Girl Faces Open-Heart Surgery With Strength, Humor, and Grace

Los Gatos family has nothing but gratitude for daughter’s heart care at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health

Elodie with her favorite dog

On the day Julian Baring heard the news that his 8-year-old daughter, Elodie, had a rare and serious heart condition, he was an ocean away for work. His life came to a screeching stop. Nothing mattered but being with his family.

“In that moment, I was overwhelmed with disbelief, guilt, and panic. My brain was swirling, but one thing was obvious. I needed to be home,” Julian says.

At her well-child visit, Elodie’s pediatrician discovered high blood pressure. Since high blood pressure is not common in children, she recommended that they perform further tests.

“Four days later, we saw a cardiologist near home,” says Elisa, Elodie’s mother. “We were told that it would require open-heart surgery and I was surprised, but he made it seem normal, like it was something we could get through.”

Elodie was diagnosed with coarctation of the aorta—a rare heart defect that is present at birth but often does not create symptoms until later in life. It is usually discovered through high blood pressure, as with Elodie, or a heart murmur. The condition causes a blockage or narrowing in the aorta—the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the body.

Their community cardiologist recommended one of the top heart surgeons in the world, who works at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health in the Bay Area—Frank Hanley, MD, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon and executive director of the Betty Irene Moore Children’s Heart Center.

Going to Stanford Children’s for open-heart surgery

As a parent, it doesn’t get much more intense than hearing the news that your child needs open-heart surgery. You are shocked, trying to absorb every detail, and feeling a bit out of control. It helps to have in-depth discussions with your child’s heart care team, with whom you can share your concerns and hear about risks and expected outcomes, then make a decision together.

“When Dr. Hanley walked in the room, there was a sense that everything was under control. He has this matter-of-fact presence about him that creates an aura of calm,” Julian says. “And he talked about the heart surgery in a way that was digestible and not scary for Elodie.”

Elodie took the news very sensibly, asking good questions and participating in the decision. When kids in her class voiced concern, she decided to give a presentation to explain her heart condition, with diagrams and all. During the presentation, she said, “My heart is broken, but yours are all fine.”    

The goal of Elodie’s heart surgery was to resolve the narrowing of her aorta to ensure good blood flow to the heart. Dr. Hanley described two surgical approaches to repair Elodie’s coarctation of the aorta: one, where he enters through the chest (traditional open-heart surgery), and another, where he goes through the left side—each option carrying different risks.

“Coarctation of the aorta is very correctable, and the heart surgery is typically successful in more than 98% of the cases,” Dr. Hanley says. “Because Elodie’s blockage was higher up in her aorta, we chose to go through her chest to ensure we could be 100% effective and help prevent the need for a second surgery. It’s very important to get all of the blockage.”

Hearing the news that the surgery was a success

Elodie in hospital bed

“When Dr. Hanley came out and said the surgery was a success, I burst into tears. The relief was like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. We only have gratitude for Stanford Children’s,” Julian says. “Dr. Hanley and the heart team are all miracle workers.”

Elodie’s heart surgery was not a complex one, according to Dr. Hanley, and thankfully it was a one-and-done. Now, her aorta and heart are working just like any other child’s.

“We get graduation and prom pictures from children like Elodie. It is very rewarding to see these kids grow up and have a great quality of life,” Dr. Hanley says.

The pediatric cardiothoracic surgery team at the Moore Children’s Heart Center at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford performs 500+ open-heart surgeries annually, significantly more than other children’s hospitals in the country.

“Elodie’s nickname has always been our little Warrior Princess,” Julian says. “She is equal parts a beautiful feminine soul and warrior. Through this experience she proved her nickname and more.”  

“Elodie is a phenomenal little girl who is definitely going to accomplish great things,” Dr. Hanley says. “She has wonderful parents, and it was a pleasure working through this process with them.” 

Elodie spent five days in the hospital. A week later, she was back at school. While recovering at home, Elodie made cards for all of her Stanford Children’s caregivers and community doctors, as well as a poster for the exceptional Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU), which cared for her postsurgery.

“The first time she showed emotions was the day after the heart surgery, when her older brothers came to visit. She missed them and wanted to go home,” Elisa says.

Back to taking on life at every turn

Elodie holding thank you sign

Elodie gets heart checkups every four months, and each time, the family hears that everything is fine. After her eight-week recovery, she was quickly back to 100%, happily taking on life faster than it could come. Her parents are extremely grateful to have their bright, sassy daughter back, with no big worries for the future. It’s been almost a year since the heart surgery, and she was recently cleared to only have checkups annually.

“Stanford Children’s has exceptional organizational excellence. As a tech executive who builds businesses, it’s what you strive to create,” Julian says. “From our first encounter to the last, it was the epitome of excellence.” 

Elodie loves gymnastics, especially doing cartwheels, so possibly the hardest part of her heart surgery was not getting to do cartwheels for a while afterward. Today, she pokes fun at her experience, playing the “heart card” to get a laugh out of her family.       

“That’s Elodie. Our bubbly ray of bright light,” Julian concludes.

Learn more about Stanford Medicine Children’s Health’s heart surgery service for children >

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