Harrison's Heart

High energy. That is how Harrison Welling’s mom, Robin, describes her 6-year-old son.

“Harrison has more energy than anyone I know,” Robin says.

There was a time when Robin and Brian, Harrison’s dad, weren’t sure if their son would survive, let alone grow to become the happy, healthy and energetic first-grader he is today.

An ultrasound when Robin was 20 weeks pregnant showed a potential problem with Harrison’s heart. After three previous miscarriages, the couple just wanted to know that everything would be okay.

“He was going to be our miracle baby,” Robin remembers. “We were so scared that he may not make it.”

But he did make it. Harrison came into the world on August 19, 2002. His parents remember the joy they felt that day, but also the fear. “We were just thrilled when Harrison was born. He was such a beautiful baby. But he was also very sick and we were scared of what would come next,” Robin recalls.

Harrison was born with multiple heart problems, including a narrowing of the aorta that restricted blood flow from the left side of his heart. Related to this, the left side of his heart was not growing and doctors were concerned it would not be big enough to do its job. Due to the complexity of his condition, Harrison was transferred to Cincinnati Children’s just five hours after birth.

At just 2 days old, Harrison had life-saving open heart surgery at Cincinnati Children’s. In addition to needing extensive reconstruction of his aorta, surgeons found a large hole in his heart, which they patched during the operation.

“When you have a sick child, you want them to have the best care,” Robin says. “That’s exactly what Harrison got at Cincinnati Children’s. They saved his life.”

Three weeks after surgery, Harrison went home. While the Wellings were advised about possible complications, Harrison came through with flying colors. The scar on his chest is the only tell-tale sign of his battle with heart disease.

“Many children with congenital heart defects who would have died are now alive due to the development of novel therapies and surgeries,” says Jeffrey Robbins, PhD, executive co-director of the Heart Institute at Cincinnati Children’s. “The development of surgeries that can repair children born with defective hearts and our ability to better support those children during their recovery has revolutionized critical cardiac care for children.

Transforming Cardiac Care

Recognized nationally as a leader in cardiac care and pioneering research, Cincinnati Children’s has a long history of improving care for children with heart disease. Our innovations include creating one of the first practical heart-lung machines, which made open heart surgery possible, and pioneering the use of ultrasound to diagnose heart disease in children. In 2007, we opened a high-tech hybrid cardiac catheterization laboratory that provides the best and safest care to children with complex heart conditions.

Now Cincinnati Children’s has taken another giant step forward in transforming care for children with heart disease. In July 2008, we established the Heart Institute, a collaborative environment that enables researchers to interact daily and share their findings. As a result, treatments are more quickly developed that will significantly improve the outcome for children with heart disease.

“Research is what drives progress in the field,” says Dr. Robbins, who also chairs the Division of Molecular Cardiovascular Biology, which is devoted to pioneering research into the causes of pediatric heart disease. “Without research everything would stay the same, with no improvements in either quality of care or the development of new treatments to cure heart disease. With this new integrated structure, we can develop priorities for the entire group so we’re all focusing on the same goals and, ideally, reaching them sooner.”

A Brighter Future for Harrison

Today, Harrison is a lively little boy enjoying school, sports and playing with his little brother, Griffin. He will continue to visit Cincinnati Children’s for check-ups every two years to monitor his heart.

Through it all, Robin says their family has remained grateful for the world-class care that was available to them at Cincinnati Children’s.

“Everyone said we were lucky to have Cincinnati Children’s here,” Robin says. “We didn’t realize at the time just how lucky we were.”

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