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Heart surgery day after girl's birth helps blood get to lungs

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Opal Belk was born with a broken heart.

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Hayley Belk holds her 3-month-old baby, Opal, in Sardis, Ga. Opal was born with a congenital heart defect that prevented blood from reaching her lungs. A shunt was placed in Opal's heart during open-heart surgery.  Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Hayley Belk holds her 3-month-old baby, Opal, in Sardis, Ga. Opal was born with a congenital heart defect that prevented blood from reaching her lungs. A shunt was placed in Opal's heart during open-heart surgery.

Just hours after her birth in November, a sharp-eyed nurse noticed that the tips of the chubby-cheeked Burke County girl's fingers were turning blue. Not enough blood was reaching Opal's extremities, and there was little time to waste.

Within hours, the girl was sent to the Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center, where a series of tests revealed a missing valve in her pulmonary artery.

Little Opal would have to have open heart surgery.

Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect in the country and the No. 1 cause of death from birth defects during the first year of life, according to the American Heart Association's Web site.

Each year, nine newborn babies out of every 1,000 will have some kind of heart disorder. Roughly 36,000 babies are born with a defect each year -- about 1 percent of babies in the U.S.

Often, the causes of the problems are a mystery -- an infection, a drug reaction, genetics.

In Opal's case, the valve problem -- called pulmonary atresia -- meant blood could not flow from the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery and on to the lungs, said Dr. Mohsen Karimi, the pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital who operated on Opal.

"Basically, she had no way of getting blood into her lungs," Karimi said.

A day after her birth, the young girl's chest was cut open to mend her walnut-sized heart. Karimi inserted a shunt -- essentially a tube -- to correct the blood flow.

"She has now two sources of pulmonary blood flow," he said. "One is through her native pulmonary artery, which has no valve, and the other one is through the plastic shunt."

Exactly three months to the day after the nurse called attention to Opal's fingertips, Hayley Belk, Opal's mother, gave a telephone interview from her home in the Alexander community near Sardis, Ga.

Belk was changing Opal's diaper, and the girl could be heard in the background, mixed with laughter from Rodney and Hayley Belk's four other children, ages 10, 7, 4 and 2 years old.

Today, Opal is gaining weight and doing great, Hayley Belk said. She had to return to the hospital once because of an infection, but is otherwise normal. Other than some blue traces under her fingernails, the rest of Opal's body has returned to its normal rosy color.

But the memory of her child's surgery is still very fresh in Hayley Belk's mind. And one memory stands out: Before Opal's surgery, a local church gave the child and her mother two small heart-shaped decorations.

"They leave one heart with the child and one with the momma," she said, fighting back tears. "And my heart had a hole in it, a hole in the shape of a heart. And that part was with her. When we were reunited after her surgery we put the two pieces back together. It made all the difference in the world to me, while she was in that surgery, to have that heart to hold onto."

Links:

Read about Pulmonary Atresia here: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1303

For more about congenital heart defects visit: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=12012

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etlinks
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etlinks 02/13/11 - 08:55 am
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Fun to read a happy story.

Fun to read a happy story. Thanks sould go out to the sharp-eyed nurse.

duckey
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duckey 02/13/11 - 10:30 am
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Who was the nurse?? She

Who was the nurse?? She should be hailed a hero. No mention of her name??!! I bet if a doctor would have found the problem he would have his name in this article.

brightside08
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brightside08 02/13/11 - 12:27 pm
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Awesome, i can't say enough

Awesome, i can't say enough about the Peds Cards department at MCG. My daughter Lisa was born with a mess of problems with her heart in 1972, Dr William B. Strong and his staff, at the time, were the most caring, understanding, and Loving bunch of doctors you coud ask for. she had 2 Blalock shunts performed on both sides of her heart, so she would get enough oxygen to her body, as she was diagnosed as a Blue Baby at that time. then at the age of 10 she had open heart surgery, she had two holes in her heart. Lisa lived to be 30 years old before passing away, but it was all due to too much scar tissue and other issues she had, that they wouldn't do anymore surgery on her. Dr Strong spoke at Lisa's funeral and told of all the stories that the Residents learned from her, from the complications that she had with her heart right down to the bedside manner of which she was treated. She would tell the residents if they had a good bedside manner about them, and of course Dr Strong would tell them to listen to her. He had, somewhat, of a hand in her raising, cause she started going to MCG at the age of 4 till her passing. Good luck with Opal, she has been blessed in alot of ways. Medicine has come a long way since 1972....

texred
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texred 02/13/11 - 04:33 pm
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Thanks AC for carrying such a

Thanks AC for carrying such a good story. We hear enough of the negative stuff, sure am glad to see a good story once in a while....

WW1949
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WW1949 02/13/11 - 05:06 pm
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Dr. Strong was my neighbor

Dr. Strong was my neighbor for a while. He is a good and kind man.

msb3075
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msb3075 02/13/11 - 06:19 pm
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great to hear a story like

great to hear a story like this , may jesus continue to bless this angel .

hmbelk
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hmbelk 02/14/11 - 10:57 pm
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I am Opal's mother. I wanted

I am Opal's mother. I wanted to comment on the post by duckey. The nurse that originally discovered Opal's fingernails were turning blue works at Burke Medical Center. She was working at 4:00 a.m. on Thursday Nov. 11. At that point I'd been awake for 22 hours and I'm sorry to admit that I do not remember her name. You are correct, she is a hero. I wish I did know her name. I wish I could remember everyone's name from Burke Medical Center and all the nurses in the NICU, PICU, and the 5th floor Pediatric unit at the Children's Medical Center at MCG, as well as all the doctors, residents, and fellows that played a part in Opal's recovery. I have prayed that the Lord would bless them all and I know they will receive their just reward.

hmbelk
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hmbelk 02/14/11 - 11:11 pm
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To brightside08: I'm very

To brightside08: I'm very sorry to hear about your daughter Lisa. I'm sure you miss her very much. We are very fortunate and thankful in the medical advances that have occured since the first blue babies were operated on. No one wants their child to have to endure such things but we are thankful and hope that by treating Opal they will learn even more. Maybe one day they will be able to repair these things by less invasive measures with even faster recovery rates.
God bless!

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