Helping Hearts Like Hers

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Joy Vann

Something drastically changed for Chelsea Hall just as she started her freshman year at Arcadia High School on the Eastern Shore. The normally active girl, who was both a cheerleader and a runner, began having sudden bouts of dizziness and fatigue. She became so fatigued that just pulling her hair into a ponytail exhausted her.

Her parents, Monica and Sonny, worried that Chelsea might be anemic or have mononucleosis. So they took her to the family doctor, who found that her resting heart rate was dangerously high. He sent Chelsea to a cardiologist. After 30 seconds into a treadmill test, Chelsea’s heart rate shot up to 300 beats per minute. The test was halted.

ChelseaHall“We were shocked when the doctor said, ‘You need to go to Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters right away,’” Monica said. “We went as fast as we could to the emergency room, and she was admitted immediately to the pediatric intensive care unit. We were terrified.”

Pediatric cardiologist Bertrand Ross diagnosed atrial tachycardia, a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart beat very fast. Dr. Ross initially believed the condition could be easily treated with medication.

It was hard for the Halls to accept that Chelsea had heart problems. “It came out of the blue,” Monica said.

The day after Chelsea was admitted to CHKD, Dr. Ross performed a cardiac catheterization, a procedure in which a tiny tube is inserted into an artery or vein to evaluate the heart and blood vessels and possibly correct the condition. But he found other problems with Chelsea’s heart, including dead tissue in an area that had scar tissue and no electrical activity. This was likely what made her heart pump less effectively.

Her condition was serious, he told the family, but medications would probably be the best treatment. Chelsea was in the hospital for one week as the medications were tried.

Not long after going home, another spell sent Chelsea back to the PICU. The medicine wasn’t adequately regulating her heart rate. There were more fainting spells and trips to the hospital before doctors found the medication that works for her.

The medication that finally got Chelsea’s rhythm under control is an antiarrhythmic medicine often used in patients who are much older, Dr. Ross explained.

ChelseaHall2“I’m taking medicine that is normally given to an 80-year-old,” Chelsea said. “It’s weird.”

Chelsea is living more normally now with medication, but future surgery may be necessary, Dr. Ross told the family.“CHKD will definitely be the place when it’s time for surgery,” Monica said. “The people on the cardiology team are so wonderful.”

One staff member special to the Halls is social worker Gail Cervarich, who brought Chelsea a teddy bear on her first day in the hospital and helped the family during those trying times.

“Gail is so cool. I was overwhelmed when I first came in and she was so nice,” Chelsea said. “I named the bear Lori Gail Jamie after her and my nurses. The bear went everywhere with me and gave me a lot of comfort. I know it’s weird for a 14-year-old to snuggle up to a bear, but I really needed something to hold on to.”

When Chelsea’s health improved, an idea came to her. Why not collect bears for other children in the hospital?

“Chelsea talked about collecting bears for the kids at CHKD, and the next thing you know, she had collection bins all over the Shore,” her mother said. With the help of a radio interview on the eve of her first delivery to CHKD, she collected 266 bears.

The teen dubbed her project “Chelsea’s Bears of Heart” and has expanded with the help of the fortuitously–named Chelsea Teddy Bear Company in Chelsea, Michigan. Company officials were so impressed with Chelsea’s mission that they donated 100 bears. She continues to buy the bears at cost now and collect others on the Eastern Shore, getting her message out at gatherings such as Rotary meetings.

“The support from the community has been unbelievable,” Chelsea said. “I love knowing that these bears will make a difference to kids like me, and it feels good to give back to CHKD.”

Dr. Ross practices with Children’s Specialty Group PLLC at CHKD.

This story was featured in the second quarter 2008 issue of KidStuff, a publication of Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters.

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