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Celebrating Valentine’s Day with a mended heart
February 13, 2024
CHoR patient Emma smiling at home after heart surgery

    A critical congenital heart surgery close to home in Central Virginia

    Emma McCoy isn’t your average pre-teen. Her parents describe her as a “12-year-old crazy cat lady” and she already has two entire 30-chapter books in the editing process, with more planned. Perhaps her most impressive achievement to date? She’s recovering from her third major heart surgery with flying colors.

    Emma was born with truncus arteriosus, a rare and life-threatening congenital heart defect (heart condition present at birth) in which the aorta and pulmonary artery come off the heart as a single blood vessel rather than two. This allows the oxygen-poor and oxygen-rich blood to mix, preventing the delivery of adequate oxygen throughout the body. Emma underwent her first surgery as a newborn, a procedure to separate the single blood vessel and close the hole in her heart, also called a ventricular septal defect.

    As kids grow, follow-up surgery is commonly required to help the heart adjust to growth and the body’s increased demands upon it. Emma underwent her second surgery in May. In early January, she came to CHoR’s Children’s Tower emergency department with shortness of breath, fatigue, abdominal discomfort and loss of appetite. It turned out one of her heart valves wasn’t working as it should, resulting in her heart failing to pump her blood appropriately. She needed another cardiac surgery, and quickly.

    A congenital heart surgery collaborative ensures the best care close to home for Emma

    CHoR heart patient Emma with her congenital heart surgeon and cardiologistThe good news for Emma’s parents in the middle of a frightening situation was that the collaboration between UVA Health Children’s and CHoR ensures all children have access to the best congenital heart surgery close to home. As a congenital heart surgeon at UVA Health Children’s, Dr. Brian Kogon is now sharing his surgical expertise as chief of congenital heart surgery at CHoR, so the McCoys didn’t have to travel out of town as they had for the previous two surgeries to get the best care for their daughter.

    “We were extremely relieved to be able to have Emma’s surgery here. We didn’t expect the operation to have to happen so soon, so we weren’t prepared to be away from home,” said Mom, Stacie. “Being closer to home made it much easier. It was obviously still hard, but at least it was manageable so that we could make sure things were still taken care of at home and my husband could still go into work some days.”

    Even better than staying close to home for their daughter’s surgery, the McCoys took comfort in knowing the surgeon was among the best and most experienced in the nation. Dr. Kogon has done thousands of heart surgeries on patients ranging from preemies to adults. Being a heart surgeon requires more than technical skill, however. Dr. Kogon also understands that each patient and family has unique needs and desires when it comes to facing major surgery.

    “The care Emma received from Dr. Kogon and everyone here has been exceptional,” added Stacie. “Dr. Kogon was great about keeping us updated on what would happen and when. He also explained the plan for her surgery in a very thorough, understandable way. He was very respectful of Emma’s desire not to know the details.”

    Emma’s third surgery took place on Monday, January 15. By Friday, she was packing up in the PICU and heading home. Sleeping in her own bed was a nice bonus about returning home, but she was most excited to see her five cats – Dash, Monty, Mia, Tabby and Cali. Mom got back into her routine of continuing to homeschool Emma and caring for the other animals on the family’s property, including chickens, pigs, goats and ducks.

    An excellent prognosis for a healthy future following heart surgery

    “I’m one part of a big team that helped get Emma from the emergency department through surgery and onto her recovery. She’s doing extremely well,” said Dr. Kogon. “It’s this collaborative effort of specialized experts across UVA Health Children’s and CHoR that will continue to help kids like Emma beat their heart disease and live active, healthy, happy lives.”

    Emma will receive specialized heart care indefinitely. This will include a post-operative visit with Dr. Kogon to ensure proper healing, then continued follow-ups with cardiologist Dr. Brad McQuilkin, whom Emma’s been seeing for years.

    “Dr. McQuilkin has been Emma's cardiologist since she was two days old. He came to the hospital to evaluate her heart before discharge. We were told it was probably just a murmur, but they had to check it out. That is when we met Dr. McQuilkin, who, after three minutes of knowing us gave us the shocking news,” said Emma’s dad, Marcus, who was grateful to see Dr. McQuilkin’s familiar face during their most recent hospitalization. “I never expected her outpatient cardiologist come to see her while she was inpatient. Dr. Kogon was new to us, but I felt the team seemed very confident. Seeing everyone on the same page and working together gave me reassurance.”  

    When the time comes, our team will help her seamlessly transition to a VCU Health Pauley Heart Center cardiologist to safeguard her heart and health through adulthood.

    While Emma continues her recovery with the loving support of her family and feline friends, keep an eye out for superhero novels with her byline coming soon.

    Meet Dr. Brian Kogon, congenital heart surgeon

    Learn how the whole team tends to the hearts of preemies, teens and everyone in between.

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