Open-heart surgery set for ‘miracle child’
Apr 06, 2011 | 2637 views | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CORINA WALKER AND DAUGHTER NAHAYLA are preparing to travel to the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville in July for another open-heart surgery and an MRI to determine if the tumor on her brain is growing. Mother and daughter are hoping the community will keep them in their prayers and are open to any assistance offered by individuals and organizations able to help. Photo by WILLIAM WRIGHT
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After cheating death seven times, baby Nahayla Jae Smasal has been diagnosed with a low-grade tumor on the brain and is scheduled to have another open heart surgery.

Her mother, Corina Walker, is asking for the prayers of the community on behalf of her daughter, who is now blind in one eye. Nahayla is set for open-heart surgery in July.

In July 2010, the durable infant was diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia, discovered after her mother took her to her daughter’s pediatrician followed by a visit to the opthamologist.

“Dr. Edward Peterson checked her out and noticed Nahayla had optic nerve hypoplasia. She’s completely blind in her left eye,” said Walker. “He gave her some glasses to wear. He wanted to set up an MRI to make sure everything was all right with her brain.”

The MRI revealed Nahayla’s brain was fine but they also discovered something that would send her mother reeling.

“Dr. Peterson said, ‘I have some bad news. I think your daughter has cancer. There is a mass on her brain and it’s 5.18 millimeters. We need to send her to Vanderbilt and let her be seen by a neurologist.’”

Walker said she cried, feeling devastated and overwhelmed at all her child is going through and will yet go through.

“My beautiful daughter has gone through so much and still has to deal with heart problems. Now she has to cope with losing her vision in her left eye,” she said.

“It’s not hurting her but it makes her arms weaker, her legs weaker — she drools constantly from the left side — she’s in constant therapy.”

Since the mass is not blocking any ventricles in the brain, Walker said doctors set a future date to determine if it is growing and how best to treat it.

The single parent is planning to take her daughter to Nashville for the MRI and open-heart surgery which is scheduled for July 13. Their traveling expenses are out-of-pocket as well as Walker’s hotel stay.

“It has been really hard to watch my only child going through so much,” Walker confessed. “I wish I could trade places with her. I would like to thank everyone who is praying for Nahayla and I thank God for allowing me to be her mother.”

Being among the very few, if not the first, to survive a rare Group B Streptococcus (GBS) attack of the heart, the resilient toddler who lives in Cleveland has had her share of death-defying moments in the 24 months of her young life. She will officially be 2 years old April 15.

According to Walker, doctors at the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville had nothing to go on when they discovered that the bacterium which causes life-threatening infections in newborns was attacking her daughter’s heart.

“The last four babies that it attacked the heart all died,” Walker said. “There wasn’t much information available about this disease attacking the heart.”

Although Nahayla needed open-heart surgery, her body was too weak to go through such an ordeal, according to her 23-year-old mother. So she was admitted into intensive care and treated intravenously with antibiotics.

“Her case is being studied and documented for medical journals and textbooks,” Walker said. “The cardiologist told us the last one with this condition was 30 years ago.”

According to, “Group B strep remains the most common cause among newborns of infection of the blood (septicemia) and of the brain (meningitis).” But an attack of the heart by GBS in newborns is extremely rare, although it is strongly linked to congestive heart failure in elderly people.

“They told us she wouldn’t even survive surgery because the infection would travel through the whole body,” Walker recalled. “Several days later, once the platelet levels were within normal range, Nahayla was prepared for the 8-hour surgery.”

Following surgery, Nahayla stayed 50 days in the hospital with her parents by her side. She was treated with penicillin for a month to ensure there was no trace of the in6fection. According to Walker, the infection traveled to Nahayla’s shoulder before the antibiotics completely wiped it out.

In less than three weeks, however, she was back in the hospital. Nahayla was experiencing severe difficulty in breathing. After another echocardiogram, she was air lifted to Vanderbilt’s pediatric cardiology department.

Although doctors wanted to wait until she was 1 year old to replace a valve the infection had destroyed, they had to perform another open-heart surgery right away. Walker again relied on faith, prayer and the skill of her physicians to pull her daughter through.

“Her heart was so stressed and enlarged it weighed against her bronchiolar tubes, left lung and pulmonary veins, which is why she stopped breathing,” Walker explained. “It was causing blood to leak so bad it was back flowing.”

Her mother said after a 10-hour surgery, Nahayla was looking and feeling much better. So was she. According to the Directors of Health Promotion and Education, since 1970, group B strep infection has become the leading bacterial infection causing illness and death in newborns in the United States. Cases in adults are also on the rise.

An increasing awareness of group B streptococcal infection in infants has led to improved outcomes in recent years.

“Nahayla was written down in the medical history books in August (2010) to help the next child that gets infected, said Walker. “I am so grateful she is here on her second birthday. I would like to ask everyone to, please, keep my daughter in their prayers.”

Nahayla’s grandfather, Robert Walker, said his granddaughter has been a real source of encouragement to him.

“She gives me hope every day of her life. When you see her you can’t complain about anything,” he said. “She’s an inspiration. I know there’s a lot of families that have needs too. We’re just grateful for any support we can get. We have a long way to go.”

Anyone who would like to contribute to Corina Walker’s travel and hotel expenses can send a check or money order in the name of: Nahayla Smasal % Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union, 2440 Treasury Drive S.E. Cleveland, TN 37323. Account no. 000156106.