NASA People

Text Size

Center Snapshot: Angela Wills
Angela Wills and her son, Dylan. Image above: According to Angela Wills whose son, Dylan, was born with a Congenital Heart Defect (CHDs) -- "CHDs are the world's most common birth defect, occurring one in every 100 live births." Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Denise Lineberry

On June 24, 2008, Angela Wills, a budget analyst for NASA Langley's Office of Chief Financial Officer, looked to the wall above her son's crib and read, "A Dream Come True."

February is Heart Health month. NASA Langley's Occupational Health Clinic and the Researcher News are working together to bring you "Stories from the Heart."

For more information about Langley's Occupational Health Clinic, please visit:

It was her due date, but baby Dylan would decide to wait one more day before showing himself to the world. A day passed and his family celebrated his birth and were overjoyed with their new addition. Dylan really was a dream come true.

At nine weeks old, Dylan's appetite began to decline and they visited his pediatrician to find out why. It would take two weeks for doctors to determine that he had a heart murmur and was in cardiac failure.

"He was immediately rushed to the emergency room and shortly after admitted to Children's Hospital Kings Daughters (CHKD) in Norfolk. He successfully had open heart surgery at 12 weeks old," Wills said. "By looking at him now you would never know he had heart surgery.  He is a very active 3-year old, full of life and energy with an infectious smile and outgoing personality."

According to Wills, Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs) are the world’s most common birth defect, occurring one in every 100 live births. Dylan's case was rare, accounting for only 1 to 2 percent of all CHDs. His CHD is Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Connection (TAPVC) in which none of the four veins that take blood from the lungs to the heart is attached to the left atrium. Dylan also has an atrial septal defect, which is associated with TAPVC.

"Sadly, anywhere between 25 to 40 percent of CHDs go undiagnosed before or at birth – and those babies are sent home without necessary intervention," Wills said.  "This was the case with Dylan."

Near her own heart, lays a heart-shaped necklace charm that sparkles in blue. A band-aid on the heart with a mending crack gains the attention of others. When Wills is asked about it, she is able to share Dylan's story and raise awareness for CHDs. Money raised from the sales of the charms goes towards research for HLHS (Hypoplastic left heart syndrome), a type of congenital heart defect. 

Wills also supports the Whole Hearts Foundation, founded by Matt Hammitt.  Hammitt is the lead singer of Sanctus Real, whose son was born with a congenital heart defect.  He wrote a song for his son called, "All of Me."

Among other things, the lyrics have helped Wills through it all:

"You're gonna have all of me
Cause you're worth every falling tear
You're worth facing any fear
You're gonna know all my love
Even if it's not enough
Enough to mend our broken hearts
But giving you all of me
Is where I'll start"

"It was our faith in God and the support of our family and NASA family that gave us the strength.  The day that I returned from maternity leave was the day that Dylan was diagnosed," Wills said. "I was unable to work much during the three weeks that Dylan was in the hospital but my co-workers in OCFO were so supportive during that time. 

"They even contributed funds that allowed us to stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Norfolk so we didn't have to drive back and forth from Yorktown to Norfolk." 

Dylan's grandfather, uncle and god-mother also work at NASA Langley.

"We routinely take Dylan to cardiologist appointments about every four months and as his next surgery approaches it reminds me of how important these follow-up visits are," Wills said.  "As Dylan gets older and eventually will have the responsibility of going to cardiologist appointments I will remind him how important heart health is and how awareness and perseverance saved his life."

Dylan now knows his cardiologist by name. And though he has limited understanding of his heart health, Wills tells him that everyone is making sure his heart gets better.

A recent echocardiogram showed that Dylan's abnormal opening in his heart (ASD) did not naturally close up.  He will have surgery again in April to repair his ASD.

"The procedure will be one day and then he will return home the next day," Wills said.

Upon each return home, Wills admires her "Dream Come True" more than she ever thought possible.

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman