A Heart 4 Kids: Oklahoma boy receives first-of-its-kind procedure to help congenital heart defect

A Heart 4 Kids
Data pix.

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) - When you look at little Bennett, you can’t help but notice how much he looks like his daddy.

He’s got his father’s looks and his mother’s determination.

From the beginning of her pregnancy with Bennett, Jennifer Harbison was considered high-risk.

She has Lupus, and every prenatal checkup included an ultrasound.

Thank goodness they did.

"I could tell something was wrong,” she said. "And that's when he told me, ‘I'm pretty positive he has hypoplastic left heart syndrome.’ He didn't explain it. He just said that he's going to have to have multiple surgeries if he survives, and told me that abortion was an option. I knew that I wasn't going to do that. I was going to give him a chance."

What followed took every ounce of determination this family had.

Baby Bennett wasn’t born yet, but doctors were already preparing for the long journey ahead once he was.

"Bennet has something called hypoplastic left heart syndrome,” Dr. Harold Burkhart said. “That means the left side of his heart did not develop all the way. So instead of having two good ventricles like you and I have, his left ventricle is very small and essentially has to function with the right ventricle as one ventricle."

The diagnosis was the first step of many, and a series of operations would follow to essentially make the right ventricle do the work of two ventricles.

"If we can identify children prenatally, we can take we can take their blood cells out of the umbilical cord,” Burkhart said. “We get those cells, and we process them, and we freeze them, and they’re kept in storage at Mayo Clinic. At the time of the operation when the child is 4-8 months of age, they send the cells down, and I'll inject those cells into the muscle of the heart, and the hopes are the stem cells will stimulate the heart there to grow more cells."

And become stronger in hopes of lasting longer and avoiding the need for a transplant.

That’s exactly what Dr. Burkhart and his team at Children’s Hospital did for Bennett.

"This was the first time that this has been done actually in the world,” Burkhart said.

"If it weren't for Dr. Burkhart and the way that he does his surgeries, I don't think Bennett would be here,” Jennifer Harbison said.

Jennifer has come a long way from the day she left her checkup not knowing what Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome even meant.

“I pulled over and looked it up in a parking lot, and it’s scary,” she said.

But on July 23, 2018, a five-pound, 10-ounce baby boy was born.

"How many kids are out there that they abort and could be like this right here,” she said. “They're never guaranteed tomorrow. We take it day by day."

Thanks to the choice of life Bennett’s mother made and to the team of medical professionals who that choice possible by giving “A Heart 4 Kids.”

For more information about medical services or to donate to the research of this program, click here.

KFOR-TV and Children’s Hospital are partnering to showcase the world-renowned work of some of the top pediatric medical professionals in the country, and they are right here in Oklahoma, on the new segment "A Heart 4 Kids."

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