After Open-heart Surgeries, a Little Girl and Her Teacher Share Special Bond

How two patients became connected as ‘heart twins’

Caroline Glenn, AdventHealth News
After Open-heart Surgeries, a Little Girl and Her Teacher Share Special Bond
Kennedy Vogt (left) with her kindergarten teacher and “heart twin” Carlene Honor. [Photo: AdventHealth]

Five-year-old Kennedy Vogt underwent open-heart surgery when she was still a pre-K student at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida, United States. When administrators at the school found out, they knew exactly who her kindergarten teacher should be: Carlene Honor, who’d been through the same experience.

“I thank God that He allowed our paths to cross,” Honor said in a recent interview. “I call her my heart twin.”

Honor had undergone quintuple heart bypass surgery at AdventHealth five years earlier, after she had a heart attack at school during a basketball game. An AdventHealth doctor whose child attends the school happened to be there and saved her life.

“It was just God’s timing,” Honor said. “Everything lined up to save my life.”

“I thank God that He allowed our paths to cross,” kindergarten teacher Carlene Honor says of her student and “heart twin,” 5-year-old Kennedy Vogt. [Photo: AdventHealth]

Kennedy was diagnosed with a rare congenital heart defect after a trip to the ER for a bad case of the flu, when doctors detected a murmur during an echocardiogram. Her parents were shocked to discover Kennedy had been born with a hole in her heart, which, if left untreated, can cause heart and lung disease in adulthood.

“Pediatricians are often the first ones to detect heart abnormalities, but in Kennedy’s case, she’d managed to go five years without displaying any warning signs that something was wrong. She was at gymnastics, tumbling and doing handstands!” Matthew Zussman, Kennedy’s cardiologist at AdventHealth for Children, said. “Her parents took her to the ER for the flu and never expected to find out she had a hole in her heart.”

While congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect seen in newborns, Zussman said, they are a rarity, affecting only about 1 percent of births, or about 40,000 children per year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kennedy was diagnosed with an even rarer atrial septal defect, which only accounts for about 20,000 medical cases per year, and because of its location, the only way to repair it was through open-heart surgery.

Three days after the procedure, Kennedy was home from the hospital, back to her normal self.

“The thing people don’t realize about kids and open-heart surgery is how resilient kids are,” Zussman said. “What takes an adult patient months to recover from only takes kids a few days, and that was definitely true in Kennedy’s case.”

Shortly after, Kennedy was named an ambassador for the American Heart Association, joining 15,000 others at the Greater Orlando Heart Walk in the fight against heart disease and helping raise more than US$1 million for cardiovascular research.

Kennedy walked in the parade clad in a red cape fit for a heart hero. Right beside her was her own heart hero — Mrs. Honor, her beloved heart twin.

The original version of this story was posted on the AdventHealth news site.

Caroline Glenn, AdventHealth News