Special Hearts

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Event will help kids survive heart defects

By Molly Haines

After suffering a congenital heart defect, 12-year-old Nick Smith’s life is finally going back to normal and has taught his family the significance of being close to one another.

Smith, who played football for Maurice Bowling Middle School, didn’t know what was causing him to feel bad, until one day at football practice in the fall of 2009 when he collapsed on the field.

Smith’s mom, Debbie Smith, said Nick had told his coach that he wasn’t feeling well.

“He told his coach that he didn’t feel good,” Debbie Smith said. “His coach told him to see if his dad was picking up his brother. As he started toward the field house, two women were watching him and from what I understand watched him fall over. One of them administered CPR.”

Smith said Nick was transferred to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where doctors promised they would discover Nick’s condition.

“They promised us they’d find out what was wrong with Nick,” Smith said. “Two days later they came in and they had found out.”

Nick’s condition, anomalous right coronary artery, if left untreated could have turned out fatal, Smith said.

“It was such that if he grew older, blood would have back flowed, putting it into his pulmonary artery instead of circulating through his heart,” Smith said. “The doctors told us that this particular type of defect is normally not caught until it’s fatal. They told us if it hadn’t been caught, Nick probably would’ve lived until his early 20s.”

Doctors informed Smith that Nick would need to have open heart surgery to correct the defect.

“Nick had his surgery on Oct. 15 (2009),” Smith said. “He recovered quickly and was back in school in about 10 days. He still wasn’t feeling as strong as he should and so we decided to take him out of school again. We put him back in school at the beginning of this year and he’s like a whole new person.”

Debbie Smith said had there been complications with the surgery, she’s not sure what she would have done.

“My biggest fear was that there would be some complications,” Smith said. “I don’t know if I could have gotten through that. We’ve experienced that before with a child in our family and I just don’t know how I would have handled it.”

Debbie Smith said Nick’s brother, who also plays football, was screened for heart defects but came out with a clean report.

She said today Nick is growing stronger all the time.

“We’re taking it slow,” she said. “Nick has resumed conditioning for football and we’re hoping he can be part of the team again. We’re exercising and helping him to grow stronger all the time but we’re taking it at a slow pace.”

Smith said the outpouring of support from community still amazes her.

“We received so much support from so many different people,” Debbie Smith said. “It’s good to know that there’s still that kind of respect for others in the community. For others in the community who may be facing something like this, I think that knowing that someone has been there helps out a lot.”

She said Nick and family will be participating in the Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Walk Feb. 20 at the Owenton First Baptist fellowship Hall.

“Knowing that there are so many people out there who have been there really helps,” Smith said. “The walk is very important for children who suffer from these defects that are often times hidden. Families need to be aware that not only infants can suffer from these types of things. They need to know the importance of having a child screened for defects and that there are people in the area available for support.”

Smith said Nick’s defect has changed the way their family looks at life.

“We’re treasuring the small things and we know that we can never take anything for granted now,” Smith said. “We’ve become closer as a family and we spend more time together. We have so much concern and compassion for those who are sick. We feel like Nick has been given another chance and we’ve seen a big change in him. He’s more understanding, kinder.”

Smith said her biggest hope is that Nick stays healthy.

“I just want him to stay healthy,” Smith said. “He’s such a people person and we want him to continue to be successful and healthy for the rest of his life.”

Smith said she and Nick never got the chance to thank the two women who she feels saved Nick’s life that day on the track field.

“We would like to make contact with the people that found Nick,” Smith said. “We would like to say thank you to them. I know it’s important to me and Nick as well. It would be very emotional for us.”

If you have any information on the two women that saved Nick’s life, please call The News-Herald at (502) 484-3431.