Being a parent isn’t easy. Being the parent of teenagers definitely isn’t easy. When your baby is already sixteen, though, and your world revolves around picking a college, or a prom dress, or even a class ring, the last thing on your mind are birth defects, right? Obviously, if your children are seemingly healthy and they’ve thrived this far, you’ve pretty much made it to the finish line. Isn’t that what you’d think? It’s what we thought, until our sixteen year old daughter, our baby, died of a congenital heart defect three weeks before her seventeenth birthday. We’d like to introduce you to our daughter, Chynna, a spunky, outspoken, audacious young woman, who sadly, was taken from us too soon.
Chynna Nicole Zmolik was a junior at Forney High School. Forney ISD is the only school system she’d ever known. Her friends were the same friends she’d had since kindergarten, or before. She was a lifelong dancer. She was the incoming FHS Jackrabbit mascot. Unbeknownst to her family, her teachers, and even her doctors, she harbored a dark secret. Chynna was born with a Coarctation of the Aorta. Coarctations are normally caught upon birth, if not in utero. Chynna’s Coarctation, doctors now surmise, was most likely a very minor defect at birth, allowing it to go undetected. As Chynna grew, however, so did her birth defect. But, by the time she began to show slight indications, around the age of 15, her symptoms of lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and headaches on the top of her head, were misdiagnosed as various other ailments. Again, you don’t think of a birth defect when your teenage child is studying for finals and gets a headache….or when your dancer is dancing during allergy season and has a little shortness of breath. Parent’s often say that they have a sixth sense about their child’s well being, as in a moment of ESP when their child is in a car accident. Apparently, when they handed out the ESP, we were absent that day. We were oblivious that anything could possibly be wrong with our daughter.
Chynna was diagnosed with a Coarctation of the Aorta on March 28, 2008. The only way to repair a Coarctation is through surgery. In Chynna’s case, this meant open heart surgery. The damage to her aorta was more severe than expected, and sadly, Chynna died as a result of complications of that surgery on April 12, 2008, only fifteen days after her diagnosis. She is no longer here to dance, or cheer, or audition for yet another play, or even to graduate from high school. We feel, though, that a spirit as dynamic as Chynna still has many things to offer this world. As parents devastated by the loss of a child, our first emotion was to protect other parents from this fate. After all, if it could happen to us, it could happen to absolutely anyone. We want to save other parents from the horror of losing a child in this manner. You hear about these kids every year. They fall down on the track. They fall down on the basketball court. They fall down during two-a-day football practice. Maybe, like Chynna, they fall down in front of their boyfriends in English class. They usually don’t get back up again. It is discovered that they had a heart condition, some sort of genetic abnormality they were born with, that had gone undetected. Meet the new face of congenital heart defects. This is Chynna: young, talented, smart, vivacious….and seriously ill. Our child was not able to overcome this dire diagnosis, but we are convinced that we can have an impact on other children with congenital heart defects, especially older children/young adults who remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
In November of 2008, Chynna’s Helping Heart, a 501 (c)(3) public charity, was created for the sole purpose of education and awareness pertaining to all congenital heart defects. Our goal is very simple. We just want to tell our story to as many parents as possible. We want to work with medical professionals to develop better information regarding warning signs and symptoms for older children. We want to explore testing options and find out what diagnostic tools works best, so parents can understand the questions they should be asking on behalf of their children. We want parents to know that they are the best health advocates for their children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. This is very much a grass roots effort that any parent can join. We will help to find out what the right questions are, so parents can get the right answers. In 2009, Chynna’s Helping Heart held its first fundraiser at Forney High School, Chynna’s Slice of Life, a hometown pizza party extravaganza where the entire community came together in celebration of a young life taken too soon, and to support our quest to prevent this from happening to other children. We were amazed and in awe at the amount of support Forney, TX has to offer our organization. In 2010, we launched our first annual Fishing 4 Hearts bass tournament at Lake Fork. It was an amazing success and plans are underway for a repeat performance this Labor Day! We have a story to tell about one child affected by a congenital heart defect. With your help, we will tell the stories of many children. With your help, we will make a difference. Our motto is this: Help us change the world, one informed parent at a time.