Back in Kitchener for reading week, Davis Huehn and his mother, Tanya, cherish every moment together. Through the shared laughter, Tanya’s happiness is palpable—because her son is not just home, he’s alive.
At birth, Davis was referred to London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) after his pediatrician heard a faint but concerning heart murmur. He was then diagnosed with aortic stenosis—the obstruction of blood flow across the aortic valve. Davis’ cardiologist opted to postpone any surgical procedures to give his heart time to develop while continuing to monitor his condition.
Growing up, Davis lived with this disease and noticed he became fatigued before other children his age. When his family went on ski trips, he could only be on the slopes for an hour before getting tired and calling it quits.
During his late teens, he went into heart failure and needed to undergo an aortic valve replacement. Davis sought the Ross procedure which is a specialized operation offered only at a few centres in Canada. This surgery involves swapping out his aortic valve with his pulmonary valve and a donor pulmonary part would be implanted to replace the relocated one. At this time, he would also have his ascending aorta replaced with a synthetic one.
Davis met “Wizard-Magician” Dr. Michael Chu on the day of his surgery in October 2020. He estimates the surgery took 5–6 hours, with a team of 20–30 talented health professionals. He was astounded by the human capital required to save a single life.
“Davis was one of the first patients to have surgery in the donor-funded hybrid operating room,” Tanya says. “I have so much gratitude and appreciation for all these people I’ve never met.”
While Davis was recovering at home, he started to experience excruciating chest pain. The Huehn family called Dr. Chu’s cardiac team and were told to come to the hospital right away. Davis had developed inflammation and fluid between the heart and the sac surrounding it. When they arrived, Dr. Chu had a surgical team assembled and Davis discovered he would need an emergency procedure to drain the fluid.
“I remember thinking, I might die today,” he recounts.
The second surgery was a success, and the recovery process went smoothly. He was included in a clinical case study because it is quite uncommon for someone as young as Davis to have this type of fluid buildup after the Ross Procedure. Today, he attends annual follow-up appointments with his cardiologist, Dr. Sarah Blissett, at LHSC.
He is currently studying computer science at the University of Toronto and is grateful for the quality of life he now enjoys following the surgery.
“Last February, Davis went to Whistler and could ski all day for a week; a first for him,” Tanya says, fighting back a couple tears.
The Huehn family commends the care they received at LHSC, highlighting how all the staff at teaching hospitals are at the top of their game.
“It was just incredibly humbling to look at the number of people who need to come together for our health care to be where it is today,” Tanya explains.
Davis’ fate was tied to the collective lessons learned from doctors, patients and researchers who preceded his journey. Moreover, his unique case will serve as an educational resource for future generations of health-care providers. Ultimately, his story pays homage to those who came before and paves the way for those who come after.