With passion, Santa Clarita resident Bob Larlee began volunteering with the American Heart Association in 2004, in remembrance of his grandfather and father, who both died from heart disease or stroke before the age of 65.
In March 2018, his reason for volunteering broadened when his 3-week-old grandson, Chase Sime was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect.
“We all think our families are invisible and things aren’t gonna happen to us,” Larlee said. “I volunteered in memory and now I’m volunteering to ensure Chase has a long and healthy life and gets opportunities that every child deserves.”
The decades of work of the American Heart Association saved his grandson’s life, and Larlee got to be a part of it all.
He advocated in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento during his years of volunteering, from 2004-12. In 2012, Larlee advocated to make pulse oximetry screening a requirement for newborns in California.
Pulse oximetry, pulse ox, is a simple test that measures how much oxygen is in the blood, according to healthychildren.org. “The test can be used to monitor a baby’s oxygen level during a procedure or treatment, and it can also be helpful in determining if a baby’s heart and lungs are healthy.”
The test he advocated for was mandated by law in 2013. The screening is what led to the detection of his grandson’s heart condition, he said.
“The technology and programs (the American Heart Association) advocates for is the whole reason Chase is here,” said Vanessa Sime, Chase’s mother and Bob’s stepdaughter. “He was born 3 weeks early, and in the NICU for unrelated reasons.”
Chase had the pulse oximetry screening before he was discharged to go home from the hospital for the first time.
His pulse ox showed no sign of irregularities, Sime said.
During his three week check up, they readministered the screening where the pulse ox came back very low.
Chase was transported to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect known as TAPVR,Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return.
On March 30, he had open-heart surgery at just 24 days old, his mother said.
The surgery took place on Friday, and because of swelling, the chest cavity was left open until Sunday. “The following Friday he was being laid gently on our coffee table for his diaper change,” Larlee said in a statement from the AHA. “That’s remarkable. That’s all because of research.”
Because of the technology, advances and research of the American Heart Association, the Sime family gets to enjoy their little boy everyday.
“So many other families continuing on this journey,” his mother said. “I hope for us and families going through the same thing, to have hope. We are grateful we had the relationships we had with the American Heart Association.”
The Sime and Larlee family, Vanessa, Dean, their sons Cole and Chase, and grandparents Susan and Bob Larlee, will walk with hundreds at Santa Clarita’s annual Heart Walk on Nov. 3.
Santa Clarita is one of 300 heart walks held across the nation, according to an Oct. 16 news release. “Nearly 1 million people walk each year for a singular purpose: to end heart disease and stroke.”
The Association is celebrating its 25th anniversary of the Heart Walk. The event has raised funds and awareness over the last 25 years, being instrumental to the innovative breakthroughs, according to the news release. “Since the first Heart Walk in 1993, mortality rates from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases have plummeted by 45 percent.”
All proceeds from the event this year go back towards continuing the work of the AHA. In the last 25 years, the association has funded $3.4 billion in research from the walk’s proceeds.
“The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world,” according to the news release. “We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases.”
To participate as an individual or team for this year’s annual walk, go to heartwalkla.org to register.
“It’s so important to us to support the walk and raise money,” Sime said. “To make it known — 9-on in one thousand babies are born with defects.”
The event is scheduled from 7:30-11 a.m. at Bridgeport Park on Newhall Ranch Road.