Reuniting with our hero

Dr. Charles D. Fraser Jr

We always knew Dr. Charles D. Fraser Jr.’s name growing up. The more we matured the more we realized the impact he made on our lives. Soon enough we were googling “Tetralogy of Fallot” and “congenital heart defects.” Eventually, we were able to match a name to a face thanks to the Texas Children’s Hospital website and YouTube. We then realized what Tetralogy of Fallot actually is –  a heart defect present at birth which includes four complex defects. It requires surgical intervention within the first year of a baby’s life. We both had Blalock-Taussig shunts put in when we were only a few weeks old. When we were two-years-old Dr. Fraser performed a nearly nine-hour open heart surgery on Kestly in September of 1996. Karly was next in April of 1997 and her surgery lasted seven hours. With all of this knowledge, we finally understood that we needed to meet the man who made our hearts and lives as normal as possible.

“Look at their scars. They’re my miracle babies!” Our dad used to always say the same expression the minute we met someone new. We were always a image (4)little perplexed as to why it was such a big deal because Kestly and I felt like very normal kids. We did well in academics, had great behavior and many friends. The only downfall of our childhood was never being able to run the mile without being completely winded. We then had our cardiologist excuse us from the running portion in PE. The older we got, classmates and teachers did not even believe we had special hearts and said we made it up. Our lives felt so normal that our scars seemed like something in the past. Then, we were told at age 16 that we were going to have to have another surgery, but our doctors do not know when. Our lives flipped upside down once again, but we are glad that we have each other for when that day comes.

One night Kestly and I daringly decided to email Dr. Fraser. We told ourselves he likely wouldn’t answer us as he is probably too busy doing open heart surgeries. Much to our surprise, though, he replied back and said he remembered us very well! Allison Callendar, our Adult Congenital Heart Disease physician assistant, mentioned the hospital’s public relations team would be happy to help arrange a meeting between us and Dr. Fraser.

Before we knew it, we were standing on the 20th floor waiting nervously to meet our hero. Hugs were exchanged instantly and Dr. Fraser said we still resembled our two-year-old selves. We had many questions to ask him. Thankfully, we did our research and found that he did his undergrad at University of Texas. We brought him a Texas longhorn keychain. It was nice to surprise our heart surgeon because he’s usually the one who does the surprising. Kestly acknowledged how he has performed more 10,000 open heart surgeries. Dr. Fraser smiled and corrected her by stating he is at over 15,000 now. We caught up on life and he even showed us pictures of his grandchild!

Now we show strangers our hand crafted scars minutes after meeting them. Of course we bring up Dr. Fraser and Texas Children’s. Our lives have come full circle. Karly is now volunteering in the playroom at Texas Children’s Heart Center and has been for nearly six months now. Karly plans on being a part of the Texas Children’s team one day as an echocardiogram technician, while Kestly is studying to become a geologist. Our studies may have taken us different routes but when it comes to our identical scars, we will always both be brought back to Texas Children’s. We will forever be grateful to Dr. Fraser and Texas Children’s

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About Karly and Kestly Tinklepaugh, patients

We had heart surgery done by Dr. Fraser when we were two-years-old. We are now 21 and seen at Texas Children's Adult Congenital Heart Disease program.
Posted in Guest Post, Heart, Surgery

One Response to Reuniting with our hero

  1. Roxanne says:

    thank u so much for sharing your story!!! It gives so much hope to others with the same heart defect, esp knowing that you are twins and that you’re both doing so amazingly well!!! God bless Dr. Fraser and God bless these beautiful Tinklepaugh gals <3

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