A Perfectly Patched Heart Full of Love

Feb 11, 2022 | Patient Stories

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At only 9 years old, Vaundy Clarke has overcome a variety of health challenges—including a congenital heart defect, bacterial overgrowth syndrome and problems with her immune system—to lead a healthy and active life.

Clarke’s family found out about her congenital heart defect when she was born. Such defects can often be discovered at a 20-week anatomy scan during pregnancy, and about one in every 100 babies have heart defects at birth.

Clarke’s Healthcare Journey Begins

Clarke was born on a Monday, went home from the hospital on Wednesday and had her first follow-up visit with her pediatrician, Amanda Talbot, MD, on Friday. The heart murmur that was expected to quickly heal had not, so Clarke was referred to a cardiologist with Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health. That began the family’s journey, with Dr. Talbot as their guide and a team that now includes more than a dozen specialists centered around Clarke’s care.

Clarke and her family met with a pediatric cardiologist right away, and the immediate goal was to get Clarke as big and strong as possible before making plans to repair the complex hole in her heart. After some time, Clarke was not gaining weight and was failing to thrive. The hole had created additional complications in her lungs, and the risks began to outweigh the benefits of trying to get her stronger for a repair.

A Perfectly Patched Heart

Just before Christmas 2013, Clarke and her family traveled to Boston where she had a successful open-heart surgery. Clarke and her family are thankful to celebrate her “perfectly patched” heart.

Back home in Baton Rouge, Clarke’s heart was functioning, but she still wasn’t getting well. Some of the problems that had been attributed to her heart defect had to be examined from different angles. Her care team of pediatric specialists at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health collaborated to piece together the puzzles and minimize the need for Clarke to travel around the country for additional care.

“I don’t think she’d be where she is today if our team here hadn’t taken an interest in her as a person and not just a patient,” Brooke, Clarke’s mom, says. “They focused on what’s best for her as a kid and continue to work hard to give her the best shot at being an active 9-year-old.”

Hospital Stays and Doctor Appointments

For some time, Clarke and Brooke were in a doctor’s office or at the hospital four or five days per week. Clarke has struggled with infections, absence seizures and stomach problems, and she has an immune deficiency that requires weekly infusions.

Her care team works together to make sure Clarke can have the best quality of life, and that includes going to school. Clarke is now a thriving third grader.

A Life Full of Love

Clarke is an advocate for heart health for kids and adults. She will model at this year’s Go Red for Women luncheon and participate in the Capital Area Heart Walk in Baton Rouge. She loves talking with her friends and classmates and doing activities to help them learn about heart health.

Older brother Cooper is an important part of Clarke’s team and her biggest cheerleader. As a sibling of someone with complex needs, he embraces a family life that must often be centered on Clarke’s health. Caring for Clarke means caring for her family, and Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health team, including the dedicated Child Life Specialists, have helped Cooper, Clarke and their family navigate and find healing in their journey together.

Clarke was very excited to see the construction of Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital campus, and it’s been a game changer for the family to have everything she needs in one place, including a pediatric pharmacy. The team members are all focused on caring for kids. That team now includes Brooke, who became part of the hospital’s patient experience team to help families like theirs.

Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health offers exceptional care of all types. Learn more about Louisiana’s largest pediatric network.

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