Heart Family

Balm for my Heart Mama Soul

I think I can speak for all parents of cardiac kids when I say that our life is filled with a significant amount of anxiety and worry. We all deal with it in different ways and some are better at building their walls than others, but the anxiety is always there.

Doctors told us right from the start of Tyson’s life that there were absolutely no guarantees for his life. His surgeon told us quite frankly that he might do really well after his surgeries and live a relatively good life, but there will always be the possibility that one day we could walk into his bedroom in the morning and find him gone. After three open heart surgeries, five heart cath procedures, and more cardiac tests and procedures than you can shake a stick at, no one can promise me that he will live a long, healthy life. No one can say for sure what his long-term prognosis is. CHDs are a lot like a tornado. You can use satellite to track its course and warn others of impending doom, but ultimately the tornado moves in an erratic path with no rhyme nor reason. It can completely destroy one house while leaving the house next door unscathed. In the same way, one child who the doctors think don’t stand a chance of making it through another surgery can end up kicking CHD in the butt and live a long, prosperous life. The other whom they think is fairly strong from a cardiac perspective drops down dead on the floor one day because her heart just suddenly gives up. It’s true that in life there are no guarantees, but for the lives of thousands of cardiac kids this holds true even more so.

Some days I worry more than others. For Tyson’s whole life, we’ve critiqued and analyzed every little sniffle, every cough, every time he vomits, every day that he appears to have less energy than normal, every time he sleeps more than normal, or says he has a sore chest, or a sore head, or that he feels dizzy, or that his legs hurt. All these things might be normal things that most kids complain about from time to time. But for Tyson, any of these things can be signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure or stroke, brain hemorrhage or blood clot. Being on blood thinners puts him at risk for stroke or bleeding in the brain so we have to closely monitor his INR levels, making sure they are not too low and not too high. Having an AED in the house is not exactly what you’d consider normal, is it? Sending him off to school every day with the chance that the simplest cough could develop into pneumonia and admit him to the hospital – that is worrisome. Having only 18% blood flow going to his left lung, his oxygen levels are low, making him at risk of being hospitalized with what a healthy child would experience as a common cold. And the CVS team at Sick Kids has determined that they’ve done all they can do for his heart and the next step once his heart starts to decline is ‘heart and lung transplant.’

I definitely don’t worry about where Tyson will go when he dies. I have complete confidence in my God and Father, that His promises are true for Tyson and that he’ll have a brand new heart in heaven. That he’ll walk with Jesus with oxygen saturations of 100% and he’ll never need to take another pill or have his sternum sawed open, or get poked with another needle or endure another IV ever again. I definitely know where his home is! But what I worry about most is while Tyson’s heart is made whole, we who are left behind will be left with a huge hole in ours. I worry about the hearts of his older brothers and his sisters, his parents, the hearts of his aunts and uncles, cousins and friends.    Would we be able to carry on without him? Would I be able to guide my family through a lifetime of grief and mourning without our Mr. T? I have no control over God’s plan for Tyson’s life. No control over whether or not someday my children may have to mourn the loss of their dear brother and playmate.   There’s no bandaid I can put on Tyson’s heart to heal it, no medicine he can take to prevent his death, no magic potion to guarantee he won’t ever be hospitalized again.

So for now, we love him. We snuggle him close and hold him tight, kiss him often and enjoy every single second we’ve been given. Laugh often and hold on to as many memories as we can.

I can’t count the number of times other Heart Moms or Dads have asked me how we came to the decision to have another child after all we’d been through with Tyson. “Weren’t you worried you’d have another child with a heart condition?” “Weren’t you scared how you were going to juggle your heart child at the same time as having another baby?”   “How did you decide?”

To be honest, we didn’t ‘decide.’ In reality, the very thought of bringing another baby into the crazy hospital-life we lived terrified me! You can imagine my surprise and fear when I found out we were expecting again when Tyson was not even three years old. Sure, he had completed his three ‘scheduled’ surgeries but his challenges were far from over! He was still hospitalized once or twice a year, and even when he wasn’t in the hospital, he was often sick at home with pneumonia or fighting some kind of virus he had caught; and during the times that he was well we were often hopping from one specialist appointment to the next.  Not only that but we were also raising three children older than Tyson, each with their own unique needs and challenges, each needing our love and attention too. How in the world could we give time and attention to another baby at this time in our life?

