Born with the same congenital heart defect, Aidyn Moitt, 8, and Aniyah Moitt, 4, were recently named ambassadors to the American Heart Association in hopes their story will spur advancing research and treatments for cardiovascular disease.
The two siblings are patients at AdventHealth Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida, United States.
Aidyn and Aniyah were both born with pulmonary and aortic stenosis, a heart defect that causes the arteries from the heart to the lungs to develop too thinly. To repair the defect, Aidyn underwent two open-heart surgeries before he was two years old. Aniyah had surgery just three weeks after she was born.
“You just don’t expect lightning to strike twice,” their father, Duane Moitt, told WESH-2 News in Orlando as part of a story for Black History Month and American Heart Month in February.
Matthew Zussman, the pediatric cardiologist at AdventHealth Hospital for Children who cared for the Moitts, said that although congenital heart defects are relatively common, with about 400,000 infants born with one every year in the United States, it’s extremely rare for two siblings to have the same heart defect.
It’s unclear what caused the defect, Zussman added, explaining that genetic testing didn’t find anything to suggest the defect is hereditary in Aidyn and Aniyah’s family.
“We have a lot of things figured out over the past 30, 40, 50 years, especially in pediatric and congenital cardiology, but there’s still some things we just don’t know. And this is one of them,” Zussman said.
As part of their ambassadorship with the American Heart Association, Aidyn and Aniyah participated in the 2022 Greater Orlando Heart Walk, where AdventHealth helped raise a record-breaking US$1.5 million for research. Their mother, AdventHealth Orlando team member A’njanene Moitt, said she hopes her children’s story will inspire more people to give to cardiovascular research and spread awareness of heart disease among people of color.
“Maybe this is their purpose in life,” she said. “God gave them to me with these defects for a reason.”
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for all Americans but is particularly acute in the Black community, according to the American Heart Association, and research has long shown that Black people are more likely to have risk factors of heart disease, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. In fact, from 2017 to 2020 in the United States, 59 percent of Black men and women had some form of cardiovascular disease.
Zussman, who has cared for the Moitt siblings since they were born, said it’s a special honor as a physician to see Aidyn and Aniyah thrive and receive such prestigious recognition.
“They’re the perfect ambassadors because there’s nobody who supports cardiovascular research more than the American Heart Association, and that’s what these children need. The more we learn about the genetics around heart disease and the more we learn about what causes this defect, the more we can focus on improving treatment,” Zussman said. “These kids are the very reason why we need the American Heart Association and the crucial research they do.”