When Sofenial Ford went into labor six weeks early, she knew that her twin girls – Leslie and Lindsay – were going to be at risk for common complications. But what she didn’t see coming was the serious heart condition present in one of her girls. 

At three days old, Leslie was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot – a congenital heart defect that affects the flow of blood in the heart. 

“I felt like it was somehow my fault,” Sofenial said. “But the doctor told me it was a common defect in premature babies.”

Leslie’s cardiologist in Fayetteville, NC – near Fort Bragg – referred her to Levine Children’s Hospital for open-heart surgery with pediatric cardiac surgeon Benjamin Peeler, MD. But before she could have the surgery, she spent two months in her local Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, growing and gaining some much-needed weight.

For this new family, balancing the needs of one new baby at home with the needs of her twin, in the hospital, was a unique challenge. But between mom, dad and some help from grandma, they were able to make it happen. “The hardest thing was when she was still at the hospital,” Sofenial says. “Having one there and one at home, having to go back and forth was really difficult. I couldn’t have managed it on my own.”

In April 2015, when Leslie was six months old, she traveled to Levine Children’s Hospital for her surgery.

“Dr. Peeler was the best surgeon ever. He was so nice and so calm about the surgery,” she said. “They kept me very informed and were very helpful; you could tell they cared. Miss Alison [Endline, Levine Children’s Hospital’s pediatric cardiac surgery nurse navigator] was just wonderful; she went above and beyond to help me. I really appreciate her. She helped me get through the whole situation without stress.”

Leslie recovered from surgery more quickly than the team expected. A week after surgery, she was headed home. Today, Leslie is a happy and healthy baby, who continues to grow and improve.

“She’s a strong baby,” Sofenial says. “She plays and she eats a lot more than she did before – she eats more than her sister does!”

Even though their stay at Levine Children’s Hospital was short, the team left an impression on Leslie’s family.

“All the nurses, there were so caring and loving. They didn’t even know us and they just supported me,” Sofenial says. “It’s the best hospital I’ve ever been to in my life! I love Levine Children’s Hospital and all the doctors and the nurses!”