I’m so thankful that we have an awesome and loving God that knows our needs before we even ask. As much as she may have been ‘unplanned’ in my mind, God knew that our little Addisyn Faith would be balm for this Heart Mama’s soul. She is exactly what this family needed.

I know these blogs posts are typically supposed to be about our heart warriors. But the next part of my post is going to focus on our heart-healthy daughter Addisyn. I write these words to encourage other families with cardiac children that you CAN move on after having a child with a heart condition! You CAN have healthy children after having a child with CHD! Our son’s cardiologist told us that because we already have a child with CHD our chances of having another CHD child would double – but then he quickly added that the chance of anyone having a child with CHD is about 1-2% so that means the risk of having another child with CHD is 2-4%. Recurrence risks vary considerably depending on the type of CHD, so he said the likelihood of us having another child with a right or left ventricular anomaly was highly unlikely. If you have a child with a CHD, the risk of having another child with a CHD is higher than that of someone without an affected child, but it is still quite low. You may in all likelihood have a child with a completely normal heart.

Was it a stressful pregnancy? Of course! There were minor complications that resulted in several added appointments (as if we didn’t have enough appointments already!) because of an antibody issue in my blood. I was referred to an OB at Mt Sinai in Toronto and had several level two anatomy ultrasounds there to ensure that the anti-C was not attacking our baby’s red blood cells. We also had a fetal echo at Sick Kids so that we could be prepared in the event that we were given another baby with CHD. Thankfully the fetal echo revealed that our baby girl had a healthy, four-chamber heart.   On top of my regular ultrasounds at Mt Sinai, I also had to have bi-weekly bloodwork to monitor the anti-C titre levels. It actually worked out really well because Tyson also needed bi-weekly bloodwork to monitor his INR levels at the same time. Being only two and a half years old, he was not always able to understand why he needed to be poked all the time so it was super helpful that we could do our bloodwork together – and be brave together. The extra appointments added extra stress and anxiety to our lives resulting in several trips to Toronto every month for the duration of my pregnancy.

Sometimes I worried how it was all going to work out, knowing there was a chance Tyson could need a heart and lung transplant if his heart deteriorated any more, and knowing that he could be hospitalized with pneumonia again at any given time. Sometimes I wondered what God was doing in my life; how could we possibly bring another child into the world with all that our family already had on our plates? I admit, I was exhausted with all the appointments that we had for Tyson and for our unborn baby, and the anxiety level in our house was at an all-time high. Our oldest son, who had taken on so much responsibility being the oldest sibling of a CHD warrior, had also endured so much emotionally that year and he struggled with depression and anxiety that winter too. It’s not something I talk about with a lot of people because I feel 100% responsible for the anxiety that he felt. If only I had handled things better at home, perhaps the anxiety wouldn’t have rubbed off on him.

But let me tell you that the birth of our little Addisyn Faith was so very therapeutic for all of us. In the end she was born healthy and well. A cute little six pound twelve ounce bundle of joy, appropriately named because she certainly did “Add to our Faith.’ We had to throw all caution to the wind and just have faith that God knew what He was doing. And He certainly did know what was best for us – of course, how could I doubt? Addisyn turned out to be the BEST thing that could have happened to our family. She was a very happy baby right from the start, sleeping well though the night and very happy during the day. Tyson was hospitalized with pneumonia again when Addisyn was only four months old, but Tyson was able to stay at our local hospital so it was much easier for Brian and I to take shifts at the hospital. And my Mom was able to take some night shifts too so that Addisyn and I could sleep in our own beds. So it all worked out, as it always does.

