Felix, a healthy toddler, enjoys lasagna, chickpeas and anything his older brother Alister has on his plate. He laughs a lot and especially loves trucks. However, life was hard when he was an infant. Felix was born with a hole in his heart called Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD). It leads to extra blood in the lungs and not enough circulating in the body. Babies with medium or larger VSDs often need surgery early to prevent complications.

Mary Donofrio, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist and medical director of the Prenatal Cardiology Program at Children’s National Hospital, saw Felix as a newborn. Within a few weeks he would lose his appetite and sometimes struggle to breathe. “We had to keep our boys separated,” says Felix’s mom, Aileen, a physician in the Washington, D.C. area. “Viral infections his brother brought home from daycare would send Felix to the emergency department.”

Dr. Donofrio guided the family about home care and prescribed medication to slow down Felix’s breathing and helped him avoid risky hospital visits. “She is an extraordinary doctor and was there for us through all the bumps that happen when your child is very, very sick,” Aileen says. “She made sure things turned out the best they could.”

Yves d'Udekem, M.D., Ph.D., Cardiac Surgery division chief and co-director of Children's National Heart Center, performed open-heart surgery when Felix was 3 months old. Aileen says the successful repair of her son’s heart and the experience with our experts inspired her to be a more accessible care provider to her own patients.

“Children's National gave us a second chance to be the family that we wanted to be,” she says. “Felix learned to walk, gets to celebrate holidays and is starting school. Otherwise, we might have lost him.”
A young patient at Children's National Hospital.

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A young patient at Children's National Hospital.