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For Steffan: Walk is near and dear to heart of Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital physical therapy assistant

March 2017

The Metro St. Louis Heart Walk is near and dear to Elissa Karbarski’s heart.

Each day 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease — one death every 40 seconds. That’s more lives than are lost each year to all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined. 

“I want to get the message out about the fight against heart disease because so many people lose their lives to it each year,” says Karbarski, physical therapist assistant at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital and 2017 Heart Walk champion.

That includes people like Steffan, Karbarski’s infant son who died of a heart defect in 1991. Steffan and his twin brother, Cameron, were born at 26 weeks gestation. Steffan weighed 2 pounds, 1 ounce, and had many struggles to overcome including total anomalous pulmonary venous return (TAPVR), a congenital heart defect. Cameron had some health issues but is now a healthy 26-year-old.

Some infants with TAPVR have an additional heart defect, such as an atrial septal defect, that allows mixing of oxygen-poor and oxygen-rich blood, allowing them to survive until they can undergo a surgical intervention. But infants like Steffan, with only TAPVR, have a mixture of oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood circulating through the right heart and back to the lungs — a situation that is quickly fatal. Heart surgery is required within weeks after birth. “Steffan needed to be 5 pounds before surgeons could operate, and he didn’t make that weight,” Karbarski says. “My sweet baby passed away when he was 18 days old.”

Karbarski, herself, has had heart issues. For years, she had periods of rapid heartbeat that became more frequent as she got older. In May 2012, she had cardiac ablation, a procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to destroy a small area of heart tissue causing the rapid and irregular heartbeats. Destroying this tissue helps restore the heart’s regular rhythm. 

“I’ve felt perfect since my procedure,” she says. 

The American Heart Association Metro St. Louis Heart Walk will take place May 6 at Busch Stadium. The Heart Walk raises funds for heart disease research that can lead to new treatments and innovations. Over the past six years, the AHA has funded more than $8 million in research grants at Washington University School of Medicine. 

Karbarski has been involved in the Heart Walk for several years as a walker, a team captain and now the hospital champion. The Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital team hopes to raise $6,500. “I’m passionate about this cause and personally hope to raise $1,000,” she says.

To join or donate to the Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital team, visit, under BJC-Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital.


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