When asked the best part about being a heart warrior, Abby Mac, now three years old, responded “I get to wear my cape. Heart Warrior is what people call me when I go to Wando.”
Abby Mac likes to walk the one mile course at the Lowcountry Heart Walk and hopefully build up to running the three miles soon. Through raising awareness at the annual walk, Abby Mac says she has learned that “it helps saves lives” and “there are other kids with scars just like mine.” This perfect, tiny, little human had a small hole in her heart, but she has filled the Cornings’ hearts with so much love.
Abby Mac’s father, Edwin Corning recalls the day they found out about her heart defect:
We found out at our 20 weeks ultrasound that Abby Mac would have a Congenital Heart Defect. The only information they could tell us was that we would have to monitor the pregnancy with the help of a pediatric cardiologist. It was the Friday of the first round of the SC High School football playoffs, and we were so distraught that I was unable to coach in the game that night. The most difficult part at this point was anticipating the outcome of the birth and pregnancy. How and why did this happen to our sweet baby girl? All we could do is pray, and our family really turned to faith during this time.
This once fragile baby with open heart surgery is now “easily the family comedian,” says Corning. “Don’t be fooled, she has an intense competitive streak and hates not being first in anything she does, especially riding bikes and running.” Abby Mac loves football, baseball, swimming (and watching swimming in the Olympics), and playing with her sisters.
This traumatic experience did change the Corning family, but they say for the better. “It changed us for the better in that it strengthened our Christian faith. Emily and I were baptized together in July of 2013.” Corning does, however, offer some practical advice to parents experiencing something like this in their own family: “My advice would be to stay off the internet and blogs. It will drive you mentally insane!”
Another former Wando High colleague of mine, Melissa Suzadail, says that her son Harry shows her, “On a daily basis, the beauty of being alive. He has so much energy now, and trying to keep up with him seems surreal compared to his original diagnosis of a life with limitations.” The Suzadail’s diagnosis was a bit different. Melissa recalls her moment of realization:
His heart condition did not show up on an ultrasound, so we were completely blindsided. There was no preparation, unfortunately. Harry stopped eating and began breathing heavily on his second day of life. Doctors were concerned, so they rushed us to MUSC for further testing. We were given the news at 3am that our son has a life-threatening heart condition and would need a series of three open heart surgeries, the first one immediately. Harry was a week old for his first heart surgery. My biggest concern was that I was going to lose my beautiful baby boy, and I’d never get to watch him grow up. This entire experience, however, has led to the deepest appreciation of life’s beautiful heart warrior scar.
He was born with no marks at all, absolutely flawless. By the end of the surgery he looked as if he had been through a war. But, at that point, I was so proud of his huge chest scar because that meant he was a survivor. My baby was going to make it. I parent Harry the same way I do my daughter, but I have learned to appreciate my time with them so much more. He came into this world with the odds stacked against him, but he’s honestly the happiest person I know.
Harry has not let this slow him down, and he loves to run around, play with trucks, shop until he drops, go to the library, the museums, eat at Chik-fil-A, and Melissa has to fight to keep up with him. When asked, Melissa gave some helpful advice to those going through a trying time. “Try to stay calm, let others help you in whatever way they know, and never give up hope. Try to find peace with the cards life has dealt you. I’m a firm believer that we are chosen to be the parents of our heart warriors and it’s our job to give them the best life possible.”
Low Country Heart Walk Information
Join the free event downtown on Sept. 24th 9:00 a.m.
Thanks to our heart warrior families for sharing their stories! I am proud to know two heart warriors and cannot wait to see these strong kiddos run faster and climb higher every year!