Daytona Beach Mother and Toddler Share Bond Over Surgery to Repair ‘Hole in the Heart’ After Doctors Identify Son’s Congenital Heart Defect


DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Rashad “Deuce” Gholston Jr. is all boy. The active 2-year-old, born in Tallahassee but who now lives in Daytona Beach, is always on the go. “He’s always running and jumping, and doing backflips and cartwheels,” said Dwyronyelle “Dee” Gillard, Deuce’s mom. “He loves football and wants to tackle like his dad.”

Deuce’s father, Rashad Gholston Sr., is a former wide receiver for the Florida State University football team from 2010 to 2014. Dee also is very athletic and was an accomplished basketball player at Atlantic High School in Port Orange.

The energetic mother and son have something else in common – both were diagnosed at age 2 with congenital heart disease (CHD) and had open heart surgery to repair atrial septal defects (ASD). A congenital heart defect, ASD is characterized by an opening in the wall (the atrial septum) between the heart’s two upper chambers (the right and left atria). Deuce received outpatient pediatric cardiology care at Wolfson Children’s at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare specialty center and life-saving surgery at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville. Dee had the same heart surgery as her son in 1997 at a central Florida children’s hospital.

The most common birth defect in the United States, CHD includes a range of abnormalities of the heart that develop prior to birth. While some heart defects are detected with routine screenings during pregnancy, at the hospital during birth or shortly thereafter, many heart defects may not be identified until later during a medical checkup.  

During Deuce’s routine well care visit at North Florida Pediatrics in Tallahassee, pediatrician Anna Koeppel, MD, detected a heart murmur, indicating a possible heart defect or underlying heart problem. She referred Deuce and Dee to consult with pediatric cardiologist Justin “Mac” Vining, MD, at Wolfson Children’s at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.

“Heart murmurs or atypical heart sounds are fairly common, affecting up to 50% of children, and there are many instances where a murmur may be heard in a child with a strong, healthy heart,” said Dr. Vining. “In this case, the murmur was atypical and indicated a structural heart problem.”

Dr. Vining ordered diagnostic testing for Deuce including an EKG, which measures and interprets the heart’s electrical activity, and an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to get a detailed picture of the heart. “There was evidence of right ventricular enlargement on the EKG, so I ordered an echo, which confirmed his diagnosis,” said Dr. Vining.

In medical terms, Deuce had an ASD, one of the defects referred to as “a hole in the heart.” Dee had the same condition as a child.

“Dr. Vining showed us the images and we could clearly see the hole in Deuce’s heart,” Dee said.

“It’s not common, but when a mother has a congenital heart defect, the chances of her child having a congenital heart defect are increased,” said Dr. Vining.

Because the opening was very large, Dr. Vining recommended surgical repair and that Deuce and his family consult with Michael Shillingford, MD, chief of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and faculty member of UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Wolfson Children’s Hospital is a member of the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Heart Institute network, providing specialized pediatric health cardiac care for children in North Florida, South Georgia and beyond. This month, U.S. News & World Report ranked UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh number 2 in the country for Pediatric Cardiology and Heart Surgery.

Dr. Shillingford performed open-heart surgery to repair the hole in Deuce’s heart late last year.

“Because of enormous strides in medicine and technology, today nearly all children with atrial septal defects go on to lead healthy, productive lives as adults,” said Dr. Shillingford. “Thanks to these significant advances, there are now more adults with CHD than children living with the disease.”

Children and adults with ASD must see a cardiologist for regular checkups. Deuce’s first follow-up appointment took place with Dr. Vining at Wolfson Children’s at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. Fortunately, the family’s new home, Daytona Beach, also has a Wolfson Children’s Specialty Center. This allows Deuce to continue to be monitored by pediatric cardiologists with the Wolfson Children’s Hospital and UF Health College of Medicine — Jacksonville.

“Deuce’s surgery was the hardest thing we have ever been through, but our experience with Wolfson Children’s was wonderful,” Dee said. “The doctors and medical team are the best we have ever experienced. They explained everything to me and answered every question. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to care for my son.”

Services at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville are provided primarily by pediatric physician specialists with Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, Jacksonville, University of Florida College of Medicine – JacksonvilleUPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh (for cardiac surgery services) and Emergency Resources Group.

Wolfson Children’s Hospital relies on the generosity of members of our community. To support Wolfson Children’s Hospital, please visit

About Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville
Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, is a part of Baptist Health, Northeast Florida’s most comprehensive health system serving every stage of life. Wolfson Children’s is the only children’s hospital in Northeast Florida and serves as the pediatric referral center for North Florida, South Georgia and beyond. Staffed 24/7 by pediatric nurses and other healthcare professionals specially trained to work with children, the 216-bed, patient- and family-centered hospital features the latest pediatric medical technology in a welcoming, child-friendly environment. At Wolfson Children’s, nationally recognized pediatric specialists representing nearly every medical and surgical specialty work with pediatricians to provide care for children of all ages with congenital heart conditions, cancer, neurological disorders, diabetes and endocrinology disorders, orthopedic conditions, behavioral health conditions, traumatic injuries, and more. Wolfson Children’s pediatric institutional partners include Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, JacksonvilleUPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the University of Florida College of Medicine—Jacksonville and Mayo Clinic Florida. A Magnet™-designated hospital since 2010, Wolfson Children’s Hospital has been named among the U.S. News & World Report 50 Best Children’s Hospitals year after year, and in 2019, was selected as one of only 10 children’s hospitals in the country as a Leapfrog Top Children’s Hospital, a recognition of patient quality and safety. For additional information, please visit

About Wolfson Children’s Specialty Center – Daytona
Wolfson Children’s Specialty Center – Daytona serves children in Volusia and surrounding counties, enhancing access to the specialists and services of Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. Opened in July 2013 and staffed by our partners in pediatric health care, Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, Jacksonville, and the University of Florida College of Medicine—Jacksonville, Wolfson Children’s Specialty Center – Daytona provides outpatient pediatric subspecialty care in cardiology, electrophysiology (EP), otolaryngology (ENT), audiology, hematology/oncology and infectious disease. The center also provides physical and occupational therapy, pre-school and child care, audiology, autism-related services, and parenting and support services through Easter Seals Northeast Central Florida. For additional information, please visit

About Wolfson Children’s at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare
Wolfson Children’s at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH) serves children in the greater Big Bend area, enhancing access to pediatric specialists and services provided by Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. Opened in January 2016 and staffed by Wolfson Children’s Specialty Services and our partners in pediatric health care, TMHTallahassee Primary Care Associates, University of Florida College of Medicine—Jacksonville, and Nemours Children’s Special Care, Jacksonville, Wolfson Children’s at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare provides services in outpatient pediatric cardiology, neurosurgery and urology. In addition, Wolfson Children’s Hospital collaborates with TMH to provide pediatric emergency care at Tallahassee Memorial Emergency Center – Northeast. For additional information, please visit

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