Change of Heart

A text arrives from the operating room, and other oddities.

Atrial septal defect. The problem sounded scary when it was diagnosed in my son, Tyler, five years ago—a small hole in the wall that separates the two upper chambers of the heart. Extra blood was being pumped into the lungs, making both the heart and lungs work harder. And, according to the American Heart Association, left untreated it could damage the organs later in life.

But not if it's detected relatively early. It was diagnosed by a cardiologist when Tyler was examined for recurring high blood pressure at age 17. It turned out that the elevated readings were caused by anxiety about getting his pressure taken (commonly called white coat syndrome) and not a problem. But the congenital heart defect was. 

Earlier this year we decided to have the procedure done to fix the problem. It involved not open-heart surgery but cardiac catherization, in which doctors inserted a thin tube into a blood vessel in the groin and guided it to the heart through imaging techniques. A mesh plug was pulled through the catheter to close the hole. 

All beyond amazing, of course. But perhaps the most mind-blowing thing about the whole experience was that just before Tyler was wheeled into the operating room at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, the doctors gave us an app so that we could follow the operation in real time. So as his mom and I had breakfast in the cafeteria, we received periodic texts about how things were going in the OR, where Dr. David Nykanen of The Heart Center at Arnold Palmer headed up the surgical team. The messages included a couple of photos of our son smiling from the operating table (he stayed awake and watched the whole thing), then several of the patch being placed over the hole, with an explanation of what exactly was happening. 

A social media coordinator in the OR? Who knew? The intriguing application was called, appropriately, EASE—and it did put our minds at ease.

Here’s hoping that our annual Finest Doctors issue does the same for you. Our lists contain the names of more than 500 men and women (including Dr. Nykanen) who practice the art of healing in the Orlando area, from internal medicine specialists to pain medicine practitioners, from gastroenterologists to ear, nose and throat experts. They have been selected by their peers as among the best. You’ll also read about advances in today’s emergency rooms, plus accounts from a dozen doctors about some of the most memorable moments in their careers. And in our Premier Doctors section, dozens of physicians and practices outline their specialties and services in detail to guide you in choosing a doctor.

Elsewhere in this issue, we’re unwrapping lots for the holidays. Jennie Hess offers seven ways to celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas, from home tours to ice-skating. Nancy DeVault has discovered dozens of thoughtful offerings in our annual Holiday Gift Guide. Roger Moore goes on the scene with the Zombie House Flipping quartet as the rising TV stars strive to resurrect dearly departed dwellings throughout our city. Dante Lima and Rita Barnes introduce you to a couple of prime watering holes, including one where it’s Christmas year-round. And we take you on a whimsical tour of the culinary offerings at Disney Springs, courtesy of dining critic Joseph Hayes and illustrator Elly Walton.

Speaking of dining, it’s time once again to vote for your favorites in our annual Dining Awards poll. Just go to and fill in the ballot. There are categories ranging from barbecue to Middle Eastern, most romantic to best chef. Deadline to vote is Feb. 1, and your name will be placed in a drawing to win dinner for two at a top local restaurant just for voting.

Categories: Column