Robby McNary

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Robby McNary, Fort Wayne

Robby McNary can’t wait for hockey season to start. He’ll return to the ice with more stamina thanks to a recent heart repair, his third open-heart surgery at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

The 10-year-old from Fort Wayne first visited Riley just days after he was born. Tests showed Robby had a rare congenital heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot, which causes oxygen-poor blood to flow out of the heart, often giving babies blue-tinged skin.

But Robby didn’t show any symptoms, so doctors were able to wait until he was 8 months old to perform surgery to repair a hole between his right and left ventricle. When Robby was 7, he had a second surgery to replace his pulmonary valve. 

Last year was the first time Robby’s parents, Rob and Pam McNary, started to notice that their son would tire sooner than some of his hockey teammates. “We knew eventually they’d have to go back in because the tricuspid valve was leaking too much,” Pam says.

Robby had his third surgery this June. Riley Pediatric Cardiologist Mark Hoyer, M.D., and Pediatric Heart Surgeon Mark Rodefeld, M.D., have both been caring for Robby since his very first visit to Riley. “We go in with the idea to repair the valve, but we’re prepared to replace. Fortunately, Robby was able to have it repaired with an excellent result,” Dr. Hoyer says.

The most recent surgery was the hardest for Robby now that he’s older and better understands what is happening. That’s why family support programs like Child Life, funded almost entirely by Riley Children’s Foundation donors, have been so important. “He’s at an age where it could be really tough,” says Jenna Yarnell, a Riley Child Life Specialist who first met Robby four years ago. “But Robby is really good at telling me what he’s struggling with so I can help him. He knows when he wants me to tell him what’s going on, and when he just wants to be distracted.” Yarnell, who nominated Robby for the Riley Champions program, is impressed by his positivity, resilience and openness, like the time he allowed a Riley Children’s Foundation film crew to document some challenging moments as he worked on swallowing pills.

Eventually, Robby will need another pulmonary valve replacement. For now, he’s focused on the fourth grade and returning to the ice as the top goalie in his age division. “I’m feeling much better. I feel more energized,” he says. “I’m just getting ready to play again, be back on the ice, and get to play my sports.” 

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