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KIDS WITH COURAGE: Isaac Waletzko

Updated: Feb. 23, 2022 at 10:00 PM CST
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KASSON, Minn. (KTTC) –KTTC is honored to introduce viewers monthly to some of the youngest among us, facing the unthinkable with bravery and optimism. In our 18th “Kids With Courage” segment, Caitlin Alexander introduces us to 6-year-old Isaac Waletzko.

February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on cardiovascular health.

The Waletzko family is concerned about the issue of heart health year round, given the battle Isaac has fought since before he was born.

KTTC met Isaac on a February afternoon. He was having a blast playing trucks with his big sister.

However, when asked, Isaac said his favorite thing to do is “play outside.”

“I tell people that if you would see Isaac, you would never know that there was something beneath his shirt. His zipper scar is what we talk about now. That there is something wrong. He plays like any other kid,” explained his mother, Michelle.

Isaac’s first heart intervention happened while he was still in utero.

Michelle went in for her 20 week anatomy scan. Her sonographer stepped out to get a physician.

“They said, ‘You know, we’re really sorry but something is wrong with the heart,’” she recalled.

Isaac holding his "Beads of Courage" from Mayo Clinic. Each bead represents some kind of...
Isaac holding his "Beads of Courage" from Mayo Clinic. Each bead represents some kind of procedure, hospitalization, or test.(Waletzko Family)

Mayo Clinic referred Michelle and her husband Andy to Boston Children’s. Within 16 days, Michelle and Isaac underwent a procedure on his tiny heart.

“They told us it was about the size of a grape,” she said.

The hope was to prevent a diagnosis of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.

But Isaac was, in fact, born with the rare condition in which the left side of the heart was underdeveloped. He also developed serious issues with his lungs as the pregnancy progressed.

“He was actually born at St. Mary’s with a team ready across the hallway. We kissed him and off he went to his first open heart,” Michelle said.

To help children born with HLHS, doctors have to help the right side of the heart pump the blood the left side can’t. The most common path forward is through three staged surgeries.

Isaac had his first of those surgeries on his tenth day of life. He had the second a few months later.

He hasn’t been a candidate for the third traditional HLHS surgery, according to his cardiologist Dr. Patrick O’Leary at Mayo Clinic.

“To go that last step may actually be detrimental to his health rather than beneficial, and we don’t want to do that,” Dr. O’Leary told KTTC.

This all goes back to the lung complications Isaac has experienced.

“Our largest one was probably two years ago at the beginning of COVID. He was diagnosed with something super rare called plastic bronchitis, and that’s when your lymph fills your airways,” Michelle said.

Isaac was air ambulanced to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Due to the pandemic, only Michelle could come.

Between his surgery and recovery in Philadelphia and Rochester, he was hospitalized about a month.

Since then, Isaac has been doing wonderfully.

To date, he’s had five heart surgeries and numerous other procedures and hospitalizations. He tires a bit quicker than his peers, but he’s all boy.

“Given the hand he’s been dealt, he’s done remarkably well with all of this,” Dr. O’Leary said.

COVID remains a huge concern, given his heart and lung issues.

Dr. O’Leary said there are more paths to take when it comes to any issues that may arise, but it’s likely that at some point in Isaac’s life, he will need a transplant.

In Dr. O’Leary’s opinion, there’s no question why Isaac is our Kid With Courage.

“Because he is,” he explained. “He doesn’t like the things that he has to do and I can’t blame him for a minute, and yet we have a lot of fun when he comes to the office.”

There’s a lot of fun for our Kid With Courage at home too. He enjoys spending time with his parents, big sister, and little brother.

“Before he was born, we always said we would give him every shot that we could. Quality of life over quantity of life, and we still live to that to this day,” Michelle said.

The Waletzko family enjoys helping other families facing hardships. They take part in various efforts, like delivering heart awareness bags to hospitals and organizing toy drives for pediatric patients.

If you know a Kid With Courage Caitlin should meet, email kidswithcourage@kttc.com.

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