Sophia Brooks is an active teen who enjoys being on the go and spending time with friends. A skilled and talented artist and an A student, Sophia loves to ride her bike and jump on the trampoline.
Yet four years ago, Sophia, now 13, was sidelined by a heart condition at a time when her family was transitioning out of regular medical insurance to a health care sharing plan. With no health coverage at the time of diagnosis, Sophia did not qualify for medical coverage with the new plan that excluded pre-existing conditions for three years. With patience, prayer and perseverance, the Brooks family, from Savannah, Ga., was finally able to receive the care Sophia needed at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville.
“It was a long journey, but I am grateful God led us to Wolfson Children’s Hospital,” said Frankie Brooks, Sophia’s mother.
“With heart health, it is so important for parents and children to talk and listen to each other the same way that Sophia and Frankie did,” said Sunita Ferns, MD, Sophia's pediatric cardiac electrophysiologist and Director of Pediatric and Adult Congenital Cardiac Electrophysiology at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
Sophia’s rapid heart rate
The journey began when the Brooks family was attending an Easter weekend celebration in Albany, Ga. Sophia, then age 8, came to Frankie and said, “Mom, my heart is beating really fast.”
The Brooks family took Sophia to a walk-in clinic where examination and testing revealed that Sophia was experiencing an uncomfortable sensation caused by a rapid heart rate. Sophia’s heart was beating as fast as 240 beats per minute instead of a normal heart rate of 70 to 110 beats per minute. It was then she was quickly transported by ambulance to the ER at a nearby hospital.
Sophia’s SVT diagnosis
Sophia was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) and referred to a specialist in the Brooks’ hometown of Savannah. SVT is the most common heart rhythm problem found in children, occurring in 1 in every 250 to 1,000 children. Characterized by a racing heartbeat, the condition is caused by an extra electrical connection between the top and bottom chambers of the heart. While SVT is almost never life-threatening, it occurs suddenly and without warning.
“When you live with SVT, you don’t have a normal life,” Frankie said.
Sometimes Sophia’s racing heart would slow down on its own during SVT episodes, but most often she would have to go to the ER for IV medications to reset her heart rhythm back to normal. Sophia’s cardiologist eventually recommended surgery to correct her heart condition, but said waiting until 11 or 12 years old was best. And, without insurance, the procedure was costly.
Coping with challenges
For the next couple of years, Sophia lived with episodes of SVT that caused intermittent symptoms of racing heart, nausea and shortness of breath. As much as Frankie and her husband, Michael, wanted Sophia to have the procedure, they could not pay for the cost out-of-pocket. Nonetheless, the family’s deep faith gave them strength during this challenging time.
Once eligible for medical coverage – the same time frame of the recommended age for surgery – Frankie scheduled Sophia’s procedure at a local hospital. While completing all the paperwork, the hospital estimated close to $105,000 for health care services plus all external fees. Then, one week prior to surgery, Frankie learned the hospital no longer accepted their health care plan. Consequently, the Brooks family was unable to meet the hospital’s request and Sophia’s surgery was canceled. Frankie was devastated but started looking for other options in the health care program’s network.
“I knew God would heal Sophia’s heart,” said Frankie. “I started researching other providers and found Dr. Ferns and Wolfson Children’s Hospital just two-and-a-half hours away from our home.”
World-class cardiac specialty care at Wolfson Children’s
In addition to her board certifications in pediatrics and pediatric cardiology, Dr. Ferns is one of the few physicians in North America to be trained and board-certified in pediatric electrophysiology and adult congenital heart disease. At Sophia’s first appointment, Dr. Ferns reviewed Sophia’s history of having an intermittent rapid heart rate and discussed the effective treatments available for SVT.
For some children, the right combination of medications can keep SVT in check, but that was not the case for Sophia. She needed an ablation procedure to correct her heart arrhythmia.
“I applaud Frankie for not giving up and continuing to do the research until she found the care she needed for her daughter,” said Dr. Ferns.
Michael and Frankie took Sophia to Wolfson Children’s Hospital – a nonprofit organization that provides outstanding cardiac care for all children regardless of their ability to pay – for her heart ablation procedure. With an ablation, catheters are advanced up through the veins and into the heart. Electrical signals from the catheters help locate the extra electrical connection, which can then be eliminated. Ablation is usually an outpatient procedure, so Sophia was able to go home the same day as her surgery.
Following ablation, perfect health
After two months, Sophia went for her follow-up appointment and was deemed in perfect health. “It was a very effective procedure that has resulted in a dramatic change for Sophia,” said Dr. Ferns. “She no longer has a heart condition.”
Sophia’s family was overjoyed upon hearing the good news.
The Brooks family is extremely thankful to have received the care and support they needed from Wolfson Children’s Hospital. In addition, Sophia’s surgery was completely covered by the Brooks’ Christian health care sharing program, a second blessing.
“Our prayers were answered,” said Frankie. “Wolfson Children’s helps patients and their families.”
The C. Herman and Mary Virginia Terry Heart Institute at Wolfson Children's Hospital treats heart rhythm disorders ranging from atrial fibrillation to Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. To learn more, call 904.202.8550.