VILLA RICA, Ga. - You would never know it by his sweet smile, abundance of energy and positive outlook on life, but a Villa Rica boy has been through a lot in his short lifetime.
Brayden Simpson calls himself "Iron Man" and "super-heart hero." That's because the courageous 7-year-old uses a pacemaker, which is a necessity due to the congenital heart defect (CHD) that he developed shortly after birth. In fact, his parents, James and Rebekah Simpson, learned their son would have to overcome major challenges when he was just 2-days-old.
He was diagnosed with CHD after pediatricians heard a murmur and detected a moderate hole in his heart. They also found a pulmonary, aortic stenosis, which indicates a narrowing in the pulmonary artery that makes it difficult for blood to reach the lungs and pick up oxygen. That complication makes it tough for the heart and body to function properly, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Doctors originally thought the hole in his heart would close, but by the time he turned 2-years-old, Brayden was still struggling to breathe.
"He was turning blue on his lips and fingers," Rebekah Simpson told FOX 5. "He also winded so easily that he wasn't able to dance or play, let alone get out of bed."
Upon a second evaluation that year, pediatricians found out a muscle in Brayden's heart had become enlarged and thickened to the point that it was suffocating him. The condition was blocking blood flow to his pulmonary valve.
On September 24, 2012, Brayden went in for open heart surgery at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) at Egleston. The procedure was successful, but Brayden's heartbeat didn't return as doctors had hoped it would. That's when the pacemaker became part of who he is today.
"He's not ashamed of his condition," Simpson told FOX 5 News last year. "He will walk up to any child in a play area and say, 'Hi, I'm Brayden, and I have a pacemaker.'"
Brayden has another two years until he has to have his battery replaced on his pacemaker. In the meantime, he's one busy little boy! He regularly attends speaking engagements for Children's Miracle Network (CMN) by using his own story with CHD to help raise awareness and inspire others.
"Brayden makes a lasting impression on everyone he meets, he is truly the definition of a miracle and how a successful group of doctors and nurses at CHOA can change a child's life," Rebekah Simpson said.
In addition to public speaking, he has a lot of other fun events coming up:
On February 5, Brayden walked in a fashion show benefiting CHOA at America's Mart. On March 5, he will shadow an IHOP employee for an hour and will get to be a hostess as well as a waiter for CMN leading up to National Pancake Day, which is on March 8 this year. Also on March 5, Brayden will help raise money for CMN/CHOA by dancing in the Kennesaw State University Dance Marathon which takes place from noon until midnight.
Last year, Brayden was the face of the Georgia Love's Travel Stops CMN campaign and was also honored as the official tree lighter for Six Flags Holiday in the Park during Christmas time.
Brayden, along with his family, work hard to bring awareness to CHD. On Wednesday, "Kids at Heart," which is a CHOA cardiac support group, will meet with Governor Nathan Deal at the Capitol for an annual event. The governor will sign an official document declaring February 7-14 CHD Awareness week for the state of Georgia, which is something Brayden is looking forward to.
His mother also hopes to break a Guinness World Record for the most handprints on a single item to help bring awareness to CHD.
"Handprints look like the shape of a heart when put together and I realized a relation to that and CHDs. Just like no two handprints are alike, neither are CHDs," she said.
Pediatricians still monitor Brayden's heart every six months, but that doesn't slow him down one bit. In addition to being a CHD spokesman, he also enjoys playing with his three siblings, creating things with Legos, golfing, break-dancing and singing. His mother also said he's quite the comedian and makes up jokes that are very funny.
"He has matured into a young man who is conscientious of others and wants to help the world be a better place," his mother said.