Christina Luntzer was stunned when she learned that one in one hundred babies are born with a heart defect. She never imagined that her own child would bring that statistic to life.
Before Christina’s daughter, Alyiah, was born, this statistic led Christina to become deeply involved with the American Heart Association’s Kids Heart Challenge as a local physical education teacher.
“Before she was born, I would always advocate because that statistic really resonated with me,” said Christina. “My thought was, if there are six hundred children at my school, then we possibly have a few kids who are or will be impacted by this. It was important to me to focus on the education piece.”
The education piece became important for Christina before Alyiah was born. At 26 weeks pregnant, Christina Luntzer went in for a routine scan and received news that something was off.
“We didn’t think anything of it at first because Alyiah’s older sister also had an abnormal scan and everything ended up being completely fine,” said Christina. “We thought this would be no big deal.”
But when Christina’s doctor recommended she be transferred to a different hospital, the alarm bells started ringing.
The results of the scan were cause for greater concern than Christina could have anticipated. The doctors shared the news that Christina’s baby had Tetralogy of Fallot or, in other words, an abnormal heart. They knew that Alyiah’s blood flow was being affected but they didn’t yet know what type of care Alyiah would need to live a long, healthy life.
The moment Alyiah was born, there was no time for Christina to hold her in her arms. The medical team took Alyiah directly to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to begin receiving care, undergoing tests so they could make a plan for her moving forward. After an excruciating five-hour wait without news, the doctors returned with an update.
Alyiah was born with pulmonary atresia. This meant her valve was not functioning and the medical team needed to move swiftly to find a doctor to do her surgery to give Alyiah the best chance, not only of surviving, but of living a long, healthy life.
After five days in the NICU and a transfer across state lines, Alyiah had her first open heart bypass surgery. It repaired the hole in her heart and gave her a new valve which would help her live a more normal life until her next surgery.
In June of 2022, at eight years old, her artificial valve was replaced again, bringing Alyiah’s total number of heart surgeries to two. In between those two surgeries, she had three different procedures to stabilize the artificial valve. The three medical interventions allowed her to make it to eight years old before her next surgery. Looking ahead, she will be a heart patient for life. But through continued medical advancements and research funded by the American Heart Association, her quality of care will only improve over time.
Today, Alyiah is a healthy child. She loves to dance, swim, cheer, play golf and participate in countless other activities thanks to her healthy heart.
One of Christina and Alyiah’s favorite things to do today is to inspire others by telling Alyiah’s story through Kids Heart Challenge. As an elementary school physical education teacher at Cold Harbor in Hanover, Christina’s passion has always been encouraging others to live a healthy, active life. But since her daughter Alyiah was born with a congenital heart defect, she has become her mom’s “why.”
Christina has led Kids Heart Challenge for the last thirteen years. For the last three years, the Cold Harbor Cougars finished in the top 25 schools in the Greater Richmond area for impact and the most families learning hands-only CPR.
Through Kids Heart Challenge, elementary school-aged children are learning how to keep their hearts healthy through movement, mental well-being and lifesaving skills like hands-only CPR. And for families who know what it’s like when someone in the family has a special heart, Kids Heart Challenge is letting them know they’re not alone.
See more about Christina and Alyiah’s story on the WTVR CBS6 website.