a family's ordeal


According the American Heart Association, congenital heart defects, structural problems present in the heart at birth, are the most common birth defect and are the primary cause of fatalities from birth defects during the first year of life. Hours after the birth of their first child, Heather and Adam Plues learned that their son, Walker Pierce Plues, had a congenital heart defect known as an interrupted aortic arch, and he critically needed open heart surgery. Although his first surgery was a success, Walker's situation was far from over. The Plues family prepared for another ordeal, a surgery to repair a hole in Walker' tiny heart.

Adam Plues and his son Walker, 11 months, look out a window before going to the 3rd annual Dr. Hugh Stephenson Heart Ball in Columbia, Mo. Walker was being recognized at the ball for overcoming his first open-heart surgery.

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Heather Plues listens to the detailed instructions of Dr. John Meyer during a visit to the pediatrician. Because of Walker's health conditions, doctors monitored him closely after his operation. Although Walker recovered from the initial surgery to repair his interrupted aortic arch, his ordeal was far from over.

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As part of pre-surgery ordeals, nurses at University of Missouri Hospital draw blood from Walker before he enters a CT scan. Doctors must examine Walker's aorta and heart to ensure they are in good shape for the surgery. 

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After weeks of waiting, hours of tests and much mental preparation, University of Missouri Hospital anesthesiologist Dr. Joseph Tobias, MD, takes a sedated Walker Plues away from his mother for surgery.

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Renowned heart surgeon Dr. Pierantonio Russo, MD, performs open-heart surgery on Walker Plues on April 14, 2006. 

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Hours into Walker's surgery, Adam Plues anxiously checks the hospital issued pager for any signs of good or bad news. Doctors paged Adam throughout the six-hour surgery to update the family on the procedure. "You never know how your life will change," Adam Plues said, glancing at the small black pager in his hand. "Two years ago at this time, we were on vacation."

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Heather Plues comforts her still heavily sedated son in the University Hospital's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit after his surgery. Although expected to be released within 10 days, Walker's breathing and heartbeat became highly irregular and he had to be put on a respirator. Walker continued to have major complications, his stomach and chest filled with fluids that caused major infections. In a tragic turn of events, Walker's body shut down. Walker Pierce Plues, 1, of Columbia, Mo., passed away Tuesday, May 2, 2006.

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Heather and Adam Plues grieve among family and friends during Walker's funeral services at Memorial Funeral Home two days after his death. "We will love you every day, we will never forget you," Adam Plues, in tears, read aloud.

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Heather and Adam Plues spend a final moment with their son. They placed Walker's favorite book, Millie Moo, in the casket. They touched his lifeless hand and cried together. "I just can't believe he's gone," Adam Plues said. The cause of most congenital heart defects is unknown. According to the American Heart Association, eight of 1000 newborn babies suffer from some sort of congenital heart defect.

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