People who meet Ty Lallone, 5, of Wellsburg see a sweet, energetic lad with a big smile that could melt hearts. Observers would not realize that the little boy has a serious congenital heart defect.
In fact, Ty has been winning hearts as he participates in the Heart Walk and attends planning sessions for the Heart Ball. To honor Ty and to recognize the efforts that he and his parents and big sister are making for the American Heart Association, the Lallones have been chosen as the "Open Your Heart" Family for the 46th annual Ohio Valley Heart Ball at Belmont Hills Country Club in St. Clairsville Saturday, Feb. 22.
Ty's parents, Jonathan and Courtney Lallone, said their son was born with a potentially fatal defect in his bicuspid aortic valve. Surgery to replace the faulty valve is likely in Ty's immediate future, although the youngster doesn't know it yet. His parents explained that they are cautious and selective in what they tell their young son.
Photo by Linda Comins
Heart patient Ty Lallone, 5, of Wellsburg and Valerie Grimes, division director of the American Heart Association, practice making a heart shape with their hands.
At this point, Ty just knows that he enjoys visits to his cardiologist's office. "His cardiologist is the doctor he likes to go see. They treat him like a king," Jonathan Lallone said.
The discovery of Ty's heart defect was miraculous. The condition - which normally goes undetected - was discovered when Ty was 4 months old. Ty was born at Trinity Medical Center in Steubenville in August 2008. That December, his pediatrician sensed that something was wrong with the infant, and referred him to a cardiologist.
Jonathan Lallone recalled, "His doctor heard a tick in his heart. The cardiologist said it (the valve defect) doesn't make a tick."
The pediatrician's intuition led to tests being performed by the cardiologist, who found a problem with Ty's bicuspid aortic valve.
"The cardiologist said, 'By the grace of God, you found it because it (the defect) doesn't make a sound,'" Jonathan Lallone related.
"This condition is what high school athletes drop over dead with, that they never knew they had," Jonathan Lallone said.
With this particular condition, "there are no symptoms to it," Jonathan Lallone said. "They told us he's not allowed to play sports or get over-exerted." As a precaution, Courtney Lallone said, they decided to keep Ty out of gym class at school.
"Otherwise, he's perfectly healthy. This is him all the time," Jonathan Lallone said, as they watched the cheerful child eating a snack and playing with his sister, Kirsten, 7.
Ty, who attends kindergarten at Franklin Primary School near Wellsburg, said he likes school. Kirsten is in second grade at Franklin.
The family is scheduled to meet with a heart surgeon Wednesday, Feb. 19, to discuss the next step in Ty's treatment. The surgery to replace the aortic valve with an artificial valve will be performed at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the Lallones said.
They don't know when surgery will be scheduled. "This is the second time he (the surgeon) looked at the results and the first time he wanted to see us," Jonathan Lallone said.
The Lallones have been told that Ty may need additional surgery as an adult because it is likely that he will outgrow an artificial valve.
Valerie Grimes, division director of the American Heart Association's Great Rivers Affiliate in Pittsburgh, recommended that the Lallones be designated as the "Open Your Heart" Family for the upcoming Ohio Valley Heart Ball. She saw an opportunity "to tie the mission into the Open Your Heart campaign for the first time."
The Lallones will attend the ball and "speak and share what a miracle" they have experienced with Ty's heart problem being discovered and treated, Grimes said.
"Ty and his sister are saving up money in their piggy banks to donate to the American Heart Association," Grimes said. "We'll ask other guests to contribute money as well." She added, "I hope there's not a dry eye in the room," when Ty and Kirsten turn over their collection at the ball.
Ty has been fitted for a tuxedo and selected his vest for the ball. "None of my friends are going to the Heart Ball," he remarked, offering a sly smile.
Kirsten will be wearing a red dress, accented with red jewelry, to the ball. "She picked out the red herself to match the Heart Association (colors)," Courtney Lallone said.
The division director has already witnessed the Lallones' fundraising efforts in action and she is impressed by the family's dedication.
Grimes said, "We met through the Heart Walk. This (2013) was the second year for them to have a team for Ty - Ty's Army - to raise money." Supporters sported special T-shirts and sweatshirts as they walked to raise money for the American Heart Association in honor of Ty.
The Lallones, including Ty, participate in the Ohio Valley Heart Walk in Wheeling, along with family members and friends. "Ty can't play sports, so for him, being part of the Heart Walk is a very special day for them," Grimes commented.
Jonathan Lallone said they became involved in the Ohio Valley Heart Walk in 2012, when they set up a team and raised $600. For their second walk in 2013, they had 25 to 30 people on their team and raised almost $900. "We've gotten a little bit bigger and better," he said. After each walk, they hold a bonfire at their home to celebrate.
The Lallones anticipate having an even bigger team for the 2014 walk. "All of my hockey friends want to be on the team," Jonathan Lallone said.
As for Ty, his father said, "He walked the whole thing both years."
Grimes remarked, "We try to encourage survivors and heart patients to participate. Anywhere in the country where the walk is held, we have straight and level courses. The routes can be shortened to one, two or three miles."
Citing Jonathan and Courtney Lallone's commitment to the cause, Grimes commented, "They're both so dedicated. They both have tattoos about the American Heart Association." Jonathan has a tattoo of the organization's logo on his calf, while Courtney has a matching logo on her wrist.
Courtney Lallone works at the Big Lots store in Wintersville. Jonathan Lallone is employed by Eagle Manufacturing Co. in Wellsburg. At Eagle, he said, "They have been so amazing about everything. They're such a family-based company. They said, 'You take care of your family first.'"
For a family also to have support and encouragement from the American Heart Association, Jonathan Lallone said, "It's an indescribable feeling." He said one of his co-workers observed, "When you need them the most, they were there before you needed them."
Although Ty may be too young to realize the implications of his family's generosity, their help may help him in turn.
"The American Heart Association is responsible for doing a lot of the research for the technology that will improve Ty's life," Grimes explained. Surgeons are utilizing techniques "implemented by research from the American Heart Association," she added.
Grimes said contributions for the Open Your Heart campaign may be sent to American Heart Association, in care of Sherri Evans, 4682 Doouglas Circle NW, Canton, OH 44718.