Two-year-old battles heart defect


ALLOUEZ, Wis. (WBAY) – A De Pere family is celebrating Valentine’s Day early with good news from their daughter’s heart doctor.

Days after she was born, they discovered she had a congenital heart defect.

During National Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, her family hopes sharing their story will help other parents.

Wth big curls and an even bigger smile, Iris Karlen looks and acts like most two year olds.

“She’s perfectly healthy, rambunctious and into trouble,” says Iris’s mom, Laura Karlen.

She’s the center of attention each time she visits her Prevea Clinic pediatric cardiologist, having come here the first time at just four days old.

“She had two holes… an ASD (Atrial Septal Defect) and a VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect), so in the heart valves. She had low heart function. She had fluid around her heart, and then they found this spot that was kind of peaking up over her heart,” recalls Laura.

It’s a scary diagnosis for any parent to hear.

“She had a blood vessel tumor behind her heart called a hemangioma, which generally speaking, is on the outside of the skin. They’re like puffy red birth marks. Hers just happened to be right behind her heart, entwined with arteries,” says Laura.

Iris is like the roughly 40,000 babies born each year in the U.S. with a congenital heart defect.

“Each one of the doctors had said this is going to be like a bad dream to us, that we’re just going to look back and say, we made it through, and definitely really glad how things have turned out,” says Randy Karlen, Iris’s dad.

With just medication, doctors at Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee were able to shrink her benign tumor.

The rest of her care came right here at home.


Dr. Anthony Cousineau is the Prevea cardiologist caring for the holes in Iris’s heart that make the muscle work harder than it should.

“They have problems with increased work of breathing, excessive sweating, poor weight gain, issues like that,” says Dr. Cousineau.

One hole closed on its own as Iris grew.

Monday they learn the second one is half its original size.

“For Iris, it’s a big deal because it takes her out of the realm of needing surgery or other types of closure, to not needing anything done,” Dr. Cousineau says.

During National Congenital Heart Defect Awareness week, the Karlens want other families to know they’re not alone.

“One in 110 babies are born with some sort of heart defect, and I was not aware of that until it happened to us. So I just think it’s great to put that out there so people are aware of what could happen,” says Laura.

Click here for information about Little Hearts Inc.

Information about congenital heart disease and pediatric cardiology can be found here.