MATTHEWS, N.C. -- Erin Washington was just days away from her fourth birthday, celebrating with family at Monkey Joes in Matthews Saturday when she fell under distress.

Washington was transported to a nearby hospital where she passed away. The Mecklenburg County Coroner’s office says autopsy results showed she suffered from a congenital atresia of the left coronary artery ostium.

“The coronary artery on the left side of the heart had no opening to it,” said Doctor Rene Herlong, M.D., Medical Director for Pediatric Cardiology at Carolinas Medical Center.

Dr. Herlong did not treat Washington, but has studied and written about the heart defect she suffered from. “It’s most likely that her heart muscle just wasn’t getting enough blood flow that it needed when she was exercising and the heart responded by having a fatal arrhythmia and the heart just stopped beating,” he said.

Dr. Herlong says heart defects in children are more common than childhood cancer. He says most are caught before birth during pre-natal ultrasounds, but says coronary artery anomalies like the one Washington suffered are only detected after birth. He says signs of a problem start as early as infancy.

“When they’re crying while they’re feeding that’s an important sign of a possible coronary problem in a baby then of course as they get older and can speak to you, they can tell you, they can tell you my chest hurts when I exercise,” he says.

Other signs include children who become tired or short of breath more quickly than other children their age and seating when they ought not to be.
He says children who suffer from these symptoms should first be taken in to see their pediatrician.
A GoFundMe page set-up by Washington’s family says she was, “a hilarious little girl” who “had touched more lives than people who live to be 100.” So far that page has raised more than $10,000.