At times I feel I was robbed of the joys of Tyson’s infancy because we spent so much time doing things that most new Moms don’t ever think about doing: weighing diapers, measuring fluid intake, learning Ng feeds, Enoxaparin injections, cleaning up the aftermath of reflux problems, weekly trips to Sick Kids, stressing over med times. But giving birth to Addisyn healed me from the trauma of Tyson’s first few years of life and restored some normalcy back to our lives. I took her home, nursed her when she wanted to be nursed and let her sleep when she wanted to sleep. Never once did I weigh her before or after a feed, or poke her tiny legs with a needle, or have to wake her up from her nap because it was time for her medication. I was allowed to snuggle her like a newborn baby needs to be snuggled and she spent many hours curled up at my breast bonding with me exactly where a new baby belongs. She allowed me to put closure to my child-bearing years with good memories instead of traumatic ones.

Today she fills our lives with joy and laughter and keeps me busy at home when Tyson and his siblings are at school all day. Because she and Tyson are four school years apart, she will continue to bless my stay-at-home days for a little while longer yet. I often ask myself what I possibly would have done with my life once Tyson hit school full-time and I had no one else to focus on. What would I possibly have done with all my spare time? Now I spend my days laughing at all Addisyn’s idioms like, “Mom, can you please put tiggy-pails in my hair today?” And the way she can finish the sentences in her favorite books before I even have the words on my tongue. She is so full of spunk and life that I simply can’t imagine my life without her. Even though she wasn’t necessarily ‘planned’ by us, God had a plan in mind for her and for us, and He knew how therapeutic she would be for us.

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I want to encourage you, heart Moms and Dads that you can heal after the trauma of having a cardiac baby. You can move on and have another healthy, happy baby. I’m not saying that having another baby will cure your anxiety, but it will absolutely help to dull the upsetting memories that fill your head; the memories that have robbed you from the joys of a healthy baby. In this life of tornadoes, Addisyn Faith was the shelter that I needed to take my mind of the raging tornado for a little while and enjoy the sunshine again.  Will I still feel anxiety from time to time? Of course. I’m pretty sure the anxiety will always be there. But Addisyn Faith was balm for this Heart Mama’s soul.

Melissa 

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We Didn’t Know

Alexander Day 1

The more heart families we get to know, the more I think about a simple division that exists for parents in our situation; those who knew about their child’s condition before they were born, and those, like us, who did not. Alexander was born in May of 2009, and as time passes and I see new families step into the shoes we wore six years ago, I find myself giving a lot of consideration to those early days after Alex was born. I remember it being very difficult at times to sort out my feelings. The analogy of a balloon comes to mind. All the joy, excitement, and pride of becoming a father again lifting the balloon off the ground, but this time fighting against a giant weight called CHD that houses feelings of confusion, fear, and despair, and prevents the balloon from lifting as fast as it should. The passage of time also allows for some internalizing and self discovery. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but it turns out I was angry. I think my family and friends would tell you I’m a pretty calm guy. I actually don’t remember the last time I got really mad. I don’t like conflict, and typically try to solve problems through compromise and consensus building instead of arguing a point. I don’t like feeling angry. But it turns out, I was, and here’s the strange thing… I wasn’t angry at the world for putting us in this situation, I wasn’t even angry at God for implementing this plan without running it past me first. I was angry because most of the other parents we spoke with knew this was coming, and we didn’t.

For a long time, we just accepted that Alexander’s CHD was simply missed during the routine prenatal Ultrasound. After all, the heart of a baby is a tiny little thing, and surely the differences between a healthy heart and a CHD heart are small and subtle when seen through sound. After a while though, things began to suggest that Alex’s condition was more conspicuous than that. Right Atrial Isomerism is very complex from a physiological standpoint. It’s one of those CHD’s that bring with it multiple complications, and lots of fun acronyms (ASD, VSD, DORV, TAPVR, etc.). There are also several anomalies present not related to his heart. His liver and stomach are reversed, and he’s got no spleen, just to name a couple. Surely some sort of flag should have gone up in the Ultrasound right? Looking back, things started to hit home when Alexander was moved to the NICU at our local hospital for evaluation a few hours before being transferred to SickKids for the first time. The sonographer performing the echocardiogram was very honest. “I’m not qualified to offer any feedback. I don’t understand what I’m seeing”. If it was so obvious just after Alex was born that something was really wrong, why didn’t they see it before?

