Georgia father, infant share heart surgery journey

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Eleven-month old Savannah Connerat is the spitting image of her daddy, Luke. They share the same hair, same smile, and the same blue eyes.

Luke Connerat said, "I think I'm in trouble. Those eyes are soul-piercing."

The Peachtree Corners father and daughter share something else: the same scar, right over their hearts.

Connerat said, "It's a cool bond." 

Yet the story of how Savannah got her scar is tough. She was just days old, when they got the news she had a congenital heart defect.

Her dad remembers, "It was heartbreaking."

Doctors heard a "whooshing" sound in Savannah's chest, a sign of a heart murmur. Her mom, Stephanie Bise, and Emory nurse was worried.

Bise said, "She was three days old. Right before we left the hospital, they did an echo on her, and that's when they found the hole."

Savannah had a ventricular septal defect, or VSD. Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Sibley Heart Center nurse practitioner Patti Simpson said she had a large hole between the pumping chambers of her heart. Simpson said they see this sometimes in newborns.

Simpson said, "They're breathing harder. Their heart is enlarged. She had trouble gaining weight."

Sometimes these holes close on their own, but Savannah's was so large that was unlikely.

The problem was fixable. But it required open heart surgery to repair the defect. December 16th, 2014, the Connerats handed their 4-month-old over to heart surgeons at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

Luke Connerat said, "It's a terrible feeling."

It's a feeling Luke understands. He, too, was born with a hole in his heart, his between the upper chambers of the heart.

Connerat said, "Mine wasn't discovered until I was at least 2 years old."

Thirty years ago, at four, Luke had the almost the same operation at the same hospital where his daughter was now recovering. He remembers bits and pieces of his childhood experience.

Connerat said, "Everyone around me made me feel like I was very special, and I was very lucky to have survived back then."

For Savannah's mother Stephanie, all of this was new territory. So, she said, she leaned on her husband for guidance.

Bise said, "He was always more positive about it. I would have my moments. But I kept thinking, we'll he's gone through it, he's survived it, so how could she not?"

Today, nearing her first birthday on August 27th, 2015, Savannah has not only survived, she's thriving.

Luke Connerat said, "She is off the wall! (laughs) She's all over the place!

The Connerats' life with Savannah and her big brother Carter has become blissfully "normal."

Stephanie Bise said, "They kept telling me, 'You're going to look back on this, and it's going to be behind you. And she's going to do amazing.' And, she sure has shown us that every day."

Luke Connerat joked, "I'm a little jealous her scar is smaller and whiter and nicer."

Savannah Connerat is now walking, eating and acting like a typical toddler. Luke hopes their story will show other families facing their own medical challenges happy endings do happen.