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Down syndrome, atrioventricular canal defect
Anthony Rowett

When Ashley and Anthony Rowett welcomed their first child, Anthony, all seemed well. Then everything changed in an instant.

“That very next day, we thought everything was fine, but the doctor came in and told me that he thought Anthony had Down syndrome,” Ashley said. “After getting hit by that news, it was followed up with him telling me that he also thought there were issues with his heart.”

Testing confirmed the Down syndrome diagnosis and revealed Anthony had an atrioventricular canal defect, a heart condition common in children with Down syndrome. Open heart surgery was required to correct the defect before Anthony turned 6 months old. Anthony was put on medication to clear the fluid in his chest, allowing him to eat and put on some weight before surgery.

“He would tire himself out so quickly and be unable to drink from his bottle because his little heart was so overworked,” Ashley said. “When he was 3 months old, he just stopped eating.”

It was then Anthony was sent to Children’s of Alabama from his hometown of Mobile as surgery could no longer be delayed. Dr. Robert Dabal and a team of doctors kept Anthony in the hospital about a week before surgery, feeding him by tube to give him as much strength as possible before surgery.

“Dr. Dabal was so thorough in explaining the process to us,” Ashley said. “He wanted to make sure that we knew exactly what to expect and he made sure we knew that the success rate for this type of surgery was very high. But handing over your little newborn to a surgeon is not something you ever expect to be doing. That surgery was still the longest three hours of my life.”

Anthony’s surgery was successful, but three days later he had to endure a second surgery to rewire his sternum. Eighteen days later, Anthony was able to go home. “Because of the Down syndrome, there are areas that require a little more work and help, but his heart problem hasn’t held him back from anything,” Ashley said. “Thankfully, the surgery was a success and there are no more worries or issues with his heart.”

Anthony makes annual visits to his cardiologist, but otherwise, the 4-year-old is back to attending school, playing ball and enjoying being a kid. “It was so hard to endure our newborn having open heart surgery, but Dr. Dabal helped us get through it. He literally held our son’s heart in his hands and he saved our child’s life. I just can’t say enough about him or the hospital staff. They were all there to help save my son, but also to help our family deal with what was going on.”

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