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ALCAPA
Mary Myers Clarke

Miracles happen every day. For Will and Ashley Clarke, they see a miracle every time they look at their daughter, Mary Myers. After Mary Myers experienced two cardiac arrests, doctors weren’t sure she would make it. In fact, her family was told to prepare for the worst.

“Her surgeon told me that they have never seen anyone as sick as her recover,” Ashley said. “From a medical standpoint, she shouldn’t be here.”

It was initially thought Mary Myers wasn’t eating enough, so her pediatrician admitted her to a local hospital in Mobile. But the real problem soon surfaced. “She just stopped breathing,” Ashley said. “Thank goodness a nurse happened to be in the room to begin trying to resuscitate her.”

Doctors were able to stabilize Mary Myers and a cardiologist determined the problem was her heart. She was airlifted to Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham, where doctors diagnosed her with anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery (ALCAPA), a rare heart defect in which the left coronary artery, which carries blood to the heart muscle, begins from the pulmonary artery instead of the aorta. “By the time she was at Children’s, her heart was functioning so poorly that medications and a ventilator were keeping her alive,” Ashley said.

Mary Myers underwent open heart surgery and afterwards was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a heart-lung bypass machine that provides oxygen to the blood while allowing the heart and lungs to heal. “While ECMO was helping Mary Myers’ heart improve, every day on the machine was a huge risk,” Ashley said. “There are many side effects that can happen while on ECMO.”

Mary Myers responded so well that after 24 hours she was taken off ECMO. All seemed well, but later that night, Mary Myers went into cardiac arrest again. “It was again right in front of us,” Ashley said. “And this time it was worse.”

Doctors and nurses resuscitated Mary Myers for an hour until a surgeon arrived to place her back on ECMO. All the family could do was wait. “Even though she was alive, they took us to a room and told us to call our family,” Ashley said. “They told us that she was extremely sick and that there was a very likely chance she wasn’t going to make it because her heart was failing. But they said they were going to do everything they could to save her life. All we could do was sit and pray for a miracle.”

After eight days, Mary Myers was removed from ECMO, eventually taken off the ventilator and took fewer medications. During this time, doctors discovered she had a gastrointestinal issue that required a feeding tube to be inserted, but most importantly, her heart was improving and she had no residual problems from the cardiac arrests or ECMO.

“She’s doing great,” Ashley said. “The feeding tube is now gone, she’s eating well and her heart is so much better, and that’s thanks to everyone at Children’s. Their care for our daughter and us was amazing. I can’t tell you how many times I cried on a nurse’s shoulder or a doctor, or nurse sat and answered every question we asked. Children’s is the best place ever—they saved our daughter’s life.”
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