Every 15 minutes, a baby is born with a congenital heart defect. Ella Dierickx is one of them.
"When she was born, we brought her home from the hospital and we thought she was a perfectly healthy little girl," said Rachael Dierickx, Ella's mother.
She wasn't, though. Ella struggled to eat and fell asleep during feedings. At her two-month check-up, her pediatrician heard a heart murmur and set up an appointment at the Genesis Heart Institute. The next day they found three holes in Ella's heart - a congenital heart defect, the most common birth defect in the United States.
"One-third of those kids never have to have their heart operated on," Rachael explained. "Everything would be fine and those holes would stay. One-third of kids – their holes would close on their own. One-third would have be operated on."
For two years, they waited to see which "third" Ella was going to be in. However, in October 2012, a round of tests at the doctor showed her heart was having problems. On October 25th, 2012, Ella had open heart surgery at 2 years old.
"For 37 minutes, her heart was stopped and [the surgery] was two hours total," recalled Rachael. "I remember they would give you updates and they came out at one point and said - well, the scary part is over - and I remember saying - I`m not really sure the scary part`s over. Until I see her, I'm not sure it`s really over."
Everything went great. Six years later, Ella is living a normal 8 year old's life in Long Grove, Iowa. She loves ballet, gymnastics, soccer, and being a great older sister to her little sister Lilli.
"She doesn't know a stranger," Rachael said. "She’ll talk to anybody."
Thanks to the American Heart Association, hospitals are now required to screen all newborns for congenital heart defects before they go home. Ella's story is now helping the AHA raise awareness about congenital heart defects and the organization's life-saving mission to "be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives." She was the Princess of the 2019 Quad Cities Heart Ball, sponsored by ORA Orthopedics, which took place Saturday, March 2nd at the Radisson Quad Cities Plaza in Davenport.
Ella's last appointment with her cardiologist was about 10 months ago. Rachael said her heart function was described as "beautiful" and now she doesn't have to go back to the doctor for another four years. Ella is excited to don a red dress, red shoes and be a princess for the evening this weekend - sharing her story so that others, like her, can live happily ever after.