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Seemingly healthy girl needs heart surgery

A routine meet-and-greet visit to a new pediatrician brought an unwelcome surprise for a Rio Rancho couple when they learned their active little daughter had a heart murmur.

The pediatrician referred 6-year-old Téa Tomada to a specialist at Presbyterian Hospital downtown, who diagnosed her with Atrial Septal Defect (ASD), basically a hole between the top two chambers of the heart.

“The really shocking thing to mom and myself was she was a healthy child, she was in indoor soccer, she played vigorously, she played against the boys. We never saw any telltale signs,” said her father, Brian Tomada, “So, to get that diagnosis from the doctors about a large hole in her heart that was quite large was very disturbing.”

Jennifer Davenport, who works on contract with MEDNAX at Presbyterian Hospital downtown, was the pediatric cardiologist who examined Téa. She said congenital heart disease occurs in about 40,000 babies born nationwide each year and ASD is the most common form of those.

The hole is between the top two chambers of the heart, the atria, and causes oxygenated blood from the left atrium to go through the hole to the right atrium and on to the lungs.

“So it causes extra blood flow to the lungs with every heartbeat,” she said.

Davenport said the defect is usually not immediately dangerous. Kids initially tolerate the hole well but may eventually have symptoms such as chronic asthma or difficulty running and playing with peers. Over a lifetime, if left untreated, Davenport said, ASD can cause problems for women when they have babies or pulmonary hypertension among people that live at high altitude.

Although smaller holes can be fixed with a minimally invasive day procedure, in Téa’s case, the hole was large enough to require open-heart surgery.

The experience was nervewracking for her parents.

“It was very traumatic,” said her mother, Yvette Tomada.

Doctors put a patch over the hole in her heart and Téa recovered quickly. Téa herself said the operation was “sort of scary” but she was soon back at Rio Rancho Elementary school and is now looking forward to playing T-ball, her favorite sport.

She will have to have twice-yearly check ups for the next few years to ensure that scar tissue from the operation doesn’t interfere with the electrical system that controls the rhythmic beating of her heart. But she is essentially able to live a normal life.

“It (the ASD) may have caused problems later but we caught it early enough,”Davenport said.

Nevertheless, the experience prompted Téa’s parents to have their younger daughters checked to see if they had the same heart defect. Their middle daughter, Sophia, 4, did not, but testing revealed a very small hole in their 2-year old daughter Gianna’s heart, which will not require any immediate intervention.

The couple say they want to raise awareness about the importance of child wellness check-ups to detect potential heart defects.