Florida student and teacher bond over matching scars from their open-heart surgeries: 'Tough cookies'


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A 6-year-old girl and her kindergarten teacher have something very special in common: matching scars from their open-heart surgeries.

Kennedy Vogt is a student at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida, where her teacher, Carlene Honor, also underwent heart surgery.

The school intentionally paired them up — creating a bond of “heart twins” that goes far beyond the classroom.

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Vogt was just 5 years old when a trip to the emergency room for flu and pneumonia led to the surprise diagnosis of a hole in her heart about the size of a nickel.

“It’s a rare congenital heart defect that affects the structure of the heart while it’s formed during pregnancy,” Dr. Matthew Zussman, a pediatric cardiologist at AdventHealth for Children, who is also the girl’s doctor, told Fox News Digital.

Kennedy Vogt (left) is a student at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida; she had surgery at age 5 for a heart defect. Her teacher, Carlene Honor (right), also underwent heart surgery.  (American Heart Association)

“Specifically, Kennedy had what’s known as an atrial septal defect, which causes a hole in the upper heart chambers and increases the amount of blood flowing through the lungs,” he went on. 

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While the defect doesn’t usually cause complications during childhood, it can lead to heart and lung disease in adulthood if it goes untreated, the doctor said.

The diagnosis was a shock to the family, as Vogt — an active, happy child and aspiring gymnast — had not displayed any warning signs. 

Open-heart surgery was necessary to close the hole in her heart due to its location. 

Carlene Honor and Kennedy Vogt

Honor and Vogt compare their matching scars from open-heart surgery. “I wanted her to know that she can have a normal life just like anybody else, even with a scar,” Honor said of her young student.  (Kristin Green-Vogt)

“The operation involves making an incision along the breastbone, connecting the patient to a heart-lung bypass machine and patching the hole,” Zussman said.

In May 2023, Vogt underwent open-heart surgery at AdventHealth for Children in Orlando.

“It was definitely hard, but everyone was wonderful and the surgery went smoothly,” said Kristin Green-Vogt, the girl’s mom. “Everything went as perfectly as that situation can go.”

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“I just thank God for modern medicine,” she added, referring to her daughter’s surgery scar as “a badge of honor.”

After just three days in the hospital, Vogt was back to her normal activities, practicing cartwheels and going to school.

“The thing people don’t realize about kids and open-heart surgery is how resilient kids are,” Zussman said. “What takes an adult patient months to recover from only takes kids a few days, and that was definitely true in Kennedy’s case.”

Bond beyond the classroom

At Lake Island Preparatory School, Vogt formed a fast connection with Honor, who lives in East Orlando with her husband, a retired Air Force member. 

Carlene Honor has been teaching for 13 years.

Five years ago, Honor had a heart attack while attending a girls basketball game at the school.

Carlene Honor and Kennedy Vogt

Teacher and student embrace at the American Heart Association Heart Walk in Nov. 2023. (American Heart Association)

“I stood up to hug someone and then just kind of passed out,” she told Fox News Digital. “But I was very blessed to be at Lake Highland when it happened.”

Fortunately, one of the fathers of a cheerleader at the game happened to be an AdventHealth doctor, and there was an automated external defibrillator (AED) available.

“It was just God’s timing,” Honor said. “Everything lined up to save my life.”

“I thank God that He allowed our paths to cross.”

After undergoing quintuple coronary bypass surgery, she made a full recovery — and is now feeling healthy and strong.

Looking back, Honor recognizes some warning signs she missed, such as shortness of breath and fatigue.

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“I tell everybody now: Listen to your body,” Honor said. “From that point on, I made a commitment to myself to do better when it comes to my health.”

Since the surgery, Honor has lost 70 pounds. She is now more disciplined about walking every day and keeping up with doctor’s appointments.

Carlene Honor and Kennedy Vogt

“She’s so independent, so self-sufficient — just a great all-around student,” Honor said of her heart-surgery buddy. “I consider Kennedy and her mom to be family.” (Kristin Green-Vogt)

As soon as Honor heard about Vogt’s surgery, she said she was anxious to meet her.

“I wanted her to know that she can have a normal life just like anybody else, even with a scar,” she said. 

Honor described Vogt as “amazing within herself.”

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“I thank God that He allowed our paths to cross,” she said. “I get to teach a variety of students, but she is just remarkable. She has a great personality — very outgoing, lively, super funny, somewhat of a perfectionist, but very easy to love.”

At first, Honor assumed she would have to take care of Vogt, but she quickly realized the girl didn’t need to be “handled with kid gloves.”

“She’s so independent, so self-sufficient — just a great all-around student,” she said. “I consider Kennedy and her mom to be family.”

“Pediatricians are often the first line of defense in diagnosing heart defects, so it’s important that children have regular check-ups.”

Vogt’s mother described her daughter and teacher as “tough cookies.”

“This was just a speed bump for them,” she told Fox News Digital. “They’re happy to share it and I hope help other people, but it’s not their full story.”

Kennedy Vogt and Carlene Honor

Student and teacher are described as “tough cookies.” This past November, the pair did the local American Heart Association Heart Walk together, along with over 15,000 people from the Greater Orlando area. (Kristin Green-Vogt)

In Nov. 2023, Vogt and Honor did the local American Heart Association Heart Walk together, along with more than 15,000 people from the Greater Orlando area.

Vogt was named the ambassador of the event; she kicked off the walk in a red pace car.

“It was amazing,” said Vogt’s mother. “For me personally, it was like closure. Everybody rallied around us. It just was really special.”

Heart disease in kids

While congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect in the U.S., they are still fairly rare, affecting only about 1% of births, or about 40,000 children per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

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“Kennedy was diagnosed with an even rarer atrial septal defect, which only accounts for about 20,000 medical cases a year,” said Zussman, Vogt’s doctor at AdventHealth for Children.

Since Vogt’s surgery, she’s had regular visits for ultrasounds and for doctors to listen to her heart — and Zussman said the team is “ecstatic” about how well she’s doing. 

AdventHealth for Children

AdventHealth for Children in Orlando, Florida, is one of the premier children’s health care networks in the U.S. (iStock)

“During her last appointment a few weeks ago, I actually told Kennedy and her mom that we probably only have one appointment left before she’s ready to transition to just seeing her pediatrician again,” he said.

“That’s a testament to our incredible team of congenital heart disease experts and elite pediatric cardiovascular surgeons at AdventHealth for Children.”

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The cause of congenital heart defects is not entirely known, the cardiologist noted, while other types of heart disease that develop later in life are often caused by lifestyle habits.  

Every child is different, and some don’t display clear-cut symptoms of heart defects.

Kid hands heart

While congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect in the U.S., they are still fairly rare, affecting only about 1% of births. (iStock)

“I can think of children we’ve treated who were balls of energy — playing, happy, showing absolutely no signs that anything was wrong with their heart,” the doctor said.

That said, there are some warning signs parents should be aware of, Zussman noted.

“Those include shortness of breath; fatigue; swelling of the legs, feet or belly; abnormal heart palpitations; and trouble physically keeping up with friends and classmates,” he said. 

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“Pediatricians are often the first line of defense in diagnosing heart defects, so it’s important that children have regular check-ups,” Zussman advised. 

“If you’re concerned about a possible heart issue, trust your instincts and ask for a referral to see a cardiologist.”

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