Five-year-old Gabriel (left) and 6-year-old Aidan LaForest play video games at their Wyandotte home Thursday. Their family has started a charitable organization to raise money for treatment and research of hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital heart defect affecting Aidan.
By ANDREA POTEET
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE — As he jumps and cheers in front of the Wii video game Zelda, 6-year-old Aidan LaForest appears to be an average kindergarten student spending an afternoon with one of his favorite pastimes.
But the sweatshirt advertising his school, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, hides scars that tell of more hospital stays than some adults.
Aidan was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital heart defect commonly called “half a heart,” at 3 days old. The defect, which features a severely underdeveloped left ventricle, is fatal if left untreated.
“Aidan’s a miracle,” said his mother, Jamie LaForest, 31. “He looks so normal and healthy on the outside, but on the inside, it’s a different story.”
Since he was born, Aidan has had three open heart surgeries; three heart cauterizations; monthly visits with doctors and specialists; and countless emergency room visits. He also takes up to seven medications a day, undergoes regular breathing treatments and cannot play contact sports.
The family also has to be extremely careful about germs, as patients are prone to infections. Three days before Christmas last year, Aidan was hospitalized to remove a broken sternum wire that had caused an infection.
“We basically stay home in the fall and winter,” LaForest said. “It’s a dangerous, sick world out there.”
To raise money for research of the disease LaForest, her husband, Kristopher, 32, and her parents, Becky and Gary Zavalney, have started Hope For Hearts, a nonprofit organization that raises money for the treatment and research of heart defects through various projects. Among them are a cook book comprising recipes from the family’s friends, neighbors and parents of other children with heart defects, all located through support groups and social networks.
After receiving donations of services from three area companies — Clark Graphics, of Warren, Xpedx, of Livonia, and Budco/The Dialogue Co., of Highland Park — the family raised nearly $40,000 in the last three years. Their goal is to raise $100,000 to donate to Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Aidan hopes to present the check to his heart surgeon, Dr. Henry Walters, himself.
LaForest said she was inspired to take action by the lack of media attention given to the disease and the increasing number of diagnoses each year.
“It’s a fluke thing that happens, but obviously it’s happening more and more,” she said. “That’s my son’s future, so what can we do to change it?”
Since giving birth to Aidan, LaForest had to quit her job as a dental assistant to care for him, and the mounting medical bills put financial pressure on the family, which also includes another son, Gabriel, 5, and a daughter, Isabelle, 8 months. LaForest’s husband lost one of his two full-time warehouse jobs and the family filed bankruptcy. Still, LaForest said the experience has taught her valuable lessons.
“We have learned to love more and give more,” LaForest said. “We’ve learned about patience and never to take anything for granted. We’ve become better people.”
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