2020欧洲杯正规平台On a brisk recent morning, 1-year-old Everett and 4-year-old Korbin were all smiles, playing with iridescent bubbles bursting out of a machine in Korbin’s Tallahassee front yard.

It was hard to tell amid their laughter and play, but the boys both recently underwent open-heart surgery.

Their operations a day apart, on Jan. 7 and 8, the two boys recovered in hospital rooms around the corner from each other inside University of Florida's Shands Hospital. Now, the two are like brothers — and their moms have forged a friendship in the thick of it all.

Everett’s mom Jessica Sewell and Kelly Ashling, Korbin's mom, met through the Hang Tough Foundation, a group that offers resources and support for families with childhood illnesses and specific needs.

"When Jessica and I first started talking, it was an immediate friendship," Ashling, 40, remembered. "You have someone there who can empathize and who can understand everything that’s going on."

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Congenital heart defects are diagnosed in 1 percent of live births across the nation, or about 40,000 babies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2020欧洲杯正规平台Everett and Korbin both have what's called a ventricular septal defect — holes in their hearts.

2020欧洲杯正规平台On top of that, Korbin was born with an inefficient aortic valve, causing blood to redirect into places it shouldn’t; Everett was born with a narrow pulmonary artery.

It’s not little Everett’s first time under the scalpel.

2020欧洲杯正规平台He was diagnosed with several heart holes — a "swiss cheese" defect — while still in the womb during a fetal echocardiogram. At two months old, Shands doctors told Sewell he had heart failure, and Everett underwent his first open-heart surgery to close the largest of the holes and widened the artery.

Just over a year later, the baby's pulmonary artery suddenly began to narrow again — and “his body completely undid” the progress of that surgery, Sewell explained.

2020欧洲杯正规平台So the hallways of Shands’ pediatric cardiology ICU weren’t new to her.

Neither were the sharp pangs of fear. But this time, she and her husband Cody didn’t have to fight them alone.

“I was there for her; she was there for me. It was really cathartic to me,” Sewell said about Ashling. “I channeled all my anxiety into helping her — because it’s the scariest moment of your life to hear that your kid literally needs to die to have a better chance to live.”

2020欧洲杯正规平台Worried and pacing through the halls as their little boys were sedated and tubed, Ashling and Sewell embraced each other in support. In the dark therapy room between their rooms, they'd hold each other and cry.

"You lose a sense of time in there. It’s like Vegas — you don’t even know where you are," Ashling said, remembering the days and night she and her partner Julie held their breath.

Both Ashling and Sewell spoke to the value of having someone down the hall who understands the fear of their child having a pacemaker put in and taken out. Or what it's like to return to a sanitized, quarantined home to ensure a safe recovery for their child.

Together the two moms celebrated recovery milestones — like Korbin walking down the hall for the first time post-surgery, or Sewell getting to finally cradle her Everett.

When he gained more strength and was "wire-free," Everett would ride his push-scooter around the corner to visit Korbin in his hospital room.

2020欧洲杯正规平台"To be able to get up close to another child, he remembered that he was a kid in that moment — he wasn’t just a listless heart patient," Sewell said.

Ashling said she treasures Everett's friendship with her son, who has autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy.

2020欧洲杯正规平台"He tolerates Everett being around and playing in his space," Ashling said, adding that her son is nonverbal and having a friend he gets along with is priceless. "We both just kind of want our kids to feel accepted and included."

"Having your child have open heart surgery just has these ripple effects in your life for so long and in so many directions that nobody else understands," Sewell said. As Everett grows, he'll have to receive new valve replacement. "We already know we’re not going to be alone for that whenever it is."

Meanwhile, the boys will keep popping dish-soap bubbles, gliding down the slide outdoors and playing with light-up figurines.

And the two families will have each other's backs.

"We were crying together before, during and after — and we still are," Sewell said. "It’s a shared experience that runs very deep."


Reach Nada Hassanein at or on Twitter .

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