Success Stories

Who is Herbie helping?

Mary-Joanne and Mary-Janice, Rowena

Meet Our Heroes: Mary-Joanne and Mary-Janice

Children’s condition: Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome
Ages: 7 year-old girls (3 January 2004 - twins)
Nationality: Filipino (Phillipines)
Treated: March 2011 through the Herbie Fund

“Without SickKids, where would we be now?” – Rowena, mother to Mary-Janice and Mary-Joanne

Rowena, mother to seven year-old twins Mary-Joanne and Mary-Janice, used to wake up several times a night to check that her daughters were healthy. At age five, both girls had been diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a rare illness that, in brief episodes, can cause the heart to beat upwards of 230 times a minute – almost four times faster than a normal heart rate!

In people with WPW, these episodes of rapid heart rate are caused by extra electrical circuit in their hearts. The extra electrical conduit can confuse the electrical signals in the heart, causing the heart to work harder than it should. Some patients experience episodes once or twice a week, others may have only a few episodes in a lifetime. During these episodes, people with WPW often experience chest pain, dizziness and have trouble breathing. For some patients, these episodes can lead to sudden death.

“It’s a miracle! SickKids saved the lives of my kids – not only one, but two.”

In severe cases involving small children, WPW syndrome can feel like a ticking time bomb. “We worried all the time there would be an attack,” Rowena recalls.

When Mary-Janice was born, she had fluid on her lungs and spent her first weeks fighting for her health in an intensive care unit. While in hospital, Mary-Janice suffered from coughing seizures and an unusually strong bout of pneumonia. Doctors assumed the problem was with her lungs.

When she was five, Mary-Joanne, usually an energetic child, couldn’t catch her breath during a walk through a mall. After demanding to sit down, she collapsed and fainted. Frightened, her mother took her to a doctor, who used an electrocardiogram (ECG) to diagnose her with WPW syndrome. Since her diagnosis in March 2009, Mary-Joanne fainted several more times – each collapse worrying her parents more.

“We’re very thankful to the Herbie Fund for this wonderful gift and to SickKids for all the care they gave to our twins.”

After Mary-Joanne was diagnosed, doctors decided to perform an ECG on her twin sister Mary-Janice, just in case. The test revealed that both twins had WPW syndrome. Had doctors performed an ECG on Mary-Janice after her early health problems, they would have found that the WPW was responsible for the complications she’d had at birth.

If patients with WPW don’t respond to medication, doctors perform a cardiac ablation procedure by making an incision near the groin and threading a catheter through the body into the heart. Once the catheter is next to the problematic electrical conduit, doctors use radiofrequency to destroy the conduit and restore normal heart rhythm. Because this treatment uses a catheter, it is less invasive than open-heart surgery and carries fewer risks.

At home in the Phillipines, Rowena’s family couldn’t afford cardiac ablation treatment to cure her daughters. Luck struck when a family friend living in Toronto learned about the Herbie Fund and recommended the program for Mary-Joanne and Mary-Janice. Rowena began the application process in June 2010 and, by November, was accepted to come to SickKids in Canada to get treatment for her daughters.

“We worried all the time there would be an attack.”

The family arrived in Toronto on March 10, 2011. At her first visit to SickKids, Rowena remembers thinking “this is it; this is where I’ve been dreaming to have my girls treated.” Doctors took care to explain every detail of the procedure to Rowena “We’re very happy for all of that,” she says.

Within a week, both girls had pre-op check-ups and underwent cardiac ablation procedures. The procedures were a success and the girls flew home to the Phillipines on March 25. Now Rowena can rest easier knowing that her daughters have a chance at a normal childhood.

“All of us in the family are very excited - Mary-Joanne and Mary-Janice can go to school next year! We’re very thankful to the Herbie Fund for this wonderful gift and to SickKids for all the care they gave to our twins.”

Rowena says she will always keep a place in her heart for SickKids and the Herbie Fund for bringing her family to Canada and for giving life-saving treatment to her twin daughters.

“I have an overflowing need to say thank you for all of this and for getting this wonderful help for us,” Rowena says. “It’s a miracle! SickKids saved the lives of my kids – not only one, but two.”

Why SickKids?

  • The Labatt Family Heart Centre at SickKids treats children with all forms of congenital and acquired heart problems, which allows them to live longer and healthier lives thanks to the sophisticated and specialized treatments performed at the hospital
  • In 2008/09 The Heart Centre’s team of more than 350 managed more than 9,000 clinic visits, 700 paediatric heart operations, 1,100 minimally invasive procedures, and more than 10,000 diagnostic echocardiograms
  • SickKids has performed more than 1000 curative catheter ablations
  • We have now performed over 1000 curative catheter ablations