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Patients in the Spotlight: Chis Avena

Born with Heart Condition, Today Chris Avena Lives Life in the Fast Lane

Chris as a babyDriving fast cars, roller coaster riding and skydiving and are not typical hobbies for patients born with a heart problem. However, for thrill-seekers like Chris Avena, a heart defect will always come second to a rush of adrenaline.

Born at Genesee Hospital Oct. 1, 1982, Chris Avena was a typical newborn baby until the unthinkable happened. At just 4 days old, doctors informed Chris’ parents, Joseph and Noreen Avena, that their son had been born with a congenital heart defect and would need open-heart surgery. The doctors recommended Chris’ parents take him to what is now Golisano Children’s Hospital, and he was admitted the same day.

Chris was diagnosed with pulmonary stenosis, which occurs when the pulmonary valve cannot open wide enough. As a result, there is less blood flow to the lungs and, consequently, the body does not receive sufficient amounts of oxygen-rich blood.

Joseph and Noreen waited anxiously as a team of surgeons operated on their baby boy. There were a few minor complications, but overall the surgery went well.

Chris Aveena skydivingAs Chris grew, he knew that there was something different about him. Doctors told him he would not be able to participate in contact sports, and Chris found it difficult to explain his condition to his friends.

“It feels like living with asthma that’s incurable,” described Avena, “I never let that stop me though.”

Each year, Chris had to have regular EKGs and upper cardiograms, on top of normal checkups, to ensure that heart was still functioning well. Growing up, Chris wanted to fully understand what was going on with his heart during his visits and always asked that his doctors explain his condition thoroughly.

Today, Chris is a self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie” and lives for high-pressure situations. His doctors make sure to tell him that he is capable of anything, as long as he keeps his condition in mind.

Chris’ interest in medicine and love for adventure have led him to find his passion in life as an EMT and after completing the course has began to advance in his career. Remarkably, Chris is now working for the University of Rochester Medical Center, toward his career goals—the very same hospital where he was treated almost 30 years ago. For as long as he can remember, Chris has never let his condition get the better of him, and plans to live a happy, healthy life.

“Never let a condition change who you become. If you let it consume you, you’ll miss out on some pretty great things,” said Chris.