While our son, Dakota, was born at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic — in the winter of 2021 — we were ecstatic he was healthy with no cause for concern. Weighing 9 pounds and measuring 22 inches long, he was every bit the pure joy our family had waited 42 weeks for.
In his first year, we kept up with his routine newborn appointments, while watching his growth surpass every expectation. He met his milestones early, and Erin Armao, MD, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, Green, was pleased with the updates that came at each visit.
But soon after his first birthday, I began to notice behavior that seemed out of character for Dakota. While he was a very determined child, he continued to struggle with colic and overtiredness. The night before his 15-month checkup, Dakota seemed sluggish and had a bluish tint around his lips, eyebrows and hands. I took note of it and continued to monitor his symptoms until his appointment with Dr. Armao.
During the visit, Dakota appeared to be in excellent health. It wasn’t until I mentioned the bluish coloring from the night before that Dr. Armao expressed concern and took a closer look at his heart. That’s when Dakota was diagnosed with a heart murmur.
In a state of confusion and disbelief, Dr. Armao referred us to Akron Children’s Heart Center, where Dakota was later diagnosed with Atrial Septal Defect, or ASD, a birth defect characterized by a hole in the wall that divides the heart’s upper chambers. In a heartbeat, Dakota went from an overall healthy child to a cardiac patient who underwent several echocardiograms and close monitoring. Doctors soon discovered Dakota’s ASD was severe and required open-heart surgery.
So on Oct. 6, 2022, Robert Stewart, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Akron Children’s, performed open-heart surgery on Dakota, who was only 20 months old. Although frightened and worried, we were optimistic and reassured by the surgical staff that Dakota was in great hands. After his 4-hour surgery, Dakota was transferred to the PICU to recover.
During his recovery, the nursing staff was caring, considerate and compassionate to Dakota and our family. Upon discharge 3 days later, Dr. Stewart and the nurses took the time to review home care and what we could expect over the next 12 weeks of healing.
Today, as Dakota celebrates his 1-year anniversary of his open-heart surgery, I’m so very thankful for that routine 15-month checkup and cannot express enough the importance of well visits. Dakota is thriving because of the great care we received at Akron Children’s, starting with Dr. Armao’s diagnosis in 2022.
Dakota’s heart defect put him at a greater risk for SIDS, heart attack and embolisms. But thanks to monitoring his condition, discussing concerns at well visits and Dr. Armao’s trained ear, Dakota was able to receive the treatment necessary to save his life. For that, we are forever grateful.