The Heart of London

It was her baby girl’s shrill cry in the night that began an ordeal Michelle Kent will never forget.

Little London was just a few weeks old and recuperating from having her tiny heart valve ballooned. The procedure had initially improved a condition London faced at birth—a narrow valve that was affecting her heart function.

But this night, Michelle knew something was terribly wrong. She was alone. Her husband, Jacob, was at work. She called 911 as the infant screamed and struggled to breathe. But when the 911 operator told her to begin CPR on her 6-pound baby, Michelle panicked.

“I just knew something was horribly wrong,” says Michelle. “I ran downstairs and out the garage while I was still on the phone.”

Michelle ran to a neighbor’s house, baby in arms. No answer at one house—on to another. When a neighbor finally opened his door, the ambulance pulled up, and Michelle waved it down.

That harrowing experience led to London being life-flighted to the Advocate Children’s Heart Institute at Advocate Children’s Hospital, where it was revealed that London’s heart valve was now leaking.

“London had an aortic valvar insufficiency – leaking of the blood back into the left lower chamber that was affecting blood flow to the body,” says Dr. Michel Ilbawi, her pediatric cardiovascular surgeon at Advocate Children’s Hospital. “London would eventually need a new heart valve—but we needed more time. She was just too tiny for valve replacement.”

“It was at that time that the care team at Advocate Children’s Hospital became part of my family,” says Michelle. “We were so afraid to take her home and didn’t know what to expect. But we trusted them more than ourselves with our baby.”

At Michelle’s insistence, she and Jacob learned CPR before leaving the hospital. London went home on a heart monitor with caregivers carefully watching.

Then, at age three months, London was ready for surgery.

“It was the best-case scenario when London was in the operating room,” says Dr. Ilbawi. “I was able to repair her own valve instead of replacing it. It means her own valve can grow with her.”

London sees her doctors every six months. Eventually, as she gets older, London’s valve will likely need another repair or replacement. But Michelle knows that her three-year-old is now tough enough for what’s ahead.

“She’s a little spitfire,” says Michelle. “She’s a little sugar, but mostly spice. She’s going to be alright.”

The Kents have watched their fragile infant become a rambunctious toddler who is definitely in charge in the household, “bossing” her older siblings around.

“Sometimes the very worst times bring the biggest blessings,” says Michelle. “We take nothing for granted anymore. We look at things differently. This experience has definitely made us who we are.”