“Mighty Mack” reunites with her surgeon, brings awareness to congenital heart defects

A female doctor listening to a young patient's heart while the patient checks the doctor's heart with a toy stethoscope
Dr. Kristine J. Guleserian, chief of congenital heart surgery at Medical City Dallas checks in with HCA Healthcare pediatric patient, Mackenzie Watts.

Heart defects are the nation’s leading birth defect, affecting nearly 40,000 babies born each year. Thanks to advances in healthcare and the ingenuity of talented physicians, children born with congenital heart defects (CHDs) can go on to live full and healthy lives. Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Week is observed annually from February 7-14, and this week and every week, HCA Healthcare seeks to advocate for the hearts of our littlest patients, and give hope to families affected by CHDs.

Congenital heart defects are the most common types of birth defects, according to the CDC, affecting nearly 1% of births—about 40,000 babies—every year in the U.S. Thankfully, earlier detection and advanced treatment options are helping babies born with these conditions to live longer and healthier lives.

Mackenzie Watts was one of those precious babies born with a heart defect. In November 2020, Mackenzie’s pediatrician in the family’s home town of Tyler, Texas, detected a heart murmur. Her parents, Stacy and Kyle Watts, opted to drive her to HCA Healthcare affiliate Medical City Children’s Hospital in Dallas for treatment. Three years earlier, Stacy had been air-flighted to Medical City Children’s Hospital for the high-risk birth of Mackenzie and her twin brother, Levi.

With a potential heart problem looming, the family wanted the experts at Medical City Children’s Hospital Heart Center on their 3-year-old daughter’s care team. A minimally invasive mini-sternotomy—an open-heart surgery technique with a significantly smaller incision and less scarring than a traditional sternotomy—was scheduled for December 3.

“Mackenzie was found to have a heart defect called a superior sinus venosus defect,” says Kristine J. Guleserian, MD, chief of congenital heart surgery at Medical City Dallas. “In less fancy terms, it was a large hole inside her heart. Because of the more unusual nature of this hole, we suspected that there might be some additional abnormalities of her pulmonary veins—the veins that bring the oxygenated blood, or red blood, back to the heart.”

Atrial septal defects: Common congenital heart defects.

A superior sinus venosus defect is one of the more rare or unusual septal defects, similar to an atrial septal defect (ASD), which is a hole in the wall (septum) between the two upper heart chambers. This condition is present at birth (congenital).

According to the American Heart Association, small holes may not cause symptoms or problems and will often close or narrow on their own.

Larger holes cause the lungs and heart to work harder and can lead to permanent damage to the lung blood vessels and can also lead to arrythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) and stroke. Often, the only symptom is a heart murmur. Large holes may be closed with open-heart surgery or cardiac catheterization—a procedure in which a thin, hollow tube called a catheter is inserted through the groin or neck and threaded through the blood vessels to the heart. Open-heart surgery to close a large hole is usually done in early childhood, even in patients with few symptoms, to prevent future complications.

A CAT scan (computed tomography scan) revealed that Mackenzie had a number of anomalous or abnormally connecting pulmonary veins. Dr. Guleserian and her team closed the hole in Mackenzie’s heart and rerouted the veins using the minimally invasive mini-sternotomy technique.

The day after her procedure, Mackenzie was up and running around as if she hadn’t just had open-heart surgery. She was back home in Tyler just 72 hours after her operation. Her prognosis is outstanding, Dr. Guleserian says.

The Watts family was more than happy to make the 4-hour roundtrip drive to Dallas for Mackenzie’s follow-up appointments. “Dallas is very fortunate to have a great hospital like Medical City with such talented physicians like Dr. Guleserian and the rest of her team,” says Kyle Watts. “We cannot express our gratitude enough for all those that helped.”

Specialists at the Heart Center treat the full range of heart conditions in patients of all ages, including all congenital and acquired heart diseases. For moms and babies diagnosed with various conditions while mom is still pregnant, Medical City Healthcare’s Maternal Fetal Institute provides the only labor and delivery program in North Texas with both a full-service children’s hospital and adult hospital—including a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the highest level of care—in the same location. Mothers can recover with peace of mind knowing that our high-risk pregnancy specialists and leading pediatric hospital, Medical City Children’s Hospital, are located on the same campus.

“We are forever grateful to Dr. Guleserian and the team at Medical City for all that they have done for Mackenzie and for our family,” Stacy Watts says. “We couldn’t have asked for a better team to help our daughter.”

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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