Eleven year old Kaitlyn Platt loves the color purple, the Jonas Brothers, dance and playing with her Barbie's. She also loves participating in Jump Rope for Heart, the American Heart Association's national educational fund-raising program that engages elementary students in jumping rope while raising funds to support lifesaving heart and stroke research. Jump Rope for Heart is near and dear to Kaitlyn's heart, as she is a direct beneficiary of the funds she raises for research.
At the age of two, Kaitlyn's physicians informed her parents that they found a heart murmur during an exam. Additional test including an echocardiogram showed that Kaitlyn had Complete AV Block; her heart's electrical signal wasn't passing from the upper to the lower chambers. When this occurs, an independent pacemaker in the lower chambers takes over. The ventricles can contract and pump blood, but at a slower rate than that of the atrial pacemaker. These impulses are called functional or ventricular scope beats. They're usually very slow and can't generate the signals needed to maintain full functioning of the heart muscle.
As a result of the Complete AV Block, doctors told her parents to prepare for Kaitlyn to need a pacemaker by age 9 or 10. They encouraged them to be on the look out for symptoms such as dizziness and clumsiness.
"Kaitlyn's cardiologist told us that when she begins to experience these symptoms, we'll know that the time for her to get the pacemaker is then," said Kim Platt, Kaitlyn's mom.
One day Kim noticed that Kaitlyn, then age 4, was getting clumsy. "I felt like you feel when you spin around in a circle and get really dizzy," Kaitlyn said.
In order to monitor her heart, doctors gave Kaitlyn a backpack with leads that read her heart rate and sent the information directly to the office. From this information, cardiologists discovered that her heart rate was dipping as low as twenty and that Kaitlyn heart was experiencing lapses – there were moments when her heart stopped beating. Not long after this, in July of 2002, pediatric cardiologists told Kaitlyn's parents to bring her in right away – Kaitlyn was going to have surgery to implant a pacemaker.
"When I was 4, I really had no clue what was going on. Mom and Dad told me I was going to have a boo-boo fixed. I had no clue what was in store for me, and how it would change my life forever," said Kaitlyn. "To put it simply, I was totally confused."
"Kaitlyn came through the surgery very well…..but I would never wish this on anyone," says Kim.
For the next couple of years Kaitlyn continued to do well, when in January 2006, at age 8, she underwent surgery for a complete pacemaker replacement at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY. The replacement was a success and afterwards, Kaitlyn returned home and to J.D. George Elementary School in Verona.
Today Kaitlyn continues to thrive and is an incredible spokesperson for the AHA. Not only is she a top fundraiser for her school's Jump Rope for Heart event, but she also donates her prizes to the Ronald McDonald House and to the children at Strong Memorial Hospital where she had her surgery.
Kaitlyn's passion and enthusiasm for research into heart disease has also inspired new dreams for her future. Last summer she spent a day shadowing her cardiologist Dr. Byrum, saw an echocardiogram, met physicians and visited the nursery within one of the local hospitals.
When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Kaitlyn lights up, "I want to be a Pediatric Cardiologist and an instructor just like my cardiologist, Dr. Byrum," she says. "I'd also like to develop a pacemaker with a battery – there's got to be a way to make a battery last longer."