Thursday, June 22, 2006

Record family heart story.

We were a young couple eagerly expecting our first child. At the time, every thing seemed to be falling into place with our lives. My husband was completing specialized training for the military, we were pregnant and we would be assigned to an area when he graduated where we could start thinking about buying a home. There was no hint of what was around the corner.

The first surprise was that Evan was in a breech position and estimated to weigh over 11 pounds. My obstetrician discussed this with us and we decided that trying to turn the baby would be fruitless because of his size. A cesarean section was scheduled. At that point I was just glad that the end was in sight. I was so tired of barely being able to move and eager to meet my baby.

Everything with the birth went well. Evan weighed a whopping 10 pounds 6 ounces and passed his APGAR scores with flying colors. I was thrilled to be holding my perfect baby and was eager to start nursing him. The nurse was helping me latch him on my breast for the first time when she noticed that he turned a bit dusky for a brief period of time. Assuring me that he looked fine, and was only doing this just in case, she went and got the pulse oximetry to test how well oxygenated his blood was.

The numbers were lower than expected. She took my precious baby from my arms to run more tests on him and put him on supplemental oxygen. I was so tired and still drugged up that I drifted in and out of sleep praying the whole time that nothing would be wrong with my baby. I kept hearing him cry while they poked and prodded him.

The pediatrician on call decided that he needed to be moved from the small community hospital where he was born to a larger one with a NICU. I asked to go along with him but since I could still not feel my feet, because of the spinal block, I was told that I would have to stay where I was for now. Devastated, I was allowed to see him one more time through the incubator that the EMS people had brought to transport him to the other hospital.

The doctors from the other hospital assured us that he merely had pulmonary hypertension which caused his pulmonary arteries to shrink a bit with the stress of adjusting to life outside the womb. All he would need was extra oxygen and time.

Five days after his birth I went to visit Evan with my mother-in-law. He has been placed on BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) to help open up his lungs and he seemed to be doing better. An echocardiogram was scheduled for that day because one of the doctors thought he heard a murmur in Evan's heart. I decided to stay and watch the test.

It took awhile to get all the equipment set up as it was going to be a video consult with a pediatric cardiologist in a city about two hours away. I remember sitting there as the test began confident that this was a mere formality. Then the technician that was performing the test started freaking out. She could not find all the normal things that she was looking for. I could not at the time understand what she was looking for but I picked up right away on her worry. I started praying again that my precious baby would be fine.

He was not fine. They discovered a very complex heart defect and would have to transfer him to another hospital with the expert pediatric cardiology team that he would need to address his complex health problem. The doctors could not even apprise me of the extent of his defect since they were not experts in the heart and there was static on the line so the cardiologist did not get a complete picture either.

My world was completely turned upside down that hour. I went from having a baby that needed a little extra oxygen to one that was gravely ill. Before we would be able to take our firstborn home we would have to endure several surgeries including the implantation of a pacemaker, six weeks of hospital time, eating difficulties and the destruction of all our hopes and dreams.

Getting him home was only part of the battle. He developed bad reflux while in the hospital. So nutrition, to get him to grow before he could get to the next stage of his operation, was a huge challenge. I also had to come to terms with what it meant to be the parent of a child with a heart defect. I had to endure the pitying look in people's eyes when I told them about Evan's diagnosis.

Surprisingly he did not turn out to be a sickly infant, too weak to even lift his head. He hit all of the important milestones at all the right times. Slowly life achieved a new normal.

About that time it was decided that he was ready for his next surgery. By this time I had done more research and connected with other parents through the internet. I felt more in control with the situation. I had been there before. Evan did well with his surgery and was out of the hospital in a week. I was thrilled and happy that we would be able to go and spend Thanksgiving with family. I thought we were home free as he would probably not need his third and final surgery until he was three or four years of age. I had so much to be thankful for.

The evening of the day after Thanksgiving, Evan started crying inconsolably. I was frustrated with him for not responding to my attempts to calm him and eventually I ended up putting him down for the night thinking that he was just over tired from all the excitement of the day. He woke up early that morning and when I went to get him I could tell immediately that something was wrong. One side of his body was limp and useless.

A CT scan would show that the middle third of his right hemisphere, the part of the brain devoted to voluntary muscle control was affected. Again our world was turned upside down. This time we were very lucky as if that blood clot had happened in any other part of the brain his entire personality and ability to learn could have been affected. He could have easily died that night.

Again life has returned to a new sort of normal. Evan finally started walking a year after the stroke. There is a trace of a limp in his walk and he refuses to use his left hand instead preferring to make other adaptations. He is on blood thinners to prevent another stroke, so when he trips and falls he bruises easier than most kids. The casual observer would not realize that there is anything amiss with him.

While life is "normal" right now I know that it can change in a blink of an eye. Evan is facing another major surgery this fall so of course I am hopeful that maybe this surgery will go smoothly with no complications. We shall see what life holds in store for our special little man. All I know is that I treasure moment that we are blessed to have him here with us.

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