Granted, I never thought my son would be in the hospital in the first place. Out of an abundance of caution, after hearing a very faint murmur at Reed’s three-year-old check-up, our pediatrician had referred us to the Children’s National Medical Center for a cardiac imaging exam – just to make sure nothing was wrong. Even though Reed had just been lying – not exactly cooperatively – on a bed in an examination room, to my ears it seemed a total non-sequitur: “Your son has a large hole in his heart that will need to be repaired.”
I hadn’t been prepared for an outcome where something was actually wrong, and I felt like Reed had just been miscast in someone else’s movie. But the cardiac images indeed showed he had an atrial septal defect. The right side of his heart had grown enlarged from working so hard to keep up with oxygenated blood traveling on an infinite loop back through his heart.
A follow-on appointment seeking additional images showed Reed’s atrial septal defect was a type called a sinus venosus ASD – Reed would need open-heart surgery to have it corrected. Reed seemed to roll with the idea of surgery, as most optimistic and adventurous three-year-olds probably would, but the grown-ups in the family were terrified. To gain calm, I started to visualize going down the long moving walkway that leads out of Children’s National Medical Center, with Reed, after a successful surgery. Just a few weeks later, we did make it there, after a four hour surgery by Dr. Jonas’ expert team at Children’s and an astonishingly quick recovery.
Now, every autumn Reed returns to Children’s for his annual cardiology follow-up. He lies down on a bed in an exam room – relatively cooperatively – while an imaging specialist captures pictures of Reed’s heart in an echocardiogram. We can hear the whoosh whoosh whoosh of Reed’s heart pumping normally, and after seven years of these follow-on exams, watching the imaging doesn’t bring me back to the anxious time when we first learned Reed had a congenital heart defect – instead it brings me back to happy memories of hearing Reed’s heart in utero, seeing images of an amazing little creature growing.
Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect; one in 100 children are affected. Some variants, like Reed’s, can be difficult to detect without expert cardiac imaging. This year’s Data Science Bowl competition captures more than just improving cardiac imagery analytics, it captures and clarifies an experience that is the first step in many journeys, all hopefully ending with a thankful walk out of the hospital by the beneficiaries of your work.
—Written by Maia Will