Lifelong Children's Patient Gives Back

Keith Larson congenital heart defect

You could say Keith Larson a 42 year-old physician assistant in the department of Cardiovascular Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, often has a special bond with the patients and families he sees. But it’s not just because of his role as a clinician. Keith was born with a congenital heart defect known as coarctation of the aorta, resulting in narrowing of the aortic artery.

Keith not only works at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan but has been a lifelong patient, first having surgery as a three-year-old to correct the condition and then having follow up surgery as a teenager to correct scar tissue that often develops when having this type of surgery as a child. As an adult, he is regularly seen and monitored at the Michigan Adult Congenital Heart Center, part of the Detroit Medical Center, and the only program of its kind in the tri-county area.

“People may not realize how important it is for a congenital heart patient to see a specialist and be treated at a center that has the experience and knowledge of the many conditions associated with the disorder. An adult patient with heart disease is completely different than an adult patient with a congenital heart defect,” says Keith, who adds that there are now more adults with congenital heart disease than children.

Being a lifelong patient at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan also helped him in his quest to decide the career path he wanted to follow. When it came time to decide on a career, he developed a friendship with a physician assistant at the Michigan Adult Congenital Heart Center, who provided him with guidance on the profession. Keith pursued a career as a physician assistant and became the first physician assistant in the Cardiovascular Surgery department at Children’s Hospital.

Keith has been fortunate to lead a pretty normal life despite his congenital defect and feels he can set a positive example for children and adults that he takes care of as patients. “I’ve led a very active lifestyle running three miles a day and when children and adults with congenital defects see me, I hope I can be a positive example to them.”

Henry Walters III, MD, chief of Cardiovascular Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Michigan concurs. “Keith has not allowed his personal experience with a congenital heart defect to slow him down. Rather, his life experiences move him to inject an extra dose of empathy and energy when he cares for the kids. Our families really appreciate his genuine concern and compassion. They are inspired by Keith’s success and they see through him, a solid reason to have hope for a bright future.”

Whether Keith is a patient or a clinician, it seems clear that when it comes to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, there’s no place he’d rather be.

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