As fans of the Super Bowl, especially of the commercials we first met actor Max Page aka Little Darth Vader when his 2011 Super Bowl ad went viral. Around the time of his beloved commercial the world learned that Max Page was born with a heart defect that required surgery. Over four years have passed, Max is now a star on the soap opera “The Young and the Restless” and he will once again have to undergo surgery, this time to replace a pulmonary heart valve on June 14th at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Max’s mother Jennifer Page and leading cardiologist and pediatric cardiac surgeon, Dr. David A. Ferry (on staff at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine) joined me for an interview to discuss Max’s heart problem, how common heart defects are in children, what parents of congenital heart defects need to know, signs and symptoms parents should look out for and much more.
Candace Rose: Jennifer, how did you find out that Max had a heart problem?
Jennifer Page: “I found out at my 38 week appointment. I went in for just a routine exam and they did not get a good heartbeat on him. At that point they took him and we discovered he had Tetralogy of Fallot, which is a severe heart defect and that he would require open heart surgery.
A week later they needed to put in a St. Jude Medical pacemaker because he had an arrhythmia problem. Overall he’s had nine interventions of various things, and he’s going to head in this summer for another one, but our message today is really one of hope because Max is required to do a lot of things on his medical journey, but he lives a great big and full life between all of that, and that’s really our message. This diagnose, it is very difficult but there’s a good life waiting for you on the other side.”
Candace Rose: Dr. Ferry, you work at the hospital where Max got a pacemaker that saved his life. How common is this problem?
Dr. David Ferry: “Well, it’s more common than many people think. 40,000 babies a year in the United States are born with a heart problem. That’s like one in every 10 or 15 minutes, and about half of those babies require any heart surgeries. 50 babies are born a day that eventually need a heart surgery of some sort – sometimes more than one procedure. Cardiology is one of the biggest programs in many of the major children’s hospitals because they need it. Children have heart problems, people may not know that but they do.”
Candace Rose: Jennifer, what do parents of kids with congenital heart defects need to know?
Jennifer Page: “10 years ago I had no resource. When this happened it just hit us out of the blue and we didn’t even know where to go so we just blindly trusted everyone that was leading us. Fortunately we had very competent and we got great advice, but that’s not always the case so we’re so excited about this partnership with Mended Little Hearts and St. Jude Medical because they’re coming together to provide an online resource for families to answer all the questions that you might have from diagnosis – all the way through to these kids becoming adults. It’s a great place to go get started for information and also to plug in and meet some other heart families so that you can be in this together because typically these heart families understand you at a different level that even your family can’t relate to a lot of times. It’s a very emotionally important part of the peace for the parents in the journey.”
Candace Rose: Dr. Ferry, what warning signs should parents look for and why is it to children and adults to diagnose heart defects early?
Dr. David Ferry: “Well, the warning signs usually occur in the first week or four weeks of age, typically poor color to the skin, a blueish tint to their lips or fingernails, poor feeding, rapid breathing, poor weight gain. If parents see these or are worried about their child in anyway they should contact their pediatrician or general practitioner, have them seen more promptly because intervention is very important. The sooner that they get diagnosed, the sooner that we can make a game plan and the faster they are out of their procedure if necessary and the longer more gratifying life they’re going to lead.”
Candace Rose: Well, thank you both so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me. Where can we go for more information?
Jennifer Page: “You can go to SJM.com/WeHeartKids.”