How the Love From A Grandpa Created A Survivor

by | Sep 24, 2018 | Spotlight

Santa Clarita resident Bob Larlee needed help. His 3-week-old grandson Chase was in a hospital room, hooked up to all sorts of machines while doctors tried figuring out what was wrong with his heart.
So Larlee called one of the best heart doctors he knew, Tom Pfeffer, a cardiac surgeon Larlee served with on the American Heart Association (AHA) Los Angeles board of directors.
Larlee told Pfeffer everything he knew. After gathering information, Pfeffer broke the news. “I’m sorry to tell you this, Bob, but Chase needs open-heart surgery.”
Larlee broke into tears. This sweet, beautiful boy he’d fallen in love with was fighting for his life.
Then Larlee flashed back to his time working with Pfeffer and the AHA. He recalled galas featuring people who’d overcome worse diagnoses. He remembered lunch meetings where scientists explained research breakthroughs and emerging technologies.
“This,” he thought, “is what that was all about.”
Larlee became a supporter of the AHA in 2004. He joined the LA board of directors in 2007, eventually becoming chairman.
At the time, the AHA was among the organizations that pushed for a state law requiring newborns to undergo pulse oximetry screening before they leave the hospital. It’s an easy, inexpensive test to determine the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. A low percentage can be a sign of a congenital heart defect. Catching it early can reduce the chances of death or disability.
It was a pulse ox screening that led to the detection of his grandson Chase’s rare heart condition in which the veins that connect the lungs to the heart were in the wrong place. Fixing it required going in and rearranging the veins.
The open-heart surgery was on a Friday. 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. “That’s remarkable. That’s all because of research.”
During another checkup in July, doctors discovered that one of Chase’s relocated veins was completely blocked. They will continue monitoring this and another congenital heart defect, a hole between the left and right sides of his heart.
As things played out with Chase, his mom wanted to become involved with the AHA.
Larlee called the local office to introduce her. One thing led to another and now he’s back on the LA board.
“It felt really good being involved the first time,” said Larlee. “But now that I have a grandson in the throes of a heart problem, I’m not a spectator anymore,” he said. “I’m one of the families going through this. I’m going to do everything I can to turn the love I have for Chase into giving back. That’s my goal. It’s a journey we’re on together.”
Larlee and his family will participate in the Heart Walk on November 3 at Bridgeport Park in Santa Clarita. You, too, can join the Heart Walk at The event is locally sponsored by Keck Medicine of USC, Huntington Hospital, UCLA Health and Antelope Valley Hospital.