Heart defects may go undetected into adulthood

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In four years of marriage, Mike DiMaggio has gladly accepted the role of caregiver for his wife, Kelly.

"I was born with a complex congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. It essentially means I was born missing the left side of my heart," Kelly said.

But recently, Mike went from Kelly's caregiver to the patient in a heartbeat. He passed out at home after a minor surgical procedure.

"Mid-conversation I passed out for about 11 minutes," Mike said.

"He was as white as a sheet. He was drenched in cold sweat, and I was hysterical," Kelly said.

An emergency room doctor ruled out stroke and cardiac arrest, but the doctor told Mike to see a cardiologist. He made an appointment with Kelly's doctor, Stacy Fisher.

"On the ultrasound, we were able to find a hole between the top two chambers of his heart which is called an atrial septal defect," said Fisher, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

"I was stunned," Mike said. "Absolutely beside myself."

One in 100 babies is born with a heart defect. Mike's is one of the more common defects, but it may never be detected in some people.

"The hole between the top two chambers of the heart can be very hard to hear. It's fairly silent. So, often people don't find it until they have a problem with it," Fisher said.

The hole was damaging Mike's heart, so he had a catheter procedure to close it.

Mike is recovering quickly, and Fisher credits his 60-pound weight loss in recent years and improvements to his diet and exercise with dramatically improving his outcome.

"It made the risk of his procedure less. It made his recovery easier so he could get right back up and start walking," Fisher said.

The DiMaggios made the lifestyle changes together to improve Kelly's health, but they became crucial to Mike's health as well.

"Had that not happened, I don't think that he would have been nearly as lucky as we were," Kelly said.

Fisher said warning signs for an atrial septal defect include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and fluid retention on the legs or belly.

Anyone who experiences those symptoms should contact a medical professional.

You'll find more tips about heart health on the Sinclair Cares page.

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