Meet Dean, A 2 Year Old Who Has His Heart Set on His Path to Stardom

Meet Dean, A 2 Year Old Who Has His Heart Set on His Path to Stardom

When Dean was born, everyone who met him knew he was going to be a somebody. They swooned over the 8 pound, 11 ounce baby’s name and predicted it would help him show his strength and be a real contender in this world. So far, he’s proven them right.

At 18 weeks along in her pregnancy, testing for mom Karlynn showed there was something wrong with his heart. The full picture of Dean’s heart defects wouldn’t be complete until mom and baby came under the care of perinatal specialists and pediatric cardiologists at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health.

“His heart is anatomically different,” explained Karlynn. “Dean has a single ventricle defect. He has the left ventricle of his heart, but not the right.”

Dean’s condition is rare – only five in 100,000 babies are born with a single ventricle. It means their tiny hearts have to work harder to get blood to the limbs and the lungs the rest of us take for granted. But, it is possible for the heart defect to be fixed through surgery.

In a healthy person, the right side of the heart receives oxygen-poor blood from the veins and pumps it to the lungs, where it picks up oxygen and gets rid of carbon dioxide. The left side of the heart receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it through the arteries to the rest of the body. All of these cycles are needed to survive.

Nature -- specifically the human body – is miraculous, especially, in this case, when paired with the pediatric cardiology team at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital. Karlynn knew from her frequent visits to the high-risk OB/GYN, perinatal specialists and pediatric cardiologists that the surgery for baby Dean was imminent and necessary upon his arrival. But appearances can be deceiving.

According to Karlynn, Dean, by all appearances, looked healthy when he was born. . He wasn’t blue (lacking oxygen) or unable to function, instead “he came out screaming like any baby.” But tests showed otherwise. Upon arrival, Dean would go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where he would await his first surgery.

How does a little boy, born with half a heart that can’t pump blood and oxygen through the body survive and thrive? With an innovative and skilled surgeon, of course – like pediatric cardiac surgeon Harold Burkhart, M.D.

“Besides only having one pumping chamber, the artery to Dean’s lungs had not developed,” explained Dr. Burkhart. “This necessitated an open-heart surgery early in life in which a shunt (or synthetic tube) was implanted to send blood to his lungs.”

“Dean needed surgery to live, but he had the ideal situation in that the left side of his heart, which is bigger and stronger, was the side he had,” Karlynn said “For the left ventricle to take on the burden of the lungs is a lot smaller task than the right ventricle having to do it. The right ventricle is made only to pump to the lungs*.”

You’ll find every mom of a “heart baby” knows a lot about the heart. Moms especially get a quick and vast knowledge of the anatomy and workings of this vital organ. Karlynn credits friends, acquaintances and the moms of other pediatric cardiology patients with helping her learn. She adds that Facebook groups have been a great source of support and the NICU nurses have helped her keep calm throughout weeks in the hospital.

Dr. Burkhart said, “Karlynn is a perfect example of how incredible parents can step up and face the challenges of having a child with complex heart disease and clearly contribute to their positive outcome.”

Dean is now a thriving 3 year old. He will need another surgery, probably within the coming year, to make adjustments to his heart to accommodate growth.

“Dean’s next surgery will result in all his blue blood going directly to his lungs so that his single pumping chamber will only have to pump the blood with oxygen to his body. This means he will be pink and have normal oxygen levels like any other child,” Dr. Burkhart said.

Dean’s heart defects and surgeries may keep him from being a gridiron star (Mom says she wouldn’t have let him play anyway) but they won’t keep from being the star on his own path. He’s a little ham, loves the spotlight and being the center of attention. All indications lead to predictions coming true – Dean will be a somebody. We can’t wait to see who that is.

Learn more about Oklahoma Children’s Hospital pediatric heart services, and watch Dean in our latest Oklahoma Children’s Hospital commercial at