Camila Parra, 17, is too busy dancing — ballet, hip hop, modern, jazz and contemporary — to think about the fact that she could have become a tragic statistic. The Port St. Lucie teen had been feeling some fatigue when participating in her rigorous dance program, but a local doctor told her it was likely something she would outgrow.
Thank goodness her mother decided in November 2016 to participate in a free heart screening program, sponsored by the Jessica Clinton Foundation, aimed at finding congenital heart disease in children ages 6 to 21. Camila and her mother, Adriana Benitez, were stunned to learn that Camila’s echocardiogram was abnormal. A rigorous dance routine could cause her heart to fail abruptly.
Every three days in the U.S. a teen athlete dies of an undetected heart condition.
That scary statistic has galvanized Nicklaus Children’s Hospital to be a leader in screening of teen athletes to identify those at risk. Since 2011, the hospital has performed nearly 15,000 free screenings and identified nearly a dozen children at risk of sudden death. Dr. David Drossner, a Nicklaus Children’s cardiologist based in Palm Beach County, was assisting with the county-supported screening and quickly recognized that Camila needed medical intervention — and fast.
After some additional testing, Camila underwent open-heart surgery to correct an abnormal origin of the left coronary artery in December 2016 with Dr. Redmond Burke, Nicklaus Children’s Director of Cardiovascular Surgery. And in the spring of 2017, Dr. Drossner cleared the eager high school junior to return to her dance academy.
“My recovery was quick and I felt better and more energetic right away,” recalls Camila. “My life revolves around dance and music,” added Camila, who has also played violin since the age of 5. “It’s great to be able to get back to doing what I love.”