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Tallahassee 3-year-old recovers from life-threatening heart defect

Posted at 11:45 AM, Feb 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 09:30:40-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Each year, more than 40,000 babies are born with a congenital heart defect, making it the leading cause of death for infants.

For Heart Health Awareness Month, ABC 27 is introducing you to a local girl who beat the odds.

Halie Pullen describes the moment she found out her baby, Emerson, had a heart defect.

"It was scary,” said Pullen. "Although she was perfect and looked beautiful, there was a small hole in her heart."

Doctors at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare found a murmur in Emerson's heart, an indication of an underlying heart problem.

This is when Dr. Justin "Mac" Vining at Wolfson Children’s Specialty Center at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare took her case.

“We performed an echo that demonstrated a small hole in the heart called a ventricular septal defect,” said Dr. Vining.

Dr. Vining said this is the most common Congenital heart defect.

"It's a problem that occurs when the heart is formed,” said Dr. Vining. “It actually happens very early in pregnancy, oftentimes before mothers even know they're pregnant. About 8 to 10 weeks."

An operation isn't always needed to fix it, but in Emerson's case, she underwent open-heart surgery where a patch was placed over the hole.

The procedure went so well that Emerson walked out of the hospital two days later.

"It was really awesome to see her bopping out there,” said Emerson’s father Jeff Pullen.

Congenital heart defects are the leading cause of death in infants but are 60 times more preventable than childhood cancer if caught early with a Fetal Heart Echo.

This is the advice the Pullen's are now using since they are currently expecting their second child.

It’s a blessing that the Pullen's said they feel more prepared for, especially since their new addition will have a strong older sister.

Since her surgery back in September doctors say Emerson hasn't had any complications.

Doctors advise if you have any history of heart deficits in your family, to make sure to get a Fetal Heart Echo while pregnant.