Earlier in the day, several doctors told my husband and I that our baby had Down syndrome. Now, there appeared to be something else concerning. Soon, a female doctor broke from the pack and approached me. The young, blond doctor jumped right into telling me that my daughter had an Atrioventricular heart defect. Essentially, she had a hole in the center of her heart. Half of babies with Down syndrome have a heart condition, but not every heart defect requires surgical intervention.
Within a few days of her birth, she was in congestive heart failure and dealing with pulmonary hypertension. After spending 10 days in the NICU, my husband and I took Jaycee home.
Bringing home a newborn in heart failure meant our lives were a little different. Giving the medications Digoxin, Lasix, and Potassium became part of our daily routine. Getting these medicines down a newborn with an easy gag response and reflux proved difficult. Then there were the feedings, which were exhausting for both of us. Her suck was not strong at all. She tired easily and slept nearly all the time. Jaycee was overall so weak and tired that she literally could not cry. Instead she had a weak little noise that we determined was her version of a cry. At home, we had to find a balance between showing off our newborn while limiting her exposure to germs.
When Jaycee was 3 months old, she had reached 9 pounds which meant she was big enough for her open heart surgery. This was a bittersweet moment for my husband and I. We were ready for Jaycee's heart to be fixed so she could have a better life. But, we were scared of all of the rare but possible side effects from surgery. Handing your tiny baby over to a team of doctors knowing her body would be forever marked from the day was the moment we dreaded since we had gotten her heart diagnosis.
Despite our fears, Jaycee's surgery went absolutely perfect. We were amazed at how a little body can recover from a major surgery. The capabilities of doctors were astounding for us as hospital newbies. The idea that our daughter's chance at life was only due to the ability of these men and women committed to saving the lives of every child was not lost on us.
|Jaycee in the hospital after her heart surgery|
Today, Jaycee's heart is no longer our biggest concern, but it took awhile to get to that place. She did need another heart surgery at age 2 to fix some of the leaks in her heart left from the first surgery. Jaycee also had two heart ablations for Wolff-Parkinson White syndrome, which caused a tachycardia at age 5. Now, Jaycee has yearly cardiology appointments to monitor her leaks and slightly elevated pulmonary pressures, but the doctors are not anticipating any more surgeries.
Today, being Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day, my husband and I would like to share our daughter's story of survival. When a heart diagnosis is made, there are many unknowns. We were worried about our daughter’s future and life. We are grateful those days are behind us. Our Jaycee is now a vibrant 11 year old with energy and an ability to scream and cry. For that, we are thankful!
|Jaycee at home on oxygen after surgery|
Personal note: Jaycee's heart surgeries were performed by Dr. Charles Huddleston. Her cardiologist, Dr. Mark Johnson, has been instrumental in her care as well. All of her heart care has been received at Children's Hospital in St. Louis. We are grateful for this hospital and all those involved.