Kellan’s Story

For a little boy born with half a heart, everyday moments are precious

When Willette Whitted rattles off her son’s complex medical diagnosis — dextrocardia situs inversus and hypoplastic left heart syndrome — you can tell she’s an expert.

Her twin boys were born in 2013. Judah was a healthy baby, in spite of being premature. Kellan, on the other hand, had only half of a working heart (a condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome) and in this case, that weakened heart was on the right side of the body instead of the left (in medical terms: dextrocardia situs inversus). He was a mirror image of his brother.

The combination is rare and life-threatening. But doctors at Children’s Minnesota gave the family hope.

Kellan and mother Willette during stay at hospitalAt just a few months old, Kellan had the first of three open-heart surgeries. “The morning of the surgery, the heart surgeon went over the procedure,” remembers Willette. “He thoughtfully answered all of our questions. He drew diagrams. He always made us feel as though Kellan was his only patient.”

The operation was a success. But in the hours after, Kellan went into cardiac arrest. The team at Children’s jumped into action, doing everything possible to get their patient’s tiny, fragile heart beating again. Ultimately the effort required ECMO, a highly complex machine that does the work of a body’s heart and lungs.

It saved Kellan’s life.

Baby Kellan on a hospital bed look at a stuffed animal
Baby Kellan sitting on a hospital bed with a toy
Kellan and his brother riding matching tricycles
Kellan crawling through a play tunnel
Kellan eating ice cream with his brother
Kellan's mother reading a book to him and his brother

He was taken off ECMO but soon faced another challenge: an infection in his chest from his surgical wound, which required the help of Children’s infectious disease specialists. He also developed seizures in response to his heart medication, and his care team expanded to include neurologists.

In March 2014, Kellan had the second of three HLHS surgeries, which was nothing short of miraculous, according to Willette. She says that everyone on her son’s medical team agrees: he has been a different child since that surgery.

While he still has challenges ahead of him, Kellan has enjoyed a hospital-free 2019. He’s thriving in kindergarten alongside his twin brother. Mom reports that both boys lost their first tooth within a week of each other.

Kellan’s life story is full of moments made possible by our big-hearted donors. From life-saving technology to sibling care to everyday necessities like meals and transportation, donations make life better — and longer — for the most amazing people on Earth.

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