The Arka Tech

Living with a hole in her heart

Kierre went through surgery this summer and began classes just two days afterwards. Credits: Claudia Hall

Going to the doctor is part of most peoples’ daily lives. We get a cold or break a bone, and we visit the doctor to get cured. Elon Kierre, a senior print journalism student from Dardanelle, did just this just a few weeks ago, but her regular checkup was anything but regular. Her doctor told her she had a heart murmur.

“Are you sure?” Kierre asked, not believing the situation could be that serious.

Most college students believe they can’t have serious heart conditions, especially a student as active and healthy as Kierre. When Kierre’s doctor referred her to a cardiologist in Russellville, she thought it wasn’t a big deal because her dad had a similar situation, and his got better without surgery.

She then had to wait a week for the results only to find out they needed to run more tests, so they sent her to the heart hospital in Little Rock.

There, the doctors performed a TEE test, or a trans-esophageal echo, in which they ran a food tube with an ultrasound transducer inside it down her throat to get a closer look at the heart’s valves and chambers.

“It was the worst experience of my life,” Kierre said.

The results confirmed she did have a hole in her heart, known as atrial septal defect (ASD). According to the Adult Congenital Heart Association, about 1 in 500 babies are born with ASD, but by age five the hole usually closes on its own.

Kierre’s ASD, however, did not close on its own. The condition left a one-inch hole between the left and right chambers of her heart.

After consulting with her doctors, they informed her surgery was necessary. She was also informed if the hole got any larger, they would have to do open-heart surgery.

Kierre would not have to go through this, though, and they were able to perform a less invasive surgery through her leg.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, “The doctor inserts a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) into a vein in the groin. He or she threads the tube to the heart’s septum. A device made up of two small disks or an umbrella-like device is attached to the catheter. When the catheter reaches the septum, the device is pushed out of the catheter. The device is placed so that it plugs the hole between the atria. It’s secured in place and the catheter is withdrawn from the body. Within 6 months, normal tissue grows in and over the device.”

“I woke up in the middle of [the surgery] and looked around, and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’,” Kierre said.

Kierre spent the night in the hospital but was released the next day. The whole process wasn’t too stressful for her because she had the support of her family, friends and co-workers. Kierre even showed up for the first day of classes—just two days after her surgery.

She said the process did make her tired, but “everyone was really understanding.”

She’s now being monitored by her doctors and is taking prescribed medication. After the six month waiting period, her doctor notes she should notice a difference, especially in her breathing.

“If your doctor says you have a murmur, don’t disregard it; I almost did,” Kierre said.