Jacksonville twins born with heart defects need lifesaving surgeries

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Emory and Riley Grissom are only 6 months old and have heart disease. The twins were diagnosed with heart defects in utero.

Heart disease isn’t uncommon for infants, according to Doctor Rajesh Shenoy, who is the chief of pediatric cardiology at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and the twins’ cardiologist.

“Most people do not associate children with heart disease, but congenital heart disease is something that you’re born with and is by far the most common defect a child can be born with,” Shenoy said.

Riley, the baby boy, was born with a critical congenital heart defect, so he needed to have open heart surgery immediately.

“He went into congestive heart failure in children this means they breathe really fast,” Shenoy said.

Riley unfortunately needs another open-heart surgery in March.

Riley’s twin sister Emory has a hole between the upper two chambers and multiple smaller holes between multiple chambers of the heart. Dr. Shenoy said she’ll need surgery later in life.

“As she gets older, she’ll be more symptomatic,” the twins’ mother, Tracey Grissom said.

Tracey was also born with a congenital heart defect, but doctors couldn’t determine if her defect was genetic.

“When we found out the twins had it, they both had it, it was shocking,” Grissom said.

Tracey couldn’t carry a baby on her own because of her heart, so she used a surrogate.

The couple also did preimplantation genetic testing, which didn’t show any heart abnormalities, but Dr. Shenoy said sometimes that testing doesn’t show everything.

“Having twins, having babies by what we call assisted reproductive techniques, increases your risk of congenital heart disease in the fetus,” he said.

Both babies have feeding tubes attached to them.

Riley always uses it to feed, and Emory only uses it when needed.

Emory (left) and Riley (right) were both born with heart defects. Riley's are critical. (The Grissoms)

“They’re breathing so fast, so it takes them a while to eat,” Shenoy said. “They’re expending a lot of calories they’re breathing faster their hearts are beating faster.”

They also have to take many medications every day, but life won’t always be this way.

“I feel like once these twins have their heart defects fixed they should have the same quality of life as their peers,” Shenoy said.

Though they’re inseparable, Paul Grissom, the twins’ father, said he can already tell the twins have different personalities.

“She’s (Emory) constantly smiling I’ve never seen a baby smile and laugh. I went as far as to ask the doctor is there something wrong with her,” he said. “He (Riley) is Mr. Chill, they couldn’t be more opposite.”

He and his wife say they couldn’t love their babies more.

“We’re happy we’re blessed we’re in love with our children they’re the cutest darn things in the whole wide world,” Paul said.

If you’d like to help the Grissom family with surgery costs, the family has created a GoFundMe.

About the Author:

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.