Sheldon’s ‘Happy Heart’


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Sheldon (pictured above with his sister, Leighla) is now 7 and has no limitations. He enjoys spending time at the beach or going to the movies with his family (photos courtesy Melanie Schaeffer)

WHEN SHELDON RABAGO, WAS SIX MONTHS OLD, HE WAS DIAGNOSED WITH ATRIAL SEPTAL DEFECT (ASD). “He caught a cold and we took him into the pediatrician for what we thought would be a routine check- up,” recalls Sheldon’s mom, Melanie Schaeffer. The doctor found a faint heart murmur and referred him to a specialist, Dr. Bratincsak.

“Dr. B,” as he is affectionately known, found that the heart murmur was something more serious.

“Sheldon’s heart was enlarged and there was a hole between the upper two chambers,” Melanie says. “…The only viable option to treat him would be open-heart surgery.”

According to Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women & Children, one in every 100 babies is born with a heart defect. About a third of those babies will require catheter or surgical intervention during the first year of life.

Typically, these patients would have to go to the mainland for surgeries. Thanks to Kapi‘olani’s pediatric heart program, pediatric specialists from the mainland visit five times a year for Heart Week. These specialists work with pediatric cardiologists and surgeons at Kapi‘olani and Straub Medical Center to perform more than 80 procedures each year at Straub’s catherization lab.

“About a week before his first birth- day he underwent open heart surgery to repair the defect,” Melanie says, adding that Sheldon’s surgery took place during Heart Week.

In order to better serve children who may require life-long treatment for their complex heart disease, Kapi‘olani plans to open a state-of-the-art Pediatric Heart Center that will provide a wide range of services to children and young adults with heart defects, so they won’t to travel to the mainland for treatments.

“We can tell you that this will be a phenomenal addition to the Kapi‘olani,” Melanie says.

Today, Sheldon is a happy and healthy 7-year-old. “He loves video games, Legos, Nerf guns—along with the rest of his second-grade class,”

Melanie explains. “He has an older sister Leighla, and they are the best of friends—on most days. He is a very gentle and caring boy who will tell you that the doctors fixed his heart because it was crying.” Now, Melanie says Sheldon has a “happy heart.”

Sheldon and his family are thankful for the help they received at Kapi‘olani and for Dr. B. “The treatment we received … at Kapi‘olani has been life-changing,” Melanie says. “Our son now has no limitations on life and that in itself is all we could ever ask for. ”

To learn more about the Pediatric Heart Center at Kapi‘olani, contact Emily Naula at (808) 983-6334 or

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