WEST TAWAKONI, Texas (KLTV) - February is American Heart Month and this week is Congenital Heart Defects Awareness week.
Congenital heart defects or CHD’s is when heart problems happen as a baby is developing during pregnancy. According to UT Health East Texas’ Chief of Cardiology, Dr. Thaddeus Tolleson, this affects one in four births every year. CHD’s come in many different forms with different levels of seriousness -- some might just require medicine while others lead to surgeries and pacemakers.
Dr. Thaddeus Tolleson describes these heart abnormalities saying, “congenital heart defects affect kids’ electrical systems, so sometimes the electrical communication from the top to the bottom of the heart doesn’t develop and these kids end up with pacemakers to take over the electrical system in their hearts.”
Even with corrective surgery and pacemakers, Dr. Tolleson says there are still a lot of issues that have to be managed. One in 120 babies in the United States are born with a CHD, that includes 12-year-old East Texan, Brayden Simpson.
Rebekah Crumps, Brayden’s mother, doesn’t hesitate to share his son’s musical gift with people. She says, “I think sometimes he underestimates his talent. Of course there’s always mom bragging but we come from a long line of singers.
Brayden and his family have a passion for music and he doesn’t let anything get in the way of that, not even the pacemaker in his stomach.
Rebekah describes when she got the news that Brayden’s heart had an abnormality. “Everything seemed great and then the second day after he was born,” she says, “a pediatrician comes in to do the rounds and they say those words you never want to hear, there’s something wrong with your baby’s heart.”
Brayden was born with a whole in his heart and stenosis, meaning a valve was narrow and wouldn’t open properly. At two-years-old he had heart surgery and now he’ll rely on a pacemaker for the rest of his life to keep his heart rhythm steady.
“With technology, even in the 27 years that I’ve been practicing,” says Dr. Tolleson, “has really advanced so that now, about 85% of kids born with congenital heart defects live into adulthood.”
After a decade with his pacemaker, Brayden likes to look at the bright side.
“The only good thing there is, is you get to call yourself a cyborg,” Brayden says. He adds, “there’s no buzzing feeling, like an electric zap every few minutes, like ‘bzz’. It’s just normal.”
While he might not stress about his pacemaker much anymore, when the pandemic came around his mother feared for her son’s health. Rebekah says the possibility of COVID-19 hurting his heart and not knowing how severe of a case he could get made them extremely cautious.
She says, “we even hand sanitize the minute we go pump gas or leave the grocery store.” And their household has been covid-19 free since the beginning of the pandemic.
People with pacemakers need to get the batteries or the entire device switched out every 6-10 years. Brayden still has some time to go but when he does need to change his out, he’ll be getting the standard pacemaker that adults typically have.