Saturday's 'Kid Captain': Clarissa Kraayenbrink

Oct. 29, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Clarissa Kraayenbrink of Sioux City, Iowa, was just 4 when pediatric interventional cardiologists at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital performed a groundbreaking procedure on her young heart.

Clarissa was born with congenital heart defects, including transposition of the “great arteries”-the aorta and pulmonary artery. The defects meant Clarissa’s heart was not returning oxygenated blood to her circulatory system, causing dangerously low blood oxygen levels.

Within days, say her parents, Duane and Jodie Kraayenbrink, her condition worsened dramatically, and medical staff at the hospital where she was born summoned UI AirCare to take Clarissa to UI Children’s Hospital. “It suddenly became clear it was something they couldn’t handle here,” Duane says.

Driving anxiously through the night, the Kraayenbrinks arrived in Iowa City just after dawn. UI Children’s Hospital staff helped them get oriented, even as 4-day-old Clarissa was being prepped for her first catheterization and open-heart surgery. Clarissa underwent additional surgeries at 7 months and 22 months to correct her heart defects. The Kraayenbrinks would stay at the Helen K. Rossi Guest House within the hospital itself or at nearby Ronald McDonald House, and some¬times brought their two older children, Allison and Dylan, with them.

“People were very kind,” Jodie says. “The little things meant a lot, like telling us Clarissa was a pretty baby.” The medical staff took time to explain Clarissa’s condition and treatments and to answer the couple’s many questions. The family even got help filling out complicated insurance forms.

At age 4, Clarissa was ready to have an opening between the chambers of her heart repaired, which her medical team did by implanting a CardioSEAL® device. At the time, the device was still in clinical trials and UI Children’s Hospital staff told Clarissa’s parents she would be the first patient in Iowa to receive the implant. “I think it was standing-room-only in the cath lab that day,” Jodie remembers, because so many staff members wanted to watch the procedure.

Now 14, Clarissa is a regular teenager who recently obtained her learner’s permit to drive. She barely remembers the fuss over her heart implant, much less the multiple surgeries leading up to that procedure. Clarissa takes medication to help her heart do its job and receives routine follow-up care at a UI Children’s Hospital community clinic in Sioux City. Otherwise, she keeps busy with her friends and activities. She likes to play Wii® video games and loves music, playing piano and bass guitar with her church youth group.

“Clarissa is our miracle child,” Jodie says. “With the help of the UI Children’s Hospital medical staff, she survived three open heart surgeries and many other procedures. Although she may not be able to run as fast as the other kids, she is experiencing a very normal life.”