Somewhere in Marshall, Texas, a 10-year-old boy named Anthony Herman is tapping out a rhythm on his shoes with sticks he picked up from the forested area surrounding his home. And somewhere inside of Anthony’s chest is a heart that is beating to a different, syncopated rhythm.
Neither the beat on Anthony’s shoes nor in his chest would be reverberating if it weren’t for the world-class, comprehensive heart care he has received at Children’s, which — thanks in large part to generous donors — has the 14th ranked pediatric heart program in the country, according to U.S.News & World Report.
Anthony was born with aortic valve stenosis, a life-threatening condition that restricted blood flow to his entire body. At only nine days old, he underwent open-heart surgery in Atlanta.
He got well and flourished, developing at a pace equal to or ahead of his peers. But he fell back into heart trouble at age 3 when his valves began to fail again.
His family had moved to Marshall, and Anthony was referred to Children’s for his second surgery. His parents were thrilled to learn that one of the surgeons who helped perform Anthony’s first operation in Atlanta, Dr. Joseph Forbess, had recently been named director of cardiothoracic surgery at Children’s and would be performing Anthony’s second operation as well.
“We knew from experience that Dr. Forbess was one of the best pediatric heart surgeons anywhere,” his mother, Kathleen Herman, said.
The surgery again went well. A few months passed without any major complications, and Anthony moved back into the healthy part of his rhythm. He learned to play soccer and to dance like Michael Jackson. He made friends at school and collected rocks as a hobby. Then, at age 7, Anthony began to show signs of needing heart repair again. This time, though, the remedy was much less invasive.
Children’s had just become one of the first pediatric hospitals in the country to be approved to implant the Melody Valve® in a child. What made the Melody Valve® special is that Dr. Alan Nugent, director of cardiac catheterization at Children’s, could place it in Anthony’s heart by threading it through a vein in his leg without making major incisions.
“A small bruise and a Band-Aid on the leg; that’s it,” Dr. Nugent said. Anthony was able to return home in five days and be back in school the following week.
Since that surgery, Anthony has attended school regularly and lives a mostly normal life, despite battling some dangerous heart infections. But it became apparent last summer that the only way for Anthony to have long-term health was to receive a new heart, and he was officially placed on the heart transplant waiting list in November.
Children’s is among the 10 most active pediatric heart transplant centers in the nation. So the same place that has cared for Anthony since the early stages of his rhythm is one of the best places to care for him throughout the transplant process too.
Anthony will continue to live at home and attend school with few restrictions in the meantime.
“I’m scared, and I think it would be unusual for any parent not to be,” Kathleen said. “But I feel confidence knowing that we’re being cared for at Children’s. We wouldn’t have made it this far without them. We feel like this hospital is heaven-sent.”