A Valentine’s Day visit filled with heart

Frank Hanley and TJ Carrie

For Oakland Raiders cornerback TJ Carrie, Valentine’s Day has a special meaning – it is the anniversary of his open-heart surgery to repair what doctors describe as a one-in-a-million heart defect. To celebrate the 12th anniversary of this milestone, Carrie came to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford to visit with patients currently being treated for heart disease, and to reunite with Frank Hanley, MD, the surgeon who repaired his heart, allowing him to return to football.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat and ABC 7 News reported on the story.

TJ Carrie abc7 news

Carrie was born with a coronary artery anomaly, causing his artery to constrict when his lungs expanded and decreasing oxygen circulation during physical activities. He was diagnosed at age 15 during his sophomore at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA, at the precipice of his high school football career. He was presented with two treatment options: avoid physical activity and opt out of high-impact sports forever, or undergo open-heart surgery. Carrie’s family made the decision to proceed with the surgery on February 14, 2006. After two months in the hospital and 16 more months of outpatient recovery, Carrie was able to return to the sport he loved, onto a college football scholarship, and eventually chased his dreams to the NFL.

“Being able to communicate with the patients has been a tremendous feat, because they see me, and I see them, and we’re all on the same level,” Carrie said. “It is a blessing to show them that there are other people in the world with heart conditions who have been successful. That although they may be going through these difficult surgeries right now, they will still be able to be physically active and achieve their dreams.”

To that, Dr. Hanley added: “TJ, you’re the best example of that. We are all very proud of you.”

Twenty-four-year-old Taylor Gamino is a fellow congenital heart patient who has built a bond with Carrie through their cardiac conditions. Taylor was born with hypoplastic right heart syndrome with intact ventricular septum, meaning he has only half of a heart. He suffered a stroke and underwent four open heart surgeries in the first 5 years of his life, all of which were performed by Dr. Hanley. Taylor’s limitations, due to his heart condition, inspired his family to create the nonprofit organization Camp Taylor, which bares his namesake, a free medically supervised California camp for children with heart disease. Today, Carrie is a volunteer at Camp Taylor’s programs and fundraisers.

Taylor joined Carrie to spread Valentine’s Day cheer to patients at the Betty Irene Moore Children’s Heart Center at Stanford Children’s Health.

“TJ and I share a bond through being heart warriors. We both had heart surgery by Dr. Frank Hanley, we both had to recover from it, and we are both here today,” Taylor said. “To see everything come full circle from being a patient, to returning to regular life, to someone like TJ who excels in the NFL despite having a heart condition brings hope to patients and their families.”

TJ and Taylor gave toys and games to heart patients at the hospital, including a “TJ Carrie Heart Shadow Buddy.” This buddy, which was designed to be a “friend like me,” has an incision down the chest and a red mended heart, complete with Raiders shorts and a Carrie t-shirt dolls.

Soraya and TJ Carrie

“The buddy has a scar just like us,” he told 8-year-old patient Soraya, who has undergone multiple heart surgeries to treat hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Carrie encouraged her to follow her dream of becoming a doctor one day.

Jacob and TJ Carrie

Carrie also gave a buddy to Jacob, a young patient who is currently awaiting a heart transplant to treat his cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening disease of the heart muscle that reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. The pair talked about Jacob’s upcoming surgery, and Carrie encouraged him to “embrace the scar” that it would leave behind.

“My scar is something I cherish,” Carrie said. “I would never take my heart surgery away. It was because of my heart surgery I’ve been able to be so driven and so optimistic and dedicated, and motivated to continue to want to work hard in life and be who I am. I would never take it back because I think without it I would be a different person today.”

Mia and TJ Carrie

Before Carrie left for the day, he visited 12-year-old Mia, who recently had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) placed into her chest to treat long QT syndrome, a disorder of the heart’s electrical system that causes fast, chaotic heartbeats. Mia is a camper at Camp Taylor, which she said she enjoys “because everyone understands what you’re going through. It makes you feel better about your heart condition and shows us there are more kids like us.”

“Embrace what you’ve gone through,” Carrie told Mia. “Because it will make you stronger, and will help you go further in life.” He is certainly walking the walk.

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One Response to “A Valentine’s Day visit filled with heart”

  1. JR ambrosia

    WOW! what a story!
    Soraya is my long distance friend! and i was So excited to see her on tv,,,,, now her mm marlanea was Interviwed also, i was wondering Where She could view that,,, ive searched and Searched the internet to no avail for her,,,,

    JR

    Reply

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