Baby Celebrates First Birthday after Unique Heart Surgery (Feature Story)

February 7-14 is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week. About 40,000 babies are born each year in the U.S. with a heart defect, according to the CDC. Meet a baby boy who is celebrating his first birthday thanks to a unique twist on traditional open heart surgery.

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CLEVELAND – Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week is February 7 – 14.

About 40,000 babies are born each year in the United States with a heart defect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Jeremiah Powers, from Ohio, was one of them and has a lot to celebrate as he turns one-year-old. A year ago he, was struggling to breathe and waiting to grow large enough for open heart surgery.

“It was tough to swallow that my son would need open heart surgery in order to live,” said Rachel Powers, Jeremiah’s mother.

Congenital heart problems are the most common type of birth defect, but Jeremiah’s was more complex than most.

“Normally the heart forms with four chambers and in between those chambers there are two valves,” said Tess Saarel, M.D., Chair of Pediatric Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. “His two valves weren’t separated, there was one large valve and there was a hole between the lower two chambers and also the upper chambers.”

Jeremiah’s blood was flowing backwards at times, putting strain on his heart, and filling his lungs with fluid.

“He did struggle to breathe,” Powers said. “Every time he would breathe you could see his ribs. Around his lips would get a little bit blue when he would cry or just randomly throughout the day.”

At four months old, and weighing just 11 pounds, Jeremiah underwent open heart surgery. The chambers and valve inside his tiny heart were separated to function normally and patched in a unique way – using his own tissue.

“I used the covering of the heart, which is called the pericardium; I cut it to appropriate dimensions – it is very important to cut to exact dimensions – so we can get the repair,” said Hani Najm, M.D., Chair of Pediatric and Congenital Heart Survery. “The beauty of this material is that it’s pliable; it’s soft. It gets attached to the heart and heals very well.”

Jeremiah is now thriving and doctors say his future is bright. His heart repair will be monitored as he grows and he may need another procedure down the road. But, for now, he doesn’t have any restrictions and can even play most non-contact sports when he’s old enough.

“It’s truly a miracle with modern medicine that he was able to have the successful open heart surgery and that we could celebrate his first birthday; it’s truly a miracle,” said Powers.

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