Westmont Magazine Helping Hearts
While they both received their doctorates last year, Mark and Jill Taylor ’90 Van Ness will remember 1997 as a critical time in the life of their three-year-old son.
Doctors discovered three holes in John-Mark’s heart after he was born. The cardiologist sent him home with some medicine and a warning that he would require surgery in three years. But he needed attention just three months later when his heart began beating 332 times each minute. A drug supposed to lower his heart rate stopped it all together, and doctors operated for 13 hours just to keep him alive.
John-Mark suffers from coarctation, a kink in the aorta that prevents blood from being pumped throughout the body. The Van Ness family moved into the Ronald McDonald House in Gainesville, Florida, to be next to the hospital where John-Mark was receiving care. Jill and Mark endured a two-hour commute to Florida State University and their doctoral programs in education (Jill) and neuroscience (Mark).
During the first 18 months of his life, John-Mark had difficulty keeping food down. This condition finally improved a week after his sister, Jessica, was born, a miracle Jill attributes to prayer and the grace of God.
When the time came for three-year-old John-Mark to undergo the long-expected surgery to repair the holes in his heart, doctors found that his mitral valve had one papillary muscle, not the normal two. Eventually, this valve will need to be replaced. “From now on, we just wait,” explained Jill. “When he gets a new valve, John-Mark won’t be able to play like a normal kid because the medication he must take will thin his blood.”
Jill has organized a ministry called “Thumpers” for parents whose children need heart surgery. More than 40 families are involved, and two of them now regularly attend church. She also teaches two classes two nights a week. A research fellow for the American Heart Association, Mark is doing his post-doctorate in cardiovascular pharmacology. Both speak out on behalf of heart research. “We feel this is our calling—we’re not just involved in Christian activities, but we’re living as Christians in a secular world,” Jill explains.
For now, John-Mark is doing well and attends a preschool for kids with disabilities. “You can never say what God can or can’t do,” said Jill as she thinks about the future of her son.