Some guys are the classic strong and silent type. Britton Helmuth―a vibrant and determined “born leader” who is also stoic and humble―is one of those young men. It doesn’t take long to see why Britton, age 14, is a Riley Champion.
His life began with a jolt of crises that sent his family reeling. Britton was born with a serious heart condition called aortic valve stenosis. His parents, Myron and Laura, moved back to Indiana from South Carolina where they were missionaries. At only 3 months old, Britton was in congestive heart failure. At Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, many doctors joined forces to try to save Britton’s life. Their options were to replace the valve or try to repair it. Riley Pediatric Heart Surgeon John Brown, M.D., recommended the risky repair, which some describe as stitching “invisible threads” back together. It worked! Most around Britton called it an absolute miracle. Riley Critical Care Physician Mara Nitu, M.D., says she was amazed that he came through. Britton’s dad says Dr. Nitu is still like family.
Things looked great until Britton became a teenager. Britton loves playing baseball, but all of a sudden he was feeling worn down. He had a cut that led to a staph infection. Even after a high dose of antibiotics, he kept getting worse. Once again, the family turned to Riley, where they learned the staph was attacking the heart valve. Britton underwent another open-heart surgery with Dr. Brown, a world-renowned leader in pioneering and perfecting the Ross procedure. During this complex surgery, Dr. Brown removed the aortic valve and replaced it with Britton’s own pulmonary valve, then replaced the pulmonary valve with a donor pulmonary valve. “He demonstrated impressive resilience after his second surgery,” says Dr. Nitu. “I visited him in the CVICU (cardiovascular intensive care unit) and while he was obviously in pain and tired, he kept a smile on his face during the entire visit.”
Britton and his family have given back to Riley by sharing his story with news media and by participating in the Riley Pediatric Critical Care Walkathon. A soft-hearted kid by nature, Britton has a special connection to others with medical needs. He is considering a career in medicine and believes God has big plans for his life. “I got helped by Riley, and I want to help others live more days like I got to live more days,” he says.