Heart to Heart is fortunate to have many steadfast donors who have helped us realize the dream of cardiac care for tens of thousands of children around the world. One of our longtime supporters, Mrs. Kay Parker, has been connected to Heart to Heart from the very beginning in a way that is uniquely close to her own heart. Kay is the mother of a “CHD baby.” Her son Ben was born in 1989 with transposition of the great arteries.
Transposition of the great arteries (TGA) occurs when the aorta is connected to the right ventricle, and the pulmonary artery is connected to the left ventricle — the opposite of a normal heart’s anatomy. TGA is fatal if not diagnosed and treated immediately (shortly after birth).
Originally from Salt Lake City, Kay and her husband Scott, a Heart to Heart board member, raised their children in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Parkers have four adult children, a golden retriever, and a cat. Kay is a former elementary school teacher with a passion for education. She enjoys traveling, experiencing new cultures, and playing the violin and piano.
Twenty-eight years ago, soon after Ben was born at Washington Hospital in Fremont, CA, Kay’s first thought was that her baby looked “so gray.” She recounts Ben being whisked away as the medical team tried to stabilize her little newborn and help him breathe. What was meant to be a joyous occasion quickly turned grim. Kay was not sure what the night or the future would hold. Later that evening, Ben’s condition stabilized and he was transported to Oakland Children’s Hospital where doctors remarked that Ben was one of the most fragile babies that had come through their cardiac unit. Soon the diagnosis was in: Ben had transposition of the great arteries and would require immediate open heart surgery.
“I’ve never taken Ben for granted – not that I take my other kids for granted – but my experience when he was born made me truly realize just how precious a smile is, how precious the everyday is.”
Heart to Heart Founder and Medical Director Dr. Nilas Young and heart patient Ben Parker pictured together at our 25th anniversary celebration in 2014. Dr. Young operated on Ben nearly three decades ago, at the same time he was establishing Heart to Heart.
“I know that now there is a routine surgical procedure to correct Ben’s heart defect, transposition of the great arteries, which is amazing. But when I had Ben 28 years ago, it was not at all routine.” In fact, it was so new that Ben was one of the first children to undergo the arterial switch operation at one of the few places in the country where surgeons could perform the new procedure. Heart to Heart founder Dr. Nilas Young was the main cardiac surgeon at Oakland Children’s Hospital. The Parkers recognized their immense luck: they were in the right place at the right time. If Ben had been born back in Utah, his outlook would have been bleak. Ben’s surgery was performed by Dr. Young and lasted the standard six hours; it was described as “smooth and uneventful” – adjectives that thankfully also characterized his recovery.
Besides routine checkups throughout this childhood, Ben grew up like any other healthy child, a possibility that only timely and effective medical treatment could have made possible. Kay jokes that she has sometimes wondered if Ben also had a turbo engine put in his chest, “He eats, drinks, and breathes sports.” His love for athletics inspired him to attend UC Berkeley and become a sports writer, a path that may not have opened up for him if not for Dr. Young and the team of medical specialists who gave Ben a second chance at life.
Kay’s experience as the mother of a “CHD baby” forever changed her. “I’ve never taken Ben for granted – not that I take my other kids for granted – but my experience when he was born made me truly realize just how precious a smile is, how precious the everyday is.”
Today, Kay’s gratitude and joy is palpable through her love for her children and her support of Heart to Heart, joining our team to give more children – regardless of birthplace or location – access to the life-saving care Ben had 28 years ago. “I just have a really grateful heart for Heart to Heart and for those involved with this organization – for all you do for children. It’s an amazing mission – thank you!”