My second time in the office, I was in a wheel chair, having recently given birth. My baby, the Dancing Queen, had just had her first heart catheterization at one day old and he explained to us the heart defects she actually had (tetralogy of fallot with pulmonary atresia) and the surgery she would need at three days old.
My third time in the cramped office, he was letting us know that he had no answers. He did not know why DQ was not getting better, why she was still so sick several weeks after surgery. He explained that he may have to go in and replace the shunt he had placed, even though he'd never done it before. He had no answers . . .
So, a year later, when I entered his office for a fourth time, with my one-year-old on my hip, I was understandably shaken. I sat on the worn couch, looking out the window, hoping not to cry. Today, I can't remember if I did cry or not, but what I do remember is his answer to my question of whether DQ would have more energy, eat better, be more like an average kid after her surgery. His response was "no". He said she was already a pretty active child and likely wouldn't have the 180 turnaround that so many other parents saw with their children. I chose not to believe him. I wish I would have.
|DQ a week before her surgery in 2009.|
|DQ immediately post-op April 2009|
|DQ learned to stand in a hospital bed in June 2009 at 16 months old.|
|In July 2009, DQ perfected standing in a hospital bed.|
A follow up echocardiogram confirmed the lower pressures. I was ecstatic at the numbers. I held on to those beautiful numbers, waiting for the miraculous turnaround. But all that I saw was DQ not doing well. She continued to do worse. I kept having to call the cardiologist because DQ was swollen. We kept having to up her diruectics when the numbers said there was no need for the medicines. Yet, I still let myself believe the positive.
In December 2009, DQ saw the ENT because she kept getting ear infections. The ENT wanted to place tubes, but needed cardiac clearance for the anesthesia. It was at that appointment that we learned DQ still had pulmonary hypertension (the previous echo had been wrong). It was at that point that I could no longer hide behind the positive.
DQ's cardiologist explained that DQ's PH was likely caused by the pulmonary vascular disease (hypoplastic distal pulmonary arteries) and, accordingly, could not be treated through any means currently known to science. She suggested we see DQ's pulmonologist, but left us with a grim reality.
The next week, DQ and I waited two hours to see the pulmonologist. When he finally came in, he listened to my story, and said he had nothing. He ordered DQ to be placed on oxygen at night to help her lungs get a break, but he gave me no other hope. When I asked him the prognosis, his response was "you already know how bad this is. I have nothing more to offer you." Needless to say, our holidays were not that great in 2009. We grieved a lot and spent a ton of time together as a family, loving our very sick little girl.
|This picture was taken the day after meeting with the pulmonologist. Ma tried to help distract us with cookies! Or was she just trying to soak up as much of DQ as she could? I think it was both.|
|While the holidays had a very grim shadow, we did still have some fun.|
By the end of January 2010, I was desperate. I left messages for DQ's cardiologist, but the messages never seemed to get through. So, I finally sent a fax to DQ's cardiologist with a huge list of questions. Within an hour, she called me back. An hour later, DQ had a cath set up for the next week. The local docs were no longer going to give up on my girl and I wasn't about to stop trying to save her.
At the beginning of February, she had her 6th heart catheterization. The docs learned that DQ's lungs responded to nitrogen, so they started her on revatio (a.k.a. sildenafil, a.k.a. viagra). But, she developed pneumonia and stayed hospitalized for 10 days. Upon discharge, we weren't given any promises and were told good luck.
|DQ in the hospital after that February cath and pneumonia. Here, she is watching "Cars" or "Baby Signing Time", her favorite videos then and now.|
Finally, in April or May, as I stood by DQ's hospital bed (respiratory virus), my cell phone began to ring. It was a PH specialist from California. He was the first doctor who did not dismiss DQ's case as hopeless. He offered to see her.We just had to get her healthy, keep her healthy, and find a time to travel.
We waited and waited and finally, DQ went to see the PH specialist the end of July 2010. She had a cardiac MRI and examination. After it was all said and done, the PH specialist stated that DQ's pressures were likely originating from her heart because of her valveless conduit and a pseudo-aneurism in her conduit (things we knew about for over a year). He also explained that it was typical for someone with DQ's mix of CHDs to start declining without real explanation or solution, but just not usually as quickly as she had. Usually, the decline starts in the teenage years. He suggested that DQ's best possibility was replacing the conduit with a valved one. He didn't think that would solve everything and may not work at all, but it was the only idea. He pushed to have the surgery completed within a month so hopefully DQ's damaged heart could start to heal.
|Just arrived at our hotel after a long flight.|
|Enjoying an ocean view.|
|My sweet girl, chillin after a long day at the ocean, following two very long days at the hospital.|
Finally, the surgeon talked with DQ's primary cardiologist and indicated that he thought DQ should have surgery. He would do it and he would put DQ on his calendar, but first we had to come down to his office, that same cramped room with the same worn brown couch, for an examination.
And so, I entered that cramped office once again in late summer 2010, still not knowing whether the surgeon agreed to the surgery because we were going to do it anyway or if he believed it was the best option. I wasn't going to hand my baby over to anyone who didn't believe in what they were doing, even if I had trusted them over and over before. Fortunately, we left knowing that everyone was in agreement.
On Monday, September 20, 2010, I handed my sweet toddler over to the surgeons once again. She left me, drugged out on versed, thinking her pacifier was a riot around 7:40 am. Seriously, she was waving it in front of her face, giggling. Around 9:45am, we were told the surgery was starting. It takes a good two hours to get all of the lines in and anesthesia properly complete. It took over an hour to get through DQ's sternum because of all of the scar tissue she had from open her chest multiple times. She went on the heart-lung bypass machine around 12:30 pm and came off around 4:00pm. At 7:00pm, they came to get us so we could watch our girl on her way from the OR up to the PICU. I gave her one more kiss.
|Playing in pre-op.|
|Giggling at her pacifier, doped up on tons of versed.|
|DQ immediately post-op, September 2010.|
|A couple days post-op, looking ready to go home.|
|Exactly one week post-op, home and doing well.|
The surgeon did explain that there is nothing he can do for her distal pulmonary arteries though. That he cannot make them branch and grow. And unlike most cases, DQ cannot have more stents inserted into her main pulmonary arteries to make them bigger so that the distal arteries can grow. Placing any stents will only cut off blood flow to the other parts of DQ's lungs because of their odd placement.
So, we hope with time and better health that DQ's pulmonary arteries will grow on their own. But we were warned that if they don't grow more than proportionately, we will be in the same place again, but without anything to fix. At some point, without extra growth, DQ's pulmonary arteries will no longer be able to sustain her and the pressures will increase again because her heart will start working harder to try to force blood to the lungs to get oxygenated better. And at some point, she will be desperately sick again. I'm holding out hope for new technologies and medications.
Practically speaking though, I am enjoying my time with my beautiful daughter, soaking her up. Trying not to let her precarious future take away from her love of life.
|Dancing Queen in August 2011.|
The Dancing Queen's story from conception and my post from last year's Every Heart Has a Story can be found on the navigation bar at "Dancing Queen" and a fuller description of her heart defects is on the navigation bar at "I'm a Heart Mom". I also maintain a carepage for DQ that is just about her health and specifically her story. If you want to know more or want to follow DQ, send me an email at momonaline (at) gmail (dot) com.
Finally, if you haven't stopped by Stefenie's blog and read the other heart stories posted there, please do so. Or, if you are a CHDer or a family member of a CHDer, write up your heart story, and link-up with the rest of us.