When Claire and her twin sister Harper were born at just 31 weeks old, Claire weighed 3 lbs., 1 oz. and soon dropped under 3 lbs. for a while. Not only was she born small, but she was also born with a type of congenital heart disease called double outlet right ventricle – a condition that occurs once in every 6,000 to 10,000 births, when the aorta and the pulmonary artery connect to the heart’s ventricle. Claire’s lungs were receiving too much blood flow and she was in heart failure.
Because she was so tiny, doctors had to perform an initial surgery that would allow her to grow big enough for a second corrective operation. One of the surgeries was performed by Children’s National Hospital Cardiac Surgeon Can Yerebakan, M.D., who Claire’s mother credits with saving her daughter’s life.
“Claire was very small baby and therefore we had all challenges to enable sufficient growth in the hospital by preventing further damage to other organs and complications,” Dr. Yerebakan said. “Therefore, a palliation with banding of the lung vessels was performed to defer a huge cardiac operation.”
Claire’s mom, Corey, sent a note of gratitude to Dr. Yerebakan to thank him “properly” after “all the craziness and emotional rollercoaster” of a time they had during Claire’s months long hospitalization.
“I want you to know that your name comes up regularly in our household and you are not only our hero, but a hero to everyone who knows and loves Claire,” she wrote. “She is doing great, by the way. I thought I would share some pictures. Thank you isn’t good enough, but I have no other words, so thank you from the bottoms of our hearts.”
Dr. Yerebakan, who said Corey’s note “means the world” to him, was among dozens of Children’s National team members who cared for Claire in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. A few months after she went home from the hospital, Claire had an outpatient checkup with Craig Sable, M.D., associate division chief of Cardiology. Claire is doing amazing, has almost caught up to her twin sister in growth and development and is not on any heart medications.
Corey said Claire just got her two bottom front teeth, loves walks and playing with her twin and big brother, baths and her dog, “who gives her kisses all the time.”
“To all the parents going through the long, scary and seemingly never-ending hospital journey with their warrior, our heart goes out to you,” she commented on social media. “You are so strong.”
Dr. Yerebakan he knew early on at medical school that he would care for hearts in the future after he held a human heart in his hands. He said the best part of being a heart surgeon is when he feels a parent’s happiness when he looks into their eyes after a successful procedure.
Families facing a diagnosis like Claire’s can depend on Children’s National experts like Dr. Yerebakan for care.
“We have an excellent team at Children’s National for the medical and surgical management of the entire spectrum of congenital heart conditions,” he said. “As one of the most experienced teams in the United States, we can guide families through any heart therapy their child may need.”