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Stella Grace

Stella Grace loves to dance and play and enjoys being a new big sister. You would never know this energetic 4-year-old was born with a congenital heart defect.

Stella Grace’s mom had a completely normal pregnancy with no complications. However, when she was in labor at the hospital, the baby’s heartbeat changed. Shortly after birth, doctors detected a heart murmur. “It was really strong, even at Stella Grace’s 5-day-old newborn appointment,” said her mother, Megan.

The family transferred her care to University of Maryland Children’s Hospital under the care of Carissa Baker-Smith, MD who discovered several small holes in Stella Grace’s heart, also known as a perimembranous ventricular septal defect (VSD). “Often, these VSD defects cannot be detected by fetal echocardiogram or 20-week sonogram,” said Dr. Baker-Smith. In addition to a VSD, Stella had a leak in her aortic valve.

While the holes became smaller, they were creating a wind tunnel effect. This, in turn, was causing the valve in her heart to leak more. “Overtime, there could be worsening damage to her aortic valve,” explained Dr. Baker-Smith.

In December 2016 when Stella Grace was 2 years old, Dr. Baker-Smith discussed her case with cardiac surgeon Sunjay Kaushal, MD, PhD. They determined that it was necessary to close the hole to prevent further damage to her heart over time.  

“It was reassuring that they were thinking about her future,” Megan said. “I’m grateful they were thinking of her long-term health.”

Stella Grace had open-heart surgery in mid-December and was in PICU for four days afterward. Megan said she was fine by Christmas. “While having your child go through open heart surgery is difficult no matter what, it was really an amazing experience. The staff—from the techs to the nurses and doctors—took great care of Stella Grace. I cannot thank them enough.”

Now Stella Grace is doing well and proudly tells everyone about her scar, which she calls her “zipper.” She continues to participate in dance classes and recitals, the first of which she participated in only six weeks after her surgery. She looks forward to a future of being a ballerina when she grows up.