LOCKWOOD, Mo. — Dylan Gallup, 16, of Lockwood, has never let his congenital heart defect stand in the way of living his best life.

“I feel that I’m lucky, to say the least, and God made sure I stayed alive for a reason,” Dylan said.

Each year in Missouri, heart disease claims the lives of 14,000 people, making it the leading cause of death in the state, according to the American Heart Association. The nonprofit organization recently kicked off a yearlong initiative called #NoMOHeartDisease aimed to raise awareness and reduce the prevalence of heart disease. Dylan was chosen by the association as the effort's survivor for the month of June.

Dylan was born without a pulmonary artery, which delivers deoxygenated blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs. The condition is called pulmonary atresia and could've easily taken his life. But after numerous surgeries and endless family support, Dylan is now a healthy junior at Lockwood High School, where he plays baseball. He will graduate in 2021. He previously attended Webb City schools.

“Right now, I’m playing summer ball for Springfield Catholic,” he said. “I pitch and play second base. Dad brought me into baseball, and I’ve loved it ever since.”

Darren Gallup, Dylan's father, said his son has always been passionate about sports and was never seen without a ball while growing up. Dylan is also a St. Louis Cardinals fan.

The Gallup family lived in between Carthage and Webb City before moving to Lockwood in 2013. Darren Gallup had served as a police officer with the Joplin Police Department for over 20 years and retired as captain in 2015. Kara Gallup had worked as a forensic interviewer at the Children’s Center of Southwest Missouri and a probation/parole officer in Joplin.

Lockwood teen leads healthy life after heart defect surgeries

Dylan Gallup, 16, works on his family's farm in Lockwood on Monday. Globe | Roger Nomer

The couple welcomed Dylan into the world on Nov. 6, 2002, and thought he was a perfectly healthy 8-pound baby until the results came back from his Apgar test, which measures newborn health.

“We had no idea anything had been wrong with him ahead of time,” said his mother, Kara Gallup. “Honestly, I didn’t think anything of it because I thought everything was going to be OK. It wasn’t until our pediatrician, Dr. Fred Wheeler, came in and noticed the Apgar score.”

Before Kara could even hold her newborn in her arms, Dylan had been whisked away to intensive care. Darren Gallup said he knew something wasn’t right and followed Wheeler into the hallway seeking answers.

“Dr. Wheeler said that Dylan’s really sick and has some problems with his heart,” Darren Gallup said. “He said, ‘We’re not sure if he’s going to live or not. We need to get him to Kansas City. The helicopter is on the way, and we have to go now.’”

Darren Gallup broke the news to his wife that Dylan was being rushed to Children’s Mercy Hospital because of heart issues, which came out of the blue after a routine pregnancy. Once Kara Gallup was dismissed from the hospital, the Gallup family rode to Kansas City with Greg Dagnan, Carthage police chief and a friend of Darren Gallup’s. It wouldn't be until three days later that Kara Gallup got to hold her baby in her arms for the first time.

“The doctors called my phone and said they needed permission to relieve some pressure off his heart because the pressures were building up,” Darren Gallup said. “They needed to go in immediately and do a perforation through the septum. It was kind of a surreal call because here’s your child there and my wife was in the back, in no shape to be traveling. But of course, nothing is going to keep us from going.”

All babies are born with a patent ductus arteriosus, a fetal artery that allows nutrients to flow from the mother to the child. Normally, the fetal artery grows shut anywhere from 24 to 36 hours after birth because it’s no longer needed outside of the womb. But the only way Dylan was receiving oxygen was through that opening, and Darren Gallup said they were racing against the clock at that point.

Lockwood teen leads healthy life after heart defect surgeries

Kara, Dylan and Darren Gallup talk during an interview Monday about Dylan's experience with heart surgeries that commenced shortly after he was born in 2002. His last surgery was in conducted in 2018, and he is not on medication for the first time in his life. GLOBE | ROGER NOMER

The medical team didn’t realize Dylan’s heart condition until they performed the procedure to release the pressure, which only helped the immediate situation. They were able to give Dylan medication to keep the fetal artery open long enough for them to decide the next treatment. Doctors wanted to pursue a new procedure in which a wire is inserted into the heart to open the closure in order for the pulmonary artery to pump blood through the coronary arteries to the lungs. One of the biggest risks of the procedure was that doctors weren't sure how the blood would flow from the coronary arteries.

After the procedure, Dylan was transferred back to an ICU where he was monitored to see how his heart would react. The doctors then performed open chest surgery in which they added a shunt, or small tube, to increase the amount of blood flow. The surgery was a success, and it helped tremendously.

Kara Gallup said the doctors were unsure of what kind of life Dylan would end up having, and they never would've believed he would make it to his 16th birthday. In January 2018, Dylan received open heart surgery to have a stent placed in his pulmonary artery, which helped increase his blood flow to his right lung by over 1,000%. Dylan said he could notice a drastic difference afterward and could breathe much easier.

"I played basketball from sixth grade to freshman year, but if I had ran too much, my heart would start racing, and I would have to sit down," Dylan said. "Or if I would hit a triple in baseball, the time I got to third base, I'd have to call time to catch my breath. Since I had the surgery, now I do just fine."

Dylan receives annual checkups and is no longer taking medication for the first time in his life. His parents said they were able to make it through the difficult times through family support and faith in the Lord. Today, Dylan continues to play baseball with his younger brother, Kaden, 12, and helps out on his family's 160-acre farm. He hopes to one day receive a baseball scholarship to go to college.

"I really don't think about the heart defect too much because I don't have any major side effects from it," Dylan said. "It's just the way things have always been. I just live my life."

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.