Meet Spencer, a Pulmonary Hypertension Patient

Spencer Headrick patient storySpencer Headrick is like a lot of other teenage boys: he likes playing video games and golf, he’s interested in  classic cars and photography, and he’s thinking about what college he’d like to attend. 

But the 14-year-old hasn’t always been able to pursue his interests—or even go to school. Diagnosed at 21 months with pulmonary hypertension, Spencer has to be careful not to overexert himself, and he must avoid activities such as contact sports. 

With help from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, however, Spencer has made incredible strides.

Spencer’s mother, Sharon Pruitt, said that as a baby, Spencer was at the doctor constantly because his lips often turned blue. During one trip to an urgent care center, Spencer’s fever spiked so high that he had a seizure and was rushed to Children’s, where a doctor noticed one side of the toddler’s chest was larger than the other. Tests confirmed the doctor’s suspicions: Spencer was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries in the lungs and heart.

“It was the scariest moment in my life,” Sharon said. “I didn’t know if I’d be leaving the hospital with my son.” 

For about a decade, Spencer was on medication to help with his symptoms, but in summer 2012, it became less effective. When school started in the fall, Sharon said that Spencer again experienced chest pain, and his lips turned blue from exertion. Doctors found his blood oxygen level—which should be between 95 and 100 percent—was in the low 60s. Spencer agreed to give a different treatment a try.

In December, Spencer and his doctors talked about putting him on an intravenous supply of a new drug to ease his breathing problems. Similar to an insulin pump, a device worn on his belt would provide a continuous stream of medication.

“He’d felt so bad for so long, he just wanted to try it,” Sharon said. 

Before the new treatment, Spencer had little energy and often couldn’t make it through a whole day in school.

“He didn’t have a good life,” Sharon said. 

Spencer used to get winded performing even basic tasks, but the new medicine has made a noticeable difference.

“We live on a hill, and I used to have to stop three times going to the mailbox and back,” he said. “Now, I don’t have to stop.” 

Spencer, who is working hard to catch up on school work, said he’d like to be a cardiologist or pulmonologist. He and Sharon are both thankful for the wonderful staff at Children’s.

“There’s no better place for him to be,” Sharon said.