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A second chance at childhood

Mayo Clinic and Children’s Minnesota work together on a complex heart surgery to give a 6 year old another chance at childhood.

When Mitchell Porter was born, he was diagnosed with heart defects that typically require multiple surgeries to fix. His parents, Amy and Josh Porter of White Bear Lake, wanted nothing more than a normal childhood for their son, and embarked on a journey to get Mitchell the care he needed.

Mitchell needed a complex operation—his second—to repair, rather than replace, one of his heart valves. “It was very important to us that Mitchell could play like other boys his age,” states Amy. “As an active family, we didn’t want Mitchell to miss out on anything.”

Repairing the valve would allow Mitchell to be an active kid—kicking soccer balls and shooting hoops like other boys his age. Without the operation, Mitchell’s heart would continue to enlarge leading to heart failure.

Surgery was planned for April, then influenza and COVID-19 caused delays.

Mitchell Porter in the hospital

Although the delay was a huge disappointment to Mitchell’s parents, it allowed them time to research the best pediatric heart surgery programs for Mitchell’s condition. Their research led the Porters to recognize that Minnesota has several of the best pediatric heart surgery teams in the nation with significant experience in performing many of these heart defect surgeries along with excellent outcomes. Their options included Mayo Clinic Children’s Center and Children’s Minnesota.

cardiovascular surgery at Children’s Minnesota

And then, Amy and Josh received unexpected news—they learned that the two hospitals had established a new collaboration allowing the two heart programs to work together to share expertise and resources, providing an integrated team approach to pediatric congenital heart care. Dr. Joseph Dearani, director of congenital heart surgery at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, and Dr. David Overman, chief of cardiovascular surgery at Children’s Minnesota, would operate on Mitchell together as part of the Mayo Clinic – Children’s Minnesota Cardiovascular Collaboration.

The Porters were thrilled. Having Mitchell’s surgery performed by two leading heart surgeons with combined expertise of more than 60 years suggested that the repair, rather than a replacement with a mechanical valve, could potentially happen.

“I cried when I heard the news,” reflects Amy. “Josh and I had hoped that Mitchell could avoid having a mechanical valve, which requires lifelong blood thinners, and wouldn’t allow Mitchell the option to participate in sports.”

“Dr. Overman and I have been professional colleagues for 20 years,” says Dr. Dearani. “Our goal has always been for our two programs to collaborate in order to solve complex heart problems in children. Mitchell’s heart problem was just that—complex—and the perfect solution was for the two us to work together to fix it. And we did.”

Twelve weeks later, the 6 year old raced out on the soccer field and scored the first goal of the game. Amy and Josh looked on and smiled, happy to see their kid being just that—a kid.

This story was written by Mayo Clinic and published in Minnesota Monthly on Nov. 30, 2020.

Alexandra Rothstein