Along the way to heart surgery, Liam found a name for his new teddy bear

Infant Liam Allis offers the camera a big smile.
Liam had three heart defects that impeded blood flow, making his lungs work harder and putting him at risk of further complications.

After a complicated delivery in April 2021, Chelsea Allis had recovered and was finally able to bond with her infant son, Liam.

But life became unsettled again only two months later, when a doctor performing a routine checkup on Liam detected a possible heart condition. Then, only a day before seeing a cardiologist to learn more about Liam’s heart health, his lips turned blue, frightening Chelsea and her husband, David.

Doctors in upstate New York, where the Allis family lives, determined Liam had three heart defects that impeded blood flow, making his lungs work harder and putting him at risk of further complications. He needed surgery. Chelsea and David had to make a tough decision: choosing a hospital at a time of uncertainty and worry.

Infant Liam Allis clutches a brown stuffed bear while resting in a bed at Boston Children's Hospital.
While being treated at Boston Children’s, Liam made a new friend: “Hoagie,” who was named after the infant’s surgeon, Dr. David Hoganson.

Family is assured after getting surgery details

Liam had an atrial septal defect (ASD), a hole in the heart wall that separates the upper left and right heart chambers. The hole allowed oxygen-rich blood from the left chamber to mix with oxygen-poor blood in the right chamber. A separate hole, called a ventricular septal defect (VSD), also let oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood to mix, in this instance between his heart’s left and right ventricles.

He also had mitral valve stenosis — a narrowing of the one-way valve that helps move oxygenated blood from the left atrium into the left ventricle. When the valve is narrow, blood backs up in the left atrium. All three conditions stress the heart and lungs and, if left untreated, they could have put Liam at risk of developing an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), high blood pressure (pulmonary hypertension), and other health issues.

Liam was initially scheduled for surgery at a hospital near home, but Chelsea was concerned he might need a second procedure, so she turned to the Benderson Family Heart Center at Boston Children’s Hospital for another opinion. Soon after providing information about Liam to the Heart Center, she got a call from Dr. David Hoganson, a surgeon in the Department of Cardiac Surgery. He explained what type of surgical repair Liam needed and how he and his colleagues would conduct the procedure. For the first time in a while, Chelsea’s worries lessened and she felt confident Liam would receive the treatment she had sought for him. Liam and his family would instead travel to Boston.

“Dr. Hoganson explained what he saw and in great detail,” she recalls. “He also said we could meet him in person before surgery. That did it for me.”

Chelsea was also impressed that Dr. Gerald Marx, a senior associate cardiologist in the Department of Cardiology, worked with Dr. Hoganson to make Liam’s surgery a priority, moving it on the schedule from December to the week of Thanksgiving.

The Allis family walks through an apple orchard, subtly posing for a professional photograph.
From left: With Liam’s surgery behind him, Parker (left), David, and Chelsea Allis (holding Liam when he was younger) can enjoy more moments together, like this one in an apple orchard. (Photo: Danielle Rosalie Photography)

A healthy Liam has a new fluffy friend 

“I had heard how difficult it is to hand off your child for surgery,” Chelsea says. “But all the nurses, anesthesiologists, and doctors were thoughtful and assured me everything was going to be okay.” Receiving hourly updates about Liam’s surgery from a patient liaison also put her and David at ease.  

The surgical team repaired a large hole, the VSD, between Liam’s left and right ventricles, and they repaired the ASD. They also removed excess tissue that was obstructing blood flow from the mitral valve; as long as blood continues to move properly, the valve won’t need further repair. 

Now back home, Liam — who will soon celebrate his first birthday — is healthy, has gained weight, says “dada,” and gets a kick out of playing with his 8-year-old brother, Parker. He also has a new friend: a teddy bear called “Hoagie.” Chelsea and David bought the stuffed animal at Boston Children’s gift shop and named him after Dr. Hoganson as a gesture of appreciation for Liam’s good health.

Chelsea, who has fully healed from the complications she experienced when delivering Liam, is happy she trusted her instincts and reached out to Boston Children’s. “He was smiling two days after surgery. He’s back to smiling.”

Make an appointment and learn more about the Department of Cardiac Surgery.

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