Layla Wheeler

Little Layla Keeping Pace

If you happen to be travelling anywhere with young Layla Wheeler, a word of caution, she gets extra special security supervision.  It’s not because the Queenstown toddler is a threat, but because she has a special heart condition.

A pacemaker inserted in her stomach means she must avoid all magnetic security scans. For mum Rachel, it causes a few hassles, but just means she has to undergo a physical body search when going through airport security.

2 year old Layla was born with Tetralogy of Fallot and at just eight months old had her first open heart surgery.  Five days later when her heart didn’t respond as it should she was given a pace-maker to keep it beating regularly.  Because her chest was too small to hold the pacemaker there, surgeons had to place it in her stomach, with extra long wires connecting it to the heart. 

Just looking at Layla playing like any regular toddler, you would never guess there was anything wrong, until you saw the large zipper scar down the middle of her chest.  Rachel says it’s been quite a journey.

50% of heart defects are detected while baby is in utero, but Layla’s condition wasn’t found until she was a week old. “We were at Southland hospital, packing up to go home, when doctors did the final checks.  It was then when Layla’s heart murmur was picked up.”

When Rachel and partner Conor were told the news, their entire world collapsed. “It was incredibly scary.  You always think these things happen to other people, and then it happens to you.” Rachel says within days they had a call from someone at Heart Kids.

“They were an absolute godsend.  They were able to tell us what to expect, to allay our fears, and to answer so many of our questions. Sometimes they were really simple questions like what to take to Starship Hospital in Auckland. We just had no idea.”  And Rachel says the support since those first few days has been invaluable. “Heart Kids connected us with other heart families, so we could talk to them. You don’t realise how important it is, to be able to talk to people who are or have been through a similar situation.”  Rachel is now on the Heart Kids Committee in Central Otago and volunteers for the organisation, helping to support others.  As for Layla, she’s due to have another surgery in Auckland later this year to replace the pace-maker batteries and extend the wires, but then she should be clear for the next three to five years.  She just needs to avoid all magnets and magnetic screening systems!