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Benny’s Heart, Your Heart

Stacy Erickson of Fargo never expected to begin her journal like this:

June 10, 2011
So here I am at 26-½ weeks pregnant, writing the story of the second love of my life, Bennett Matthew. And every day my heart breaks a little because I know that what’s to come won’t be easy.

She and her husband Matt, her first love, had just learned their long-awaited baby would be born with serious heart disease.

Complex but treatable

“I was a blubbering wreck, but Dr. Trefz was so kind. He took the time to help us understand,” says Stacy, recalling their first appointment with Sanford Children’s pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Matthew Trefz.

A fetal echocardiogram showed that Baby Bennett has Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart disease characterized by four defects that affect blood flow to the lungs.

Years ago babies with this condition died in childhood. “We’ve seen great progress in 60 years,” says Dr. Trefz. “Now, depending on severity, this condition is treatable and kids can grow up to lead normal lives.”

Keys to successful treatment of Tetralogy of Fallot include early diagnosis, close tracking during pregnancy, heart surgery in the months after birth and diligent follow-up. Dr. Trefz also says that better outcomes are often a result of educating parents and developing a plan based on best-case and worst-case scenarios.

“When Dr. Trefz told us that Olympic snowboarder Shaun White had this heart defect, we hung on to that,” says Stacy.

Change of heart

Emotions ran wild the day the Ericksons learned the diagnosis. Stacy went home and threw a lamp across the room, breaking it into several pieces.

But by the next morning, anger had subsided. In its place was a sense of gratefulness for baby Bennett – no matter what would happen.

“We went from ‘Why us?’ to ‘Why not us?’ ” Stacy says. “We though, we have a great relationship, we’ve wanted a baby so badly, and now there’s this special little guy coming into our lives,” she says.

She laughs when she describes Matt’s take: “Well, we know from the ultrasound that Benny has two arms. No matter what, he can fish.”

Best-case scenario

For the next three months, Stacy continued taking good care of herself, including check-ups with Dr. Trefz, a consultation with maternal fetal medicine and a tour of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, all at Sanford Children’s in Fargo.

Benny was born Sept. 7, 2011, weighing 8 pounds, 6 ounces. His condition was best-case scenario, and two days later he was able to go home.

With open-heart surgery in Rochester, Minn., and then follow-up care in Fargo, Benny will likely live life with no restrictions.

“Big Ben is thriving,” says Stacy. “And crushing every milestone.”

Go Red

February is American Heart Association’s Go Red month, and it’s the perfect time to love your heart by making great health choices.

“We’ve really changed things since we’ve had Benny,” says Stacy. “Now we have structured meals, we’re eating more fruits and veggies, and we work at turning off the TV and staying active.”

Like the Ericksons, you can Go Red in many different ways. For more information and tips about heart health for your whole family, visit

Posted Date: February 2013