Oklahoma Congenital Heart Defect Survivor Honored by 'I am CardioSmart' Contest

Contact: Nicole Napoli, nnapoli@acc.org, 202-375-6523

WASHINGTON (Feb 09, 2016) -

Jaycee Elliott was two months old when a routine pediatric checkup revealed a life-changing congenital heart defect. Despite withstanding a lifetime of surgeries, medications and cardiac appointments, Elliott has also had a lifetime of accomplishments and has learned to be grateful for each day. Because of her dedication to living well with heart disease, Elliott is being recognized by the American College of Cardiology’s “I am CardioSmart” contest.

CardioSmart is the ACC’s patient education and support program. Its mission is to engage, inform and empower patients to better prepare them to participate in their own care. The “I am CardioSmart” contest recognizes individuals living well with heart disease. Elliott was among five finalists representing different heart conditions chosen by “I am CardioSmart” this year.

When Elliott was examined by her pediatrician during a routine two-month checkup, the doctor heard an abnormal sound in her heart and told her mother to take her to the hospital immediately. She was diagnosed shortly after with tetralogy of fallot with pulmonary stenosis—a rare, complex heart defect. In Elliott’s case she had a quarter-sized hole in her heart and very small arteries. She also had a small connection between her pulmonary artery and her heart.

Elliott underwent her first surgery at 3 months old and others at 6 months, 18 months, 3 years and 10 years. During a catheterization at age 10, one of her arteries was punctured and she lost several units of blood. She was put into a coma for three weeks and when she emerged she had to undergo extensive therapy to learn how to walk, write and gain strength throughout her body.

“Going through such a life-altering event not only gave me perspective on what life is really about but also taught me to appreciate the simple things like walking and writing,” she said. “Not everyone is able to do those things, so I’m grateful for the abilities that I do have.”

When she was 18, Elliott was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia, which is a rapid heart rhythm, and had a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted. The device has done its job and she has received three electrical shocks from it to return her heartbeat to normal, all while conscious. She said the shocks are painful but have saved her life each time.

Today Elliott is 30 years old. She is a college graduate and has been married for six years.

“Because my life expectancy was predicted to be very short, milestones like graduating from college and getting married became very special and exciting,” she said.

She credits her faith, family, friends and team of doctors at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City with uplifting her and encouraging her through every obstacle.

“The people in my life, including my doctors, always give me the strength to keep going when I feel like I’ve had enough,” she said.

Elliott said she stays on top of her condition through a team-based care approach with her cardiologist and pacemaker/defibrillator team. She has regular checkups where she goes over notes on issues she’s having with her heart, as well as regular blood tests and wellness assessments to manage her medication doses. Elliott also works with a nutritionist to learn healthy eating habits that will benefit her heart and exercises as often as possible.

“The challenges I endure have made me the person I am today,” she said. “I have learned that there is a story behind every face. It may not be the same as mine, but it’s inspiring to watch others going through difficult situations handle those things with grace and positivity. I hope to handle every obstacle I face in the same manner and inspire others with my own story.”

The winners of this year’s “I am CardioSmart” contest were featured on CardioSmart’s Facebook page. The public was then allowed to vote on the most inspirational story and select the overall winner, which was Christian Jacobs of West Jefferson, Ohio.

The four other heart disease condition winners from the “I am CardioSmart” contest are being announced throughout February to bring awareness to heart disease during Heart Month.

To learn more about preventing or living well with heart disease, visit www.cardiosmart.org.

To learn more about Elliott’s story, visit www.cardiosmart.org/Connect/Patient-Stories/Jaycee-Elliott.

To learn more about congenital heart defects, visit https://www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Conditions/Congenital-Heart-Defects.   

The American College of Cardiology is a 52,000-member medical society that is the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team. The mission of the College is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The College operates national registries to measure and improve care, provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research and bestows credentials upon cardiovascular specialists who meet stringent qualifications. For more information, visit acc.org.



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