Justin Corbett will be able to play football someday because intuition and perseverance led to a heart diagnosis and subsequent surgery that likely saved the boy’s life.
Up until January of 2017, life was pretty normal for the 4th grader. Justin was active and he loved every sport one could play. When he started to not feel well, he spoke up. “Mom, my heart hurts,” he told his mother Lilly. “It feels like it’s stopping.”
Lilly took her son to their family doctor, who listened to Justin’s heart and declared that he was fine, adding that his symptoms were likely due to anxiety. But Justin knew his body, and he knew what he was experiencing wasn’t nerves, and it wasn’t normal. He needed his mother and his doctor to understand that he sometimes felt as though his heart would actually stop beating.
Justin is an anxious child, so it would have been easy—and understandable—to chalk it up to anxiety. But ruling out something more serious was important for the very reason that he is an anxious child.
The doctor ordered Justin to follow up with a pediatric cardiologist. There, an echocardiogram immediately revealed that Justin’s right coronary artery was not in the right place. He had a congenital coronary artery anomaly, the #2 cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.
As instructed by the cardiologist, Justin also wore a portable EKG for 24 hours. It revealed nothing. A CT scan performed shortly thereafter provided the information needed to set a course of action for Justin, and that action needed to happen now.
“The cardiologist not only called me the very next day, after his scan, but he called me on his cell phone. His personal cell phone. That’s when I knew something was really wrong,” she said.
The threading on Justin’s artery was extremely stretched and thin. He had the heart rate of a 15-year-old athlete. At only nine years old, Justin faced the real possibility of sudden death from his condition. He needed surgery immediately.
In early April, Justin successfully underwent surgical unroofing to relocate the coronary artery to the right place. While Lilly has been home helping her son recuperate, she has had time to reflect.
“So many kids out there with heart conditions just don’t have any symptoms,” she says. “Or parents and kids don’t think anything much about what they are feeling. I thought at first that Justin was having panic attacks. Had we gone home from the doctor believing he was fine, he may not be here today.”
Lilly is passionate about educating other mothers and making sure schools do their part to get students tested.
“I want to bring heart testing to Lansing,” she says. “This simple test showed us exactly what was wrong with Justin. I want other mothers to have the opportunity to have their kids checked out.”
In truth, Justin is one of the lucky ones. To experience any symptoms at all and to know at such a young age that something is not right with your body is pretty remarkable. Lilly hopes other parents take note and listen to their children.
After the surgery, the doctor gave Justin the good news that he will be able to follow his dream and play football someday. When that time comes, Lilly will know her son is safe when it comes to his heart. And she will do whatever she can to make sure Justin’s teammates will have had their hearts checked too. ♥