Heartwarming Fun Had by All During St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s Heart Reunion
For some it’s been months since they’ve undergone a heart procedure at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. For others, years have passed. But on Saturday, April 2, 2022, dozens of the hospital’s heart patients and their families came together as one special group to reunite with the caregivers who helped save their lives and to fellowship with other families who have shared similar experiences.
Among the patients who attended the special celebration at MacFarlane Park in Tampa was 1-year-old Sienna and her parents, Phil and Lindsay Yeager. Sienna was born with tetralogy of Fallot, a rare and complex congenital heart condition that is a combination of four different heart defects.
The condition was diagnosed while Sienna was still in the womb, and St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s fetal and perinatal cardiologists Dr. James Huhta and Dr. J. Blaine John monitored the health of both mom and baby throughout the pregnancy. St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Director of Pediatric and Congenital Cardiac Surgery Dr. Karl Reyes successfully repaired Sienna’s heart when she was 5 months old.
“The pediatric cardiac team are more than just caregivers who repaired our baby’s heart, they are a part of our family now,” said Sienna’s mother, Lindsay. “Being able to celebrate Sienna’s life with them during the reunion was beyond special.”
For the family of 2-year-old Brooks, the chance to interact outside a clinical setting with the doctors and nurses who helped save his life was the highlight of the reunion. Brooks was born with a very serious heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and underwent open-heart surgery at just 8 days old followed by a second surgery six months later. A third open-heart surgery is expected to take place next year. Due to the complex nature of his heart defect, Brooks has a team of cardiac specialists that include the Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, Dr. Jeremy Ringewald, as well as Dr. Reyes.
“We are so grateful to all of Brooks’ caregivers for all that they’ve done not only for our child, but for all of the hospital’s heart warriors,” said his mother, Meghan Miller. “Besides all of the fun – and there was loads of that – the reunion also provided a sense of community among the families.”
The family friendly event included fun activities and games, balloon and caricature artists, face painting, a DJ, and a special appearance by the Tampa Fire Rescue.
“It was really amazing to see how healthy and happy all of the children are, and how much they’ve grown since their heart surgery,” said Dr. Reyes. “It’s a testament to the extraordinary care provided at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and how successful our congenital cardiac program has been through the years.”
Dr. Jeremy Ringewald, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, added “It was reassuring and heartwarming to see our patients out in the real world, having fun and getting to know each other.”
St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital is home to the Tampa Bay area’s only comprehensive congenital heart disease program, and its pediatric heart physicians perform hundreds of procedures each year to treat congenital and acquired heart conditions in children of any age, including newborns. A partnership between St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh provides families across Florida with unprecedented access to the highest level of pediatric heart care available. Together, they provide highly specialized cardiovascular care for patients ranging from babies in the womb to adults with congenital heart disease.