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Making Little Hearts Whole

Barbara Bensoussan

When Chaya Waks’s son was born with heart problems, it was the start of a small revolution for babies with heart defects and their families

Monday, October 12, 2015

Back in high school, when Chaya Waks took biology, she slipped out of the room when the teacher started explaining the way the human heart functions. “It had such complex anatomy — I had no interest in trying to understand it!” she says. In an ironic twist of fate, Chaya has today evolved into a lay expert on congenital heart disease (CHD). She’s in constant contact with top pediatric cardiologists, interventionists, and heart surgeons all over the world, attends their professional conferences, and closely follows the latest trends and techniques in the management of cardiac disease. She advocates for pediatric cardiac patients, visiting hospitals throughout the US, Israel, and Europe to meet with surgeons. Words like “cardiac catheterization,” “cyanosis,” and “pulse oximetry” trip off her tongue the way other mothers speak of laundry tricks and cookware brands, and her phone pings 24/6 as parents contact her at all hours. “Chaya doesn’t stop!” one parent says admiringly. How does a chassidic mother from Boro Park become a CHD askanit? “I’m just a regular person!” protests Chaya. With her tasteful, understated attire and friendly, capable presence, you might mistake her for a Bais Yaakov teacher. (She started out as a volunteer fundraiser for Chush, a school for children with learning disabilities.) But the Waks family was rudely awakened to the complexities of CHD when their fourth child was born with a serious heart defect.

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