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Born with a broken heart: girl needs life saving surgery minutes after birth

We all know how important the heart is but what if you were born with a broken heart? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 40,000 children a year are born with heart defects.

15 month old Parker Williams is one of those babies. She needed surgery just minutes after she was born.

Now she loves people and she loves to play. Her mother, Ashley Williams, says Parker's happiness makes it easy to forget she has a heart defect. "She has hypoplastic left heart with an intact atrial septum," says Williams. That means the left side of her heart is under developed and her oxygenated blood is blocked so it can't circulate through the rest of her body.

"Once the umbilical cord is cut they're dying," says Dr. David Cleveland. He's a cardiac surgeon at Children's of Alabama. Dr. Cleveland performed some of Parker's surgeries. He says babies born with her condition have to be operated on within minutes of birth. "They can't survive any other way."

So Parker was whisked away as soon as she was delivered. Williams says, "I didn't even get to see her for a second...the minute she was born, they said she cried one time, I couldn't hear it but then she went blue."

Parker was brought over a bridge that connects UAB Women and Infants with Children's of Alabama. She was then brought into a cath Lab where doctors worked on her tiny heart.

"Their heart is a little bit bigger than their fist," says Dr. Cleveland

And there's no guarantees when operating on tiny hearts with the defect Parker was born with. Dr. Cleveland says, "outcomes for hypoplastic left heart syndrome with intact septum isn't so good."

Before Parker's birth Williams was given two options. "They said she's really got a 0% chance, if you do want to try to fight this and see what happens it's going to be a long road or you can just hold your baby until she decides to go on." Williams chose to fight. Since the day she was born Parker has had two open heart surgeries, she's also had bands put on her pulmonary arteries and a stint put in her heart. "She's a trooper," says Williams.

Next Parker will need a heart transplant. Williams says, "these kids are stronger than any of us could have imagined so keep fighting." She says once Parker can get a heart transplant it will only last 10-15 years so her broken heart will never really be fixed. She'll need more heart transplants the older she gets.

Dr. Cleveland says many advances have been made in the last 20 years when it comes to treating babies born with heart defects. That means more babies are now surviving but Dr. Cleveland says there is another side to that. There will be more adults with congenital heart disease, presenting a challenge for the medical system to figure out how to treat these children when they grow up.

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