Halsey, now 14, was born with a congenital heart defect called aortic stenosis -- his heart valve was fused shut, reducing blood supply severely, according to a release issued by the AHA. He had heart surgery within two weeks of his birth. He suffered post-surgical complications and more surgery before he even reached 8 months old.
Today, he is an A-student and has participated in five Heart Walks; lobbied on Capitol Hill; was chosen to be on a panel at Stepping Stones Museum that featured children with heart issues and the importance of healthy eating, the AHA said. He was present at the signing of the legislation with then-Gov. Jodi Rell making it mandatory to have AEDs in schools across the state.
His preschool and elementary schoolmate, Stumpf, also 14, suffered through a childhood battle with kidney disease and complications from dialysis. At 4 years old, she had open-heart surgery to repair a damaged heart valve, according to the release. Bacterial endocarditis -- an infection in her heart valve -- didn't get better with antibiotics. A simple heart murmur was the only sound her heart made. But three days after her surgery, she was released from the hospital and back to being active, the AHA said.
Both attended Cranbury Elementary and West Rocks Middle schools in Norwalk and met through school events and AHA advocacy projects to help get win approval of the AED school legislation.
"Gavin and Abigail grew up with heart disease, but they didn't let it stop them from leading amazing lives. They are busy high school students with their whole lives ahead of them -- thanks to advancements in heart research and advanced treatments," Kevin Byrne, the Heart Walk director, said in the statement. "We are grateful to them for sharing their stories."
The non-competitive walk raises funds to support educational and advocacy programs in the Fairfield County area, as well as heart disease and stroke research.
The AHA supports 45 research scientists in Connecticut with awards totaling $9,755,938 in value, the organization said.
For more information about the Fairfield County Heart Walk or to start a team, email Kevin.Byrne@heart.org or call 914-640-3262. To sign up a team online, visit www.fairfieldcountyheartwalk.org