Adam Verigan was 5 days old when his pediatrician detected a heart murmur. More medical exams led to startling news for his parents: He had been born with a heart defect.

Known as Tetralogy of Fallot, the congenital defect involved four specific problems with his heart. Future medical procedures and a lifetime of monitoring would be needed. That was all but certain.

What couldn’t be predicted at that worrisome moment was how his defect would bestow upon Verigan a gift for helping fellow patients. It would also foster a deep dedication to the mission of All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“My heart defect has made me who I am today,” said Verigan, now 34.

Heart problems are the most common birth defect, occurring in about 1 percent of all newborns in the United States.

With his infant diagnosis, Verigan was referred to All Children’s and underwent a cardiac catheterization at 7 months old. Then he had open-heart surgery at 10 months to repair defects, including patching a hole between the heart’s lower chambers and correcting blood flow to the lungs.

“Praise Jesus, it went well,” said Verigan, who got to play baseball, basketball and soccer as a child, thanks to his parents’ encouragement. “I never thought I was limited by my heart defect.”

During recess in sixth grade, Verigan became dizzy and felt pressure in his ears and chest. Doctors determined it was an atrial arrhythmia – an irregular beat in the heart’s upper chambers – and that he’d not only need an electrophysiology study to correct it but also medication to control it.

Then, at age 16, the pulmonary valve that helps control the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs needed to be replaced.

“It was the realization of my worst nightmare, really,” he recalled. “It’s just that whole unknown.”

Faith, family and top-notch medical care – once again at All Children’s – brought him “complete peace” before the surgery, he said.

Health episodes early in college at the University of Florida led to the diagnosis that he had a leak in his tricuspid valve. Verigan had his third open-heart surgery to repair it at 19, again at All Children’s Hospital.

Then came his foray into medical work. His thesis while studying biomedical engineering in graduate school at the University of South Florida opened the door for a job at a familiar place – All Children’s Hospital, where he became a web applications developer and later landed a new role in imaging in cardiology.

“It was exactly what I was looking to do,” he said.

Adam Verigan with his wife Elizabeth and their children, Eden (right), Glory and Adam Jr.

Adam Verigan with his wife Elizabeth and their children, Eden (right), Glory and Adam Jr.

Today, Verigan is the medical imaging systems coordinator for the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute and the perinatology and obstetrics and gynecology departments at the hospital.

As it turns out, one of his nurses from his hospital stay when he was 19 is now his colleague. Lisa Moore, the senior nursing director at the hospital’s heart institute, said getting to know Verigan as a medical professional has been rewarding.

“We love to see our patients thriving and living life to the fullest,” she said, adding that Verigan demonstrates compassion and a desire to “give back” because of all he’s been through. “We’re the privileged ones. He comes to work every day with a smile on his face and a positive attitude.”

Verigan frequently talks with parents whose children have or will be born with a congenital heart defect and offers advice on coping with the prognosis.

“Adam is really the ultimate patient advocate because he has firsthand experience,” Moore said. “He has a gift, a unique gift.”

Verigan and his wife Elizabeth have three children, Eden, 7, Glory, 4, and Adam Jr., 2. All three kids have healthy hearts, even though they were at higher risk for a congenital defect because a parent has one.

Using his special perspective, Verigan urges optimism and assures families they are in the right place for a bright outcome.

“Your child has a great future,” he tells parents. “There’s so much hope.”

Photos courtesy of Adam Verigan