2 named as Madison Heart Ball royalty after hard heart journeys

Posted Friday, February 7, 2014 ---6:20 p.m.
Saturday, Madison will hold their annual Heart Ball to continue their fight against heart disease. Each year, the ball crowns a prince or princess--usually someone who has endured the effects of heart disease. This year they'll have a prince and princess for the first time!

Kennedy Gill and Michael Denker are around 2 years old, and were born with a congenital heart defect.

Around seven out of every thousand babies are born with a heart defect. Michael and Kennedy fit in that statistic, and their stories are so compelling, they'll be recognized at royalty at tomorrow's heart ball.

Those who know them, would say they have big hearts.

"She loves to give hugs," Laura Gill, Kennedy's mother said.

"And loves kisses, loves to give kisses," Katie Denker, Michael's mother said about her son.

Months ago, when both moms were pregnant, due just months apart, not know each other, they started upon a similar journey.

During their 20 week ultrasounds, both families knew the ultrasound tech had found something that wasn't normal.

"All of a sudden, the tech seemed a little distant," Laura Gill said.

Katie Denker had a similar reaction from her technician.

"And for some odd reason I picked up on that and had this odd feeling that something wasn't right," Katie Denker said.

"You could tell something wasn't right at that point," Justin Denker, Katie's husband said.

It was something Laura's husband, Jacob picked up on too.

"My husband right away was like, 'Something's wrong,'" said Laura Gill.

"They had us go up to our doctor and that's where she came in, and was actually walking in, crying, telling us that he had this heart condition," Katie Denker said.

Both Michael and Kennedy were diagnosed with a congenital heart defect before birth.

It is the most common cause of infant death, but the outlook is changing.

"Regardless of where the treatment had been, there was technology that existed that could have kept Kennedy alive," Jacob Gill said.

Since 1970 the death rates for infants declined almost 40 percent, and most with heart defects survive through adulthood.

"Currently, the ability of surgeons to operate on newborn infants and neonates is tremendous," said Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at American Family Children's, Dr. Carter Ralphe.

He says that three or four years ago, the technology would not have been available to treat Kennedy or Michael in Madison.

"The skill and the understanding and the techniques have evolved significantly over the last 20 years," Ralphe said.

Today the kids are happy, but it will be a lifetime journey to stay healthy.

Kennedy had her first open heart surgery at six days old. She'll need another at three years, and a lifetime of monitoring.

"He has another surgery planned for the summer of 2015, and then hopefully no other childhood surgeries," Katie Denker said.

She adds that Michael will also need a full heart transplant around the age of 30.

It's been a tough road, but for both families, the heart of the matter is their love and strength for their children.

"At least I have him, and we have him here," Katie Denker said.

"We all have tough days," Jacob Gill said.

"When you have a child that has a heart defect, you just sometimes stop and tell yourself to tough a bit. Because you know your worst day is even better than what she could go through," Gill added

If you'd like to learn a little more about Kennedy and Michael's stories, visit AHA WISCONSIN ON FACEBOOK

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