It started out as any normal day; B.J. and Dave Olson were taking their two-week-old newborn baby, Maria, to a routine check-up. As B.J. was holding her baby girl in her arms, the baby started to turn blue. She was in congestive heart failure, a weakness of the heart that leads to a build-up of fluid in the lungs and surrounding body tissues.

Maria Olson, 21, born with a congenital heart defect, helps raise funds to help children and families just like hers.

Maria was rushed to WVU Medicine Children’s, where she was diagnosed with coarctation of the aorta, a congenital condition in which the aorta is too narrow for blood to flow through properly. Dr. Robert Gustafson, or Dr. Gus as he’s known to his patients and colleagues, repaired Maria’s heart.

At 18-months-old, Maria underwent her second heart surgery, a ventricular septal defect repair. The ventricular septum is the wall that divides the left and right ventricles of the heart. Dr. Gus also performed this surgery.

Since that time, Maria has led a very active life. She has been involved in many sports teams and activities over the years. Her only long term restriction after surgery was that she is never allowed to be a power lifter. There was a chance that when she grew older and hit puberty, the holes in her heart could reopen, and a third surgery would be necessary.

At 21, Maria is a healthy, happy, and fun-loving individual. She has not needed a third open heart surgery. She sees her cardiologist Dr. John Phillips at WVU Medicine Children’s once a year for an annual check-up and testing to make sure everything is fine.

Because of Maria’s past with cardiac health problems, she has dedicated herself to helping others like her. She is an Intern with the American Heart Association for the Wheeling and Morgantown area. She helps raise funds to help children and families just like hers. She feels a call to give back and support the many doctors, nurses, and organizations that made her story a success story.