Emma's Story

Emma Cirks at the 2017 Race for Every Child

Her bluish skin tone, grunt-like cry, and agitated temperament were immediate signs that newborn Emma Cirks was in distress. Doctors whisked her away to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for intubation, sedation, and testing.

Hours later, Emma was diagnosed with serious heart defects and flown from her birth hospital to Children’s National Health System’s main hospital in northwest Washington, D.C.

Doctors at Children’s National discovered three congenital heart defects (CHD). Emma’s main CHD, Ebstein’s Anomaly, resulted in a severely deformed and displaced tricuspid valve—an obstacle to proper blood flow between the right atrium and right ventricle. Emma’s heart was working in overdrive to pump blood to the lungs and producing feeble results.

“All of the sudden there were a million things that were wrong,” said mom Tara, who’s pregnancy and delivery were routine. “I was petrified that she wouldn’t make it. I had heard of CHD, but I had a huge fear of the unknown.”

Emma underwent heart surgeries when she was 3 weeks old and again at 3 months old–sooner than doctors would have liked but indicative of the severity of Emma’s condition. She also had surgery on her diaphragm, numerous procedures, and even more complications.

Emma spent her first five months of life at Children’s National. Tara and Emma’s dad, Blake, had weekly meetings with Children’s National cardiologists to discuss Emma’s present state and future outcomes. “They were so kind, patient, and smart,” Tara says.

Nurses and other members of Emma’s care team at Children’s National were also helping the Cirks family feel some semblance of normalcy. Tara says that nurses regularly read and sang to Emma and dressed her up for pictures when she passed monthly milestones. Tara says she was also comforted by the care the nurses extended to her and Blake.

“The nurses treat these children and families like they are their own,” Tara says. “They did things for us that I will never forget.”

Today, Emma is a bubbly and active 4-year-old. She has regular check-ups with her cardiologist and will likely need another heart surgery. She has developmental delays because of the early stressors on her body, but these aren’t holding Emma back. She loves dancing, going to school, playing doctor with her baby dolls, and running in the Kids Dash at Children’s National’s annual Race for Every Child.

“Seeing the level of care that Emma receives at Children’s National inspires me to be a better doctor,” says Blake, who is in residency to become a pediatrician. “Without their expertise, Emma wouldn’t be here with us today. We’re forever grateful.”

Interested in learning how you can help kids like Emma with congenital and other heart conditions? Contact Shelley Cooke at [email protected] or 301-565-3285.

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