Hearty Recovery: Peyton, Aspen, Colo.

Theresa Johnston
Sunday, May 1, 2011

Like many kids in Aspen, Colorado, Peyton learned to ski shortly after he learned to walk. He also loves ice hockey, or the preschool version of it anyway. “There’s a pond at his school,” says his mother, Kirsten, “and they go out on it with balls and sticks.”

That’s remarkable considering that Peyton was born with pulmonary atresia, a malformation of the valve that sends blood from the heart to the lungs to pick up oxygen. Kirsten was 30 weeks pregnant when Colorado doctors diagnosed the condition in Peyton, her second child. “There’s no Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Aspen, and we have family in California,” she explains. “So we did our research and decided to have the baby at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.”

Five days after Peyton’s birth in 2007, Packard heart specialists attempted to open his pulmonary valve with a catheter. He had a second catheterization at six weeks. Then at three months Frank Hanley, MD, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery and the Lawrence Crowley, MD, Endowed Professor in Child Health, performed open heart surgery, increasing the blood flow to Peyton’s lungs.

In all, the family spent three-and-a-half years in California, traveling back and forth from the East Bay to Packard whenever Peyton needed follow-up care. “I thought it was going to be a horrible, horrible experience,” Kirsten says. “But looking back, the care that Peyton received was just phenomenal.” Today, she reports, “He has no physical restrictions at all. He’s as happy as a little clam. I’ve had strangers walk up to me saying he needs his own comedy show.”

While in the Bay Area, Kirsten gave birth to a second baby boy, bringing their little brood up to three: big sister Skylar, Peyton, and little brother Logan. They also made an important financial decision: to present a major gift to the Children’s Heart Center at Packard Children’s Hospital.

“The funds that Peyton’s family provided have allowed the Heart Center to recruit a new mid-career faculty member, Pilar Ruiz-Lozano,” reports a grateful Daniel Bernstein, MD, chief of pediatric cardiology. “Dr. Ruiz-Lozano has garnered worldwide attention for her pioneering work on cardiac development and on the role of stem cells in cardiac repair.” The money also will enable Bernstein to hire a post-doctoral research fellow, giving Ruiz-Lozano and her colleagues much-needed help to seek new cures and therapies for patients like Peyton.