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What a feeling
Helen Kraklow has danced her way to health and the Miss Milwaukee Jr. crown

By CATHY BREITENBUCHER

 

Helen Kraklow of Waukesha was named Miss Milwaukee Jr. in January after battling a heart condition since birth.


Two photo albums dramatically show the "before" and "after" of the heart surgeries that saved Helen Kraklow’s life. The first holds snapshots taken when Helen was a baby, even more helpless than most infants. She’s hooked up to an assortment of tubes and monitors, and bandages protect an incision across her tiny chest. "I still get choked up," says her dad, Tom Kraklow.

The second album prompts proud smiles from Tom and his wife, Donna. It documents Helen as a strong 10-year-old, tearfully being crowned last January as Miss Milwaukee Jr. The girl who had received the last rites of the Catholic church as a baby had grown up and danced her way to the pageant’s talent award.

Helen was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a deformity defined by an underdeveloped left ventricle. It leaves babies with dangerously poor circulation because the left ventricle is the chamber that pumps oxygen-rich blood into the aorta, which then sends the blood to the body.

Thirty-two weeks into their pregnancy, the Waukesha couple learned that Helen had this serious heart abnormality. The news was stunning — not only did they already have one healthy child, this pregnancy had been trouble-free.

"They were starting to suspect a kidney problem, and when they looked at the ultrasound they found the heart problem," says Donna Kraklow. The couple and their doctors at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin began making plans.

Helen was born at 36 weeks (four weeks early) at Children’s Hospital, a hopeful 6 lbs., 6 oz., and taken three floors down to its Herma Heart Center. A series of reconstructive surgeries was planned to change the way the blood is pumped into, through and out of the heart.

"It’s amazing stuff," says Donna Kraklow. "When they’re doing this, the heart is the size of a strawberry."

Helen was 3 days old when she had the first surgery. There was a setback at 11 days when she went into cardiac arrest, but she was able to go home when she was 5 weeks old.

The second surgery came when she was 3 months old — doctors wait that long to let the lungs develop — the third was when she was 3 years old, and the last one at age 4.

Some patients cannot complete the course of surgery and need a heart transplant, notes Dr. Michele Frommelt, the pediatric cardiologist who has managed Helen’s care since before she was born.

"She’s done well with each of the surgeries she’s had, kind of flown through them," says Frommelt, who still sees her every three months. Helen also takes several medications.

The Kraklows are a busy family, and Helen keeps right up. Her older sister, Evelyn, was the previous Miss Milwaukee Jr., and younger brother Oliver (who was born healthy) is a soccer player. Tom and Donna run Kraklow Family Dentistry in Waukesha.

Helen has taken dance lessons since she was 3, and now competes in dance. She gets straight A’s at St. Mary’s School in Waukesha and also plays the flute.

"We never treated her like a china dollbecause of this," says Tom Kraklow. "Her physical fitness level with dance has kept her healthy."

Helen was awarded a Make-A-Wish trip to Hollywood to meet the cast of Disney Channel’s "Good Luck Charlie," so she’s volunteered for that cause among others.

"I feel the heart organizations are important because without my heart surgeries I probably wouldn’t be here," says Helen.

Success rates for pediatric heart cases have improved over the past 10 to 15 years, Frommelt says, giving doctors more patients to track into their teen years and 20s.

"Helen has done remarkably well," adds Frommelt.

Keep on dancin’ Helen.