Well, it turns out some signs were present. During our first prenatal ultrasound the results stated that the pictures of the heart were “unclear”. They needed to schedule a follow up after he developed a bit more to get a better look. I’ve often wondered if the initial pictures were in fact, unclear, or if the radiologist simply assumed they couldn’t be right. We’ll never know. It was during the second ultrasound that it appears the mistake was made. “We got a clear picture, and everything looks fine…”

It wasn’t until after Alexander’s Glenn/Coles procedure that we eventually decided to ask the blunt question. After one of Alex’s cardiology clinic appointments, we simply asked his cardiologist. “Should someone have seen this coming? Should we have known about Alexander’s condition before he was born?” Our doctor paused, I think considering his response. He then deferred to the cardiology fellow shadowing him… “What do you think?” he asked the other doctor.

“In my opinion, the physiology of the top part of the heart could have been missed in a routine prenatal ultrasound. However, under no circumstances should the single ventricle physiology, or the configuration of the pulmonary veins have been missed on a follow up ultrasound focused specifically on the heart,” he said.

Our cardiologist agreed. He then asked us a question I’d never really considered.

“Now that you know, you need to ask yourself… what would have changed?” he asked.

It was such a simple question, and I should have had an answer. I know that Alex would have been born at Mount Sinai and immediately moved to SickKids, but in the end everything worked out okay with him being born in Newmarket too. So what would have changed? Why was I angry about something I really hadn’t properly considered?

“We would have been prepared,” was all I could come up with. Our doctor smiled, likely at the absurdity of my response. We wouldn’t have been prepared, nobody can be. Sure, we might have been all set up logistically. Grandparents would have been on call, time would have been booked off from work, maybe we would have had a pediatrician all set up… but prepared? I doubt it.

And what about all the countervailing “what ifs?” What if we’d been assigned a different cardiologist? What if we never met Alex’s amazing pediatrician, who we actually pretended to know just to get an initial appointment? What if the added stress to the end of Michelle’s pregnancy had resulted in something catastrophic? What if we’d been told Alexander was unlikely to survive?

I admit, I assess these from the position of a parent whose child has done extremely well given the complexity of his disease. It’s easy to look back without regret given that Alexander has, so far, exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. I also realize now that not knowing was likely the better situation for me personally. Months of additional opportunity to consult Dr. Google about Alex’s diagnosis would not have been a beneficial experience.

It’s okay that we didn’t know. I might feel differently if we had, after all I doubt anyone has ever said “I wish we’d been surprised,” but I’ve accepted the way things worked out; in large part due to the conversation we had with our cardiologist that one day in clinic. What would have changed? Probably nothing. What I have trouble accepting is that for a long time I defaulted to anger, and even jealousy that other parents knew about their child’s CHD ahead of time, and we didn’t. It sounds ridiculous, I know.  I’ve given a lot of thought to this over the years, trying to understand the reason why. All I can come up with is that it’s for the same reason parents snap at nurses sometimes, or fly into a rage when a custodian rearranges the furniture in the CCU waiting room, disrupting the temporary home base they’ve established for themselves. It’s a simple reality that we’ve all faced at one time or another.

It’s easier to be angry than scared.

There’s one more reason I’m okay with how things worked out for us, and it’s not something I’ve shared before. When people ask how we cope with Alexander’s CHD, I’ve often said that Alexander’s condition has just always been there, that he’s always been our heart baby. That’s not entirely true. I hold dear a photograph that immortalizes a memory of my young family sitting in our hospital room in the hours after Alexander was born. It was only for one day of naive bliss, but for that one day Alexander was simply our beautiful new baby boy. His older sister was not the sibling of a heart baby, we were not heart parents. We had no idea what was to come in the next 24 hours. I don’t regret what became of that family; in fact I treasure our experience since more than anything. But I also treasure the memory of that day, and the perfection of that single moment in time, a moment made possible because we didn’t know.

