Defying All Odds

By Jennifer Spitkovsky, grateful patient
Published on February 27, 2017

Defying all odds

Before I could walk, talk, think for myself and barely even open my eyes, my heart journey began. At just three months old, I endured an emergency surgery. Afterward, doctors delivered my parents some (literally) heartbreaking news—I was born with a congenital defect and a heart valve disorder, which obstructed the blood flow to my lungs.

The journey begins

My childhood was far from typical—not like those of my friends or other children in the neighborhood. My condition caused me to fall ill a lot and limited my activities in many ways. It made playing with other kids at home and at school difficult because I couldn’t always partake in the games they were playing or the things they were doing. I often found it hard to keep up. I quickly realized what was going to be my normal, so I began to take things at my own pace. Then, at 14 years old, I had my second surgery.

The purpose of the procedure was to increase the blood flow in my heart and lungs. It went well, with only minor complications after surgery and my hospital stay was short. It was a year later, in my freshman year of high school, that my doctor decided it was time to proceed with a third surgery.

This procedure did not go as planned and there were many complications to follow, which caused me to be rushed back into the operating room. I ended up spending a month in the hospital, and after being home for just one day, I was brought to the hospital in an ambulance, where I remained for weeks.

Defying all oddsAfter my release, I went many years without any surgeries before my doctors determined I was ready for another procedure—but they said it was a surgery that should only be done by the best, so they sent me to Advocate Children’s Hospital, where I transitioned to my new surgeon, Dr. IIbawi, and his team at the Advocate Children’s Heart Institute. This procedure was supposed to be the final stage of my repair. The goal was for me to gain a healthy pink color back and create an increase in my energy level.

So at 28 years old, it was time to go through with this serious procedure that would help the blood circulation in my heart. Following the surgery, I experienced troubles with my atrial fibrillation (a-fib), an irregular and rapid heart rate, which resulted in hospitalization four times. After three cardioversions to restore my heartbeat to a normal pace, IV medication worked and helped my heart to regain its normal rhythm.

It was shortly after my hospital stay that my cardiologist, Dr. Zimmerman, at Advocate Children’s Hospital deemed it was time for intervention and completed a very intense procedure to correct my a-fib, the cause of my heart’s poor blood flow, in September 2016. The surgery required all of my doctors to be in the room, where they ultimately spent over eight hours operating because they wanted correct the problem as perfectly as possible.

Road to recovery

Defying all oddsToday, I am 39 years old—turning 40 next month. My body is still healing, but I am in the best heart health I have been in a very long time (maybe ever!). I am happily married to my husband, Tom, of 14 years. Although my activities are still limited, I work three days a week and enjoy spending time at my family’s lake house, vacationing in Florida and, above all—being a wife and a step mom. I am lucky to have a wonderful husband, loving parents who never left my side and the unequivocal support of family.

I plan to continue enjoying life, without letting my condition control or define me. I hope to be an inspiration to children, young adults and families dealing with congenital-heart defects (CHD).

I was blessed with a lifesaving team of doctors who continue to look out for me, even if that means hours on end in the operating room. From Dr. Dubrow at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital to my current team of Dr. Husayni, Dr. Zimmerman and Dr. IIbawi at Advocate Children’s Heart Institute—and everyone in between—thank you.

It is because of Advocate that I am thriving nearly 40 years later, defying all odds from three months old.

Advocate Children’s Heart Institute is celebrating 30 years of making broken hearts whole again. To help commemorate 30 years of lifesaving care, visit our website or donate now.