Health Team

Heart diseases can strike infants, children

Posted October 17, 2008 6:57 p.m. EDT
Updated October 17, 2008 7:32 p.m. EDT

— Congenital heart defects in infants often go undetected until they threaten children's lives.

A Raleigh boy's experience with a heart defect inspired his family to start raising money for research to help others.

Without a routine infant check-up, Connor Kell, 7, would not have been able to enjoy an active childhood, riding his bike and playing with his younger brother Camden, the boys' mother, Vicky, said.

"He's able to do everything any other kid would be able to do right now," Vicky Kell said.

Connor's pediatrician noticed that he had a heart murmur, and further tests revealed a defect of the aorta near the heart, called coarctation.

"It was very surprising. We didn't expect it all," Chris Kell, Connor's father, said.

The defect is a narrowing in one part of the aortic arch that feeds blood to the lower body. Untreated, it could lead to congestive heart failure or stroke.

"It was just making his heart work very hard," Vicky Kell said.

Instead of open-heart surgery, UNC Hospital doctors recommended a newer, minimally invasive procedure to cut out the narrow portion and reattach the aorta.

"They could go in on the side and leave a small, 2-inch scar and do it that way, so a lot less trauma on the body," Chris Kell said.

But the memory of other children who had to undergo more invasive surgery's remained with Connor's parents.

"There were so many other kids there that did have to have open-heart surgery," Vicky Kell said.

The Kells decided to make it a family tradition to raise money for and participating in the START Triangle Heart Walk annually.

Connor's parents said that they believe the type of research supported by the walk is what gave their son the chance to live a normal childhood.

"And we hope others will benefit from it, too," Vicky Kell said.

The 2008 START Triangle Heart Walk kicks off at the Imperial Center in Research Triangle Park at 2 p.m. Sunday.