Mary Burton defies the odds
Mary Burton Wilkins has defied the odds.
Now age 7, Mary Burton has inspired her parents, Walt and Donyelle Wilkins, to support the work of the American Heart Association. Mary Burton is one of the Little Heart honorees at the 2015 Upstate Heart Ball, which is co-chaired by former United States Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins and his wife, Susan, Walt Wilkins’ uncle and aunt. The family has rallied to encourage support of the Heart Ball, which helps fund cardiovascular and stroke research as well as local educational programs.
Mary Burton’s life began with no hint of the path ahead.
“She was born healthy and beautiful and perfect,” Walt Wilkins said. “At 9 months old, we were at the pediatrician and he continued to listen to her heart. He had that look on his face.”
The pediatrician heard a heart murmur. He referred the family to a cardiologist.
“They came back with pretty tough news,” he said.
Mary Burton had an atrial septal defect – a 12 millimeter hole in her heart.
“There are two chambers in the upper part of her heart,” Wilkins said. “She had a hole between the two, so the oxygenated blood was mixing with the deoxygenated blood. It’s like having the heat on in the house but keeping the door open.”
After the diagnosis, Wilkins said his family began a waiting game.
“We were new parents and all of a sudden having to digest all this,” he said. “At age 4, (the cardiologist) recommended that we do something. He could tell that the heart was beginning to enlarge a little bit.”
The family was given two options.
“They basically stick a device in your femoral artery and run it into your heart,” Wilkins said. “They put in a patch that seals it. The other option was open-heart surgery.”
The decision was made to attempt the patch. The surgery took place at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
“We were just waiting impatiently to see if it would work,” Wilkins said.
Eventually, the surgical team came out of the cath lab.
“They were high fiving and celebrating,” he said.
After only one night in the hospital, Mary Burton was allowed to come home. Evolving treatments and ongoing research made the difference.
“We now know that the doctors and technology we have is so significant, they can treat and cure almost any kind of defect we are seeing in children,” Wilkins said. “We are so thankful that Mary Burton and other children have available to them the type of care they have today.”
The Wilkins challenge other parents to support the research that will save more lives in the future.
“Let’s keep this thing going,” he said. “There’s so much more we can do.”