Matthew
Matthew is a regular blogger for Cardiac Kids click here to read his bio

Check back next week for a post from Tara 

Getting to Say Thanks

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On July 14, 2011 at 7:30am, 2 men became our family’s heroes. From that moment on it seemed incredible to me that we had barely spoken to them, didn’t know their names and never had the chance to say thank you. How was it possible that there were people just out there that had played such a huge role in our lives and we knew nothing about them. This had been on my mind for quite some time and after going back and forth I reached out to Toronto Paramedic Services and asked if we could arrange to meet these men. I wasn’t sure what to expect; you see stories like this in the media and I always wondered how the paramedics really felt about these meetings. For someone who is not a paramedic, I had always imagined that the most difficult part of their job was the fact that they have to walk away without knowing the outcome of the call. Did meeting people just feel like another obligation of the job or does it actually help to bring some closure? The commander who responded to my request answered that question right away – both of the paramedics who worked on Lily remembered her call vividly and were excited at the chance to meet again.

To say that we were nervous would be a complete understatement. What do you say to the people who actually saved your child’s life, who literally kept her heart beating? We’ve had doctor’s do that, who have held Lily’s heart in their hands and we’ve been able to thank them, but this just felt different. Perhaps because there was no plan, no preparation on their part; they didn’t have scans or echo’s to look at, they just had the information that was coming up on their screen and with that little information, they created a miracle and saved us from a life of grieving. I didn’t know how we were going to get through saying hello without turning into a blubbering mess, let alone actually get out the words that I wanted them to hear.

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It was incredible to sit in a room with them, to have them see Lily with their own eyes, to her the story of that day from their point of view. They were able to give us information that we never could have known without them. They told us that, contradictory to what we had always thought, they were both in the back of the ambulance working on Lily and they actually thrown the keys to a police officer and had him drive. They were incredibly careful not to communicate with words so that my wife, who was in the front, would not panic because they were also scared that it wasn’t going to end well. We found out that one of them had made a special trip to Sick Kids after their shift ended that day to come and check up on her (under the guise of picking up a piece of equipment). We sat in silence, and tears, and listened to the 911 call and I have never been more proud of my wife. I can hear the fear in her voice, hear how terrified she was but she didn’t allow that fear to win – the recording could be used as an example of the perfect 911 call. She was so calm, communicating all of the information so quickly and clearly and she was one step ahead the entire time: she had already put our dog in the crate and opened our front door before the dispatch operator could suggest it. While I had known that arrangements had been made to give us a recording of the call, I didn’t know that we were going to listen to it that day and I started to panic when they queued it up: could listening to that call do anything good or would it just bring all of the painful memories screaming back? But something happened as we listened, listened and watched Lily sitting on the laps of the men who saved her: it felt like healing. Towards the end of the tape, you can hear the sirens wailing as the paramedics pulled up to our front door and even from where I was sitting I could feel the relief again, knowing that help was so very close.

It was hard to be eloquent though. I had so many things that I wanted to say to them but struggled to put those thoughts into words. How do you say thank you? How can you possibly put into words what their actions meant to our lives? I stayed awake quite late the night before we met thinking about what to say, because I knew that I had to be ready; that if I left it to chance I would miss something important and regret what I didn’t say. In the end, I realized that the only way I could ensure that was to write it down and I’m so grateful that I did, because while I got through saying hello, when I did try and say thank you, I was left in tears and I became the blubbering mess that I had been trying to avoid. So while I won’t share the entire letter with you, I will share this:

“To even think of a world without Lily breaks my heart and we came so close to that being our reality. You not only saved her life that day, but you saved ours as well – you saved our entire world. So, thank you. Thank you for coming into our lives on the very darkest day and giving us back the sunshine. Thank you for giving Lily back to us. Without you we would be nothing and so thank you for giving us everything.”

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Crystal

Crystal is a regular blogger for Cardiac Kids. Click here to learn more about her and to read Lily’s story.

Stay tuned next week for a post from Laurie.

**Photos used with the permission of Toronto Paramedic Services**

Winter Struggles

With the winter coming faