Times Union - Two Hearts Beat as One

Published: Sunday, October 18, 2009 COLONIE

Mother, son participate in benefit as courageous survivors of congenital heart defects

The West Lebanon mom was born with a life-threatening congenital heart defect, and against what doctors said was one-in-a-million odds, gave birth to a baby with the same disease.

Since having T.J. seven years ago, Smith has shared with her child what no parent would want to: a shocking diagnosis at birth, multiple heart surgeries and an uncertain future.

But the mother and son also share something else. They persevere. They are survivors.
“You are given this life because you are strong enough to live it,” Smith said, quoting her life motto at The Crossings of Colonie.

At least three generations of Smith’s family joined her and thousands of others Saturday at the 17th Annual Capital Region Start! Heart Walk. Frosty morning weather didn’t stop heart disease survivors and their families, marching bands and young and old groups in team colors from walking miles to raise money to fight heart disease and stroke.

Several walkers wore wool hats, carried balloons and stretched to salsa music. Louise Young of Troy and Raymond Bussing of Greenwich were grand marshals. Both survived cardiac arrests this summer, and were aided by therapeutic hypothermia at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany.

T.J. and his mother have participated in the walk for six of T.J.’s seven years. On Saturday, the shy first-grader wore a big red heart painted on one cheek, a snake on the other and a red sweatshirt in memory of his uncle, who died four years ago in a motorcycle accident.

“I like playing outside,” T.J. said.

He, like his mom, were diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot, which is understood to involve four anatomical abnormalities. Babies born with the disease can appear blue, though T.J. arrived into the world a shade of pink, Smith said.

Doctors had given her no more than six years to live when she was born, and even said she could die within 30 days. She had several surgeries as a child — the first at age two. Smith had trouble gaining weight, mild learning disabilities, speech delays and was frequently sick.

But she ran track and cross-country in high school, and played soccer and softball. One of her heart valves was replaced with a cow’s valve in December 2007. She is now 32 and works at a bookstore in Castleton.

“I am doing actually pretty good, better than they all expected two years ago,” Smith said.

Smith’s pregnancy was labeled high risk, said her mother, Nancy Abbott of Averill Park.

“It was one of the happiest and worst things to happen because my daughter could have died having a baby,” Abbott said.

Smith found out that her unborn son had the heart defect when she was five months pregnant.

T.J. went into heart failure three times on the second day of his life. He’s suffered a small stroke and a blood clot, and has undergone two open heart surgeries. He has some mild learning disabilities and speech delays, but is active and happy.

Smith says her faith and family get her through. When her life ends, she intends to donate her body to science so doctors can better understand her heart defect and find a cure.

To contact the paper, details below

By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer
Dennis Yusko can be reached at 454-5353 or by e-mail at dyusko@timesunion.com.
To read Christy’s personal story click here