This September, Hailey competed in the national and world amateur divisions for aerial silks.
“Doing aerial silks always makes me feel free, like I’m flying,” says Hailey. Aerial silks is a combination of contemporary dance and acrobatics, performed while suspended in the air on nylon fabric.
But just a few years ago, Hailey and her mom, Shannon, were concerned about Hailey’s heart – and weren’t sure if she’d be able to perform again.
In November of 2020, Hailey came home from a party where she’d been running around. Her heart was beating really fast – and a call to her pediatrician confirmed that she needed to go to the E.R., as she was most likely experiencing SVT (supraventricular tachycardia), an abnormal heart rhythm.
After she was stabilized in the E.R., Shannon and Hailey followed up with a pediatric cardiologist from Children’s National Hospital, Dr. Mary Falterman, who did an ECG, diagnosed her with SVT, and referred her to Dr. Elizabeth Sherwin, a Children’s National pediatric electrophysiologist.
“I was very anxious before the appointment,” says Shannon. “I took her pulse all the time.”
When they met with Dr. Sherwin, she did an additional ECG, just to double-check the diagnosis – which is when they learned Hailey had Wolff-Parkinson White Syndrome (or WPW). WPW poses a risk of a fatal arrhythmia called preexcited atrial fibrillation, so Hailey needed an ablation procedure in her heart to correct it.
“I was terrified,” says Hailey, “but also confused, because I had never heard of it.”
Shannon was very concerned about the surgery. “The diagnosis was terrifying, because no option for treating it was comfortable,” she says. “Hearing the phrase ‘possible sudden death’ linked to your child is horrible.”
The ablation surgery went very well, thanks to the team at Children’s National. “Every person we encountered at Children’s National was wonderful,” says Shannon. “Even the nurses who did the COVID test were kind and patient.”
They are particularly grateful for Dr. Sherwin’s excellent and thorough care. “I really appreciate her attention to detail,” says Shannon. “That extra ECG that led to her ablation may have saved her life.”
Hailey wants other teens in a similar situation to know that they should tell someone if they have symptoms. “If you’re running around and you feel your heart beating weirdly, tell someone – don’t just think it will be fine.”
Shannon encourages parents to make sure they’ve found an expert to perform the procedure. “If you’re dealing with a child, find a pediatric specialist for the ablation,” she says. “And make sure you’re getting good information. Alternative medicine won’t fix a problem like this. You need to trust the medicine and your doctor, once you find an expert. When there’s a potentially fatal outcome on the line, you need to take action.”
Now, Hailey is healthy and back in the air on her aerial silks. “Aerial silks are important to me, it’s what I love to do,” she says. “I was disappointed when I had to take a break because of the procedure. But I’m so glad I came back, because it’s the coolest thing.”
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