October 15, 2018
School & Youth
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  • In memory of her son, Tucker, Sierra Mullen is working to establish a foundation to raise awareness for congenital heart defects.
    Photo Provided
    In memory of her son, Tucker, Sierra Mullen is working to establish a foundation to raise awareness for congenital heart defects.
  • In memory of her son, Tucker, Sierra Mullen is working to establish a foundation to raise awareness for congenital heart defects.
    Photo Provided
    In memory of her son, Tucker, Sierra Mullen is working to establish a foundation to raise awareness for congenital heart defects.

Severna Park Senior Hopes To Start Heart Foundation

Jimmy Burton
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February 6, 2018

After The Premature Death Of Her Son, Sierra Mullen Hopes To Raise Awareness And Funding For Congenital Heart Conditions

February is known across the United States as American Heart Month. According to March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization focused on the health of newborn babies and mothers, as many as 35,000 newborns are diagnosed with congenital heart disease. It is the leading cause of birth-defect-related deaths, and it’s giving one Severna Park senior a voice.

Sierra Mullen had her son, Tucker, on September 26, 2017. When he was born, there were no signs of any birth defects, and he was thought to be a healthy kid. “When we were at the hospital, everyone kept saying how perfect and healthy he was,” Mullen said. “When we took him for his two-week checkup, his pediatrician said he had a heart murmur. At the time, we thought it was nothing.”

Heart murmurs are broken down into two categories: innocent and abnormal heart murmurs. An innocent heart murmur occurs when blood flows faster through the heart than anywhere else. An abnormal heart murmur is when there is structural damage in the heart and is typically a symptom of congenital heart disease.

“When we went to the cardiologist, he told us, ‘Nine times out of 10, a heart murmur is nothing, but this is not the case with Tucker.’ From there, we went to [Children’s National Medical Center], and they had an emergency room waiting for us. We were expecting emergency surgeries right away; however, that was not the case,” Mullen said. From there, Tucker was admitted into the Heart and Kidney Unit and was diagnosed with left ventricular non-compaction cardiomyopathy, an extremely rare condition. “We were hoping to be able to put him on medicine and that Tucker wouldn’t have many symptoms or that they would be mild,” Mullen said.

They were discharged from the hospital on October 31 and everything seemed normal for a month and a half.

“On December 15, we were readmitted into the hospital and the doctor told us that his heart was getting worse and that he would be admitted into the intensive care unit,” Mullen said. Mullen expected to stay in the hospital past Christmas. “When they went to put a central line in [Tucker’s] wrist, he woke up and he smiled. It was the last time I saw him awake, and I think it was his way of saying, ‘Mom, everything’s going to be OK,’” Mullen said.

Tucker was medically sedated and paralyzed to help with procedures on December 16. “There were several nights where we thought that Tucker wasn’t going to make it. I can’t remember how many nights we were kicked out of our room at 2:00am and told that he might not make it through the night,” Mullen said.

Tucker’s condition required a heart transplant, and that was the end goal. The doctors attempted to put Tucker on a Berlin Heart on December 18, but they had realized that Tucker had had a stroke and that putting in the Berlin Heart could put him at risk of blood clots forming. Then Tucker developed problems with seizures. “At one point, Tucker had at least 20 IVs going into him,” Mullen said. A week later, the Berlin Heart could be placed.

“We were at the hospital for three weeks, and in that time, Tucker went through eight procedures,” Mullen said. On January 6, Mullen learned that Tucker would most likely not be a transplant candidate. “Tucker kept having strokes and his brain was covered in [blood clots]; his quality of life wouldn’t have been good, and his body may not have accepted the heart,” Mullen said. Tucker was made comfortable and Mullen and her family prepared to say their goodbyes.

“I’m in the process of starting a foundation to raise awareness for congenital heart defects. Congenital heart defects are more common than cancer; however, they receive less funding,” Mullen said.

Mullen hopes that through her foundation, she can raise more money for all congenital heart defects, but specifically left ventricular non-compaction cardiomyopathy.

“People tend to think that if you can’t see that a kid is sick, then they’re not sick, but that’s not true. The only visible sign of congenital heart disease is that sometimes babies can get puffy,” Mullen said.

Currently, the foundation has no name but it will likely be something in Tucker’s honor. “During Christmastime, a lot of people donate to hospitals, and I strongly recommend donating to Children’s National Medical Center, but specifically to the heart and kidney unit and the cardiac intensive care unit,” Mullen said. “Everyone there did so much for me and my family, and I just want them to receive the same funding as the other units.”

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