common birth defect in the United States, CHD includes a range of abnormalities of the heart that develop prior to birth. While some heart defects are detected with routine screenings during pregnancy, at the hospital during birth or shortly thereafter, many heart defects may not be identified until later during a medical checkup.

During Deuce’s routine well care visit at North Florida Pediatrics in Tallahassee, pediatrician Anna Koeppel, MD, detected a heart murmur, indicating a possible heart defect or underlying heart problem. She referred Deuce and Dee to consult with pediatric cardiologist Justin “Mac” Vining, MD, at Wolfson Children’s at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.

“Heart murmurs or atypical heart sounds are fairly common, affecting up to 50% of children, and there are many instances where a murmur may be heard in a child with a strong, healthy heart,” said Dr. Vining. “In this case, the murmur was atypical and indicated a structural heart problem.”

Dr. Vining ordered diagnostic testing for Deuce including an EKG, which measures and interprets the heart’s electrical activity, and an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to get a detailed picture of the heart. “There was evidence of right ventricular enlargement on the EKG, so I ordered an echo, which confirmed his diagnosis,” said Dr. Vining.

In medical terms, Deuce had an ASD, one of the defects referred to as “a hole in the heart.” Dee had the same condition as a child.

“Dr. Vining showed us the images and we could clearly see the hole in Deuce’s heart,” Dee said.

“It’s not common, but when a mother has a congenital heart defect, the chances of her child having a congenital heart defect are increased,” said Dr. Vining.

Because the opening was very large, Dr. Vining recommended surgical repair and that Deuce and his family consult with Michael Shillingford, MD, chief of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and faculty member of UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Wolfson Children’s Hospital is a member of the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Heart Institute network, providing specialized pediatric health cardiac care for children in North Florida, South Georgia and beyond. This month, U.S. News & World Report ranked UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh number 2 in the country for Pediatric Cardiology and Heart Surgery.

Dr. Shillingford performed open-heart surgery to repair the hole in Deuce’s heart late last year.

“Because of enormous strides in medicine and technology, today nearly all children with atrial septal defects go on to lead healthy, productive lives as adults,” said Dr. Shillingford. “Thanks to these significant advances, there are now more adults with CHD than children living with the disease.”

Children and adults with ASD must see a cardiologist for regular checkups. Deuce’s first follow-up appointment took place with Dr. Vining at Wolfson Children’s at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. Fortunately, the family’s new home, Daytona Beach, also has a Wolfson Children’s Specialty Center. This allows Deuce to continue to be monitored by pediatric cardiologists with the Wolfson Children’s Hospital and UF Health College of Medicine — Jacksonville.

“Deuce’s surgery was the hardest thing we have ever been through, but our experience with Wolfson Children’s was wonderful,” Dee said. “The doctors and medical team are the best we have ever experienced. They explained everything to me and answered every question. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to care for my son.”

Services at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville are provided primarily by pediatric physician specialists with Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, Jacksonville, University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh (for cardiac surgery services) and Emergency Resources Group.

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