Marie Riley, 42, sits in her dining room with a cup of tea on Oct. 25, at her family’s home in North Bend. Riley was born with tetralogy of fallot, a rare congenital heart condition that has required multiple open-heart surgeries during her lifetime. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Marie Riley, 42, sits in her dining room with a cup of tea on Oct. 25, at her family’s home in North Bend. Riley was born with tetralogy of fallot, a rare congenital heart condition that has required multiple open-heart surgeries during her lifetime. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Born with heart defect, Boeing worker’s child ‘never knew anything different’

Six years ago, Marie Riley heard about a law firm seeking aerospace workers whose children suffered birth defects — like her.

Editor’s note: Late last month, the Boeing Co. and Marie Riley reached terms of an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount, according to a motion filed in King County Superior Court on Nov. 7. Two other lawsuits, filed by children of mechanics at Boeing’s Everett plant, are still pending.

Most rarely take note of the subtle “lub-dub” in their chest. A steady drum, rising and falling with emotions.

But Marie Riley always considered her heart’s rhythm more than just lifelong background noise. For as long as she can remember, a beat out of sync has been something to fear.

Riley has a set of four heart defects, known collectively as Tetralogy of Fallot. Her diagnosis marked the beginning of her life — and the first chapter in a history of cardiac complications.

“I never knew anything different,” said Riley, 42, who lives in rural King County. “I had a heart defect, and that’s what I was born with. I don’t think I ever really asked why.”

Riley is one of three plaintiffs in a set of lawsuits against Boeing, alleging their birth defects are the result of chemicals their parents handled while working at factories in the Puget Sound region.

When she was in the womb, her mother manufactured circuit boards at the company’s Electronics Manufacturing Facility, which was once located on the east side of Boeing Field but has since been demolished.

Marie Riley, 42, digs through old photos and documents in Oct. 25, at her family’s home in North Bend. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Marie Riley, 42, digs through old photos and documents in Oct. 25, at her family’s home in North Bend. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Riley recalled first considering the cause of her condition six years ago, when her mother heard a radio ad from a law firm seeking workers in the aerospace and electronic industries who had children with birth defects. She and other plaintiffs are represented by Waters Kraus & Paul, which specializes in birth defect litigation.

Riley shared her story with The Daily Herald in July.

When she was 3, she had her first of two open-heart surgeries.

She remembers seeing doctors more than any of her siblings. They warned her not to push her physical limits.

Fainting spells started at the onset of her teenage years, when she began experiencing heartbeat abnormalities.

The first time it happened, she was sitting in the living room of her family home after playing with a friend in the cul-de-sac.

She lost consciousness while upright in an oversized chair, falling forward onto the floor. The impact jolted her heart out of the irregular rhythm, a doctor later surmised.

If instead she slumped backwards, she probably would have died — it likely wouldn’t have been enough to reset the beat, the doctor told her.

In those episodes, the electrical impulses from her brain, meant to tell the heart to pump, were instead getting stuck pulsating on the scar tissue from her heart surgery, she explained.

So doctors tried to solve the problem with electophysiology treatments, which involved using catheters — thin, flexible tubes — to cauterize parts of the heart and try to reroute the signals.

She had these surgical procedures throughout her teens, but they never worked.

Marie Riley, 42, holds an image of herself as a child after an open-heart surgery on Oct. 25, at her family’s home in North Bend. Riley was born with tetralogy of fallot, a rare congenital heart condition that has required multiple surgeries during her lifetime. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Marie Riley, 42, holds an image of herself as a child after an open-heart surgery on Oct. 25, at her family’s home in North Bend. Riley was born with tetralogy of fallot, a rare congenital heart condition that has required multiple surgeries during her lifetime. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

When she moved into her college dorm, she taught her roommate how to use an automated external defibrillator to shock her back to life if things went wrong.

She joked about it with her friends. Her nickname was “Clear.”

“Sometimes I can minimize some of those things,” she said, “because it was just how I had to live.”

A small defibrillator was implanted in her chest in her early 20s.

She was in a kickboxing class the first time it triggered, delivering a shock to restore her heart’s regular rhythm. When she was 30 weeks pregnant with her first child, the defibrillator wire broke, requiring emergency repair surgery.

“If anything happens, save my baby,” she told the doctors.

The scariest moments have come with motherhood, she said. Her mortality became more real when she had her two daughters, now 9 and 12.

“You’re not living for yourself anymore,” she said. “I don’t want my kids to ever not have a mom.”

She recalled saying her goodbyes to them before undergoing her second open-heart surgery, at 33, to replace an atrophied cardiac valve. The memory is enough to bring tears to her eyes.

“It’s hard to relive some of those moments,” she said softly.

She’ll have to get the valve, and the defibrillator, replaced again. But she has learned to live with the fear of what will come next.

“It sucks. You get one life,” she added. “This is the card I was dealt.”

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; rriley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

President Joe Biden speaks at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, in Greensboro, N.C., on April 14, 2022. Biden plans to nominate Michael Barr  to be the Federal Reserve's vice chairman of supervision. The selection of Barr comes after Biden's first choice for the Fed post, Sarah Bloom Raskin, withdrew her nomination a month ago (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Washington Democrats voice support for Biden’s decision to drop out of presidential race

Some quickly endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris to replace him on the ballot.

Everett
Teenager in stable condition after Everett drive-by shooting Saturday

Major Crime Unit detectives were looking for two suspects believed to have shot the teenager in the 600 block of 124th Street SW.

Miners Complex tops 500 acres in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Nine lightning-caused fires force trail closures and warnings 21 miles east of Darrington. No homes are threatened.

FILE — President Joe Biden arrives for a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, July 3, 2024. Biden abandoned his campaign for a second term under intense pressure from fellow Democrats on Sunday, July 21, upending the race for the White House in a dramatic last-minute bid to find a new candidate who can stop former President Donald Trump from returning to the White House. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Biden drops out of race, endorses vice president Kamala Harris

The president announced the decision on social media Sunday.

A Mukilteo firefighter waves out of a fire truck. (Photo provided by Mukilteo Fire Department)
Mukilteo levy lid lift will hike average tax bill about $180 more a year

The lift will fund six more workers, ambulances, equipment and medical supplies. Opponents call it unnecessary.

Doug Ewing looks out over a small section of the Snohomish River that he has been keeping clean for the last ten years on Thursday, May 19, 2022, at the Oscar Hoover Water Access Site in Snohomish, Washington. Ewing scours the shorelines and dives into the depths of the river in search of trash left by visitors, and has removed 59 truckloads of litter from the quarter-mile stretch over the past decade. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
If Snohomish River campaign passes, polluters could be held accountable

This summer, a committee spearheaded efforts to grant legal rights to the river. Leaders gathered 1,300 signatures.