A ‘Heart to Heart’ with a pediatric cardiology patient
When Baxter Pufahl is on stage with the Mauston High School Show Choir, he looks like a perfectly healthy 17-year-old. It is not until he removes his shirt backstage for a quick costume change that the large scar on his chest begins to tell a story.
Four months after Baxter was born in January 1994, he had a valvuloplasty (surgery to widen the aortic valve of the heart) at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. The procedure greatly improved Baxter’s blood flow. Doctors told his mother, Kim, to treat Baxter just like any other kid, minus wrestling and hard contact sports.
As Baxter got older, his congenital heart defect again caused him to struggle. Around age 7, the heart valve had narrowed again and he was incredibly fatigued. He needed open heart surgery once more. But Baxter’s biggest concern was, how long before he can throw a tomahawk. Six weeks later, Baxter spent a week throwing tomahawks and shooting his bow at a historical reenactment.
Baxter never let his heart condition stop him from living life. With regular monitoring and care from Gundersen pediatric cardiologist Susan MacLellan-Tobert, MD, and her team, Baxter has always lived an active life. He was, and still is, an active member of 4-H, FFA and his church. He enjoys farming, hunting, riding horses, is an avid historical reenactor as well as a camp counselor at 4-H camp during the summer. He participates in band and choir, and was recently in his high school’s production of “Cinderella.”
On Valentine’s Day 2010, Baxter made another trip to Milwaukee for aortic valve replacement. Baxter was not thrilled about the prospects of a lifetime of blood thinners and anti-rejection drugs which would make him unable to be as active as he would like. So, he was relieved to hear, upon waking from surgery, that his valve was repaired not replaced, giving Baxter a much shorter recovery time.
Last summer, Dr. MacLellan-Tobert, working with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, helped Baxter and his family realize their dream of an Alaskan cruise. With new-found heart, Baxter kept himself busy dancing with the ladies—young and old alike.
Since his aortic valve repair surgery, Baxter continues to visit Dr. MacLellan-Tobert at least every six months for check-ups, echocardiograms and stress tests, which, so far, he has passed with ease. There are those who think Baxter deserves a cape and a big red “S” on his chest, because, considering his medical history, Baxter passes the tests like he’s Superman. He adds, “Since my surgery, my heart function has improved and with the expert care from my doctors at Gundersen, it’s possible for me to participate in activities I wasn’t able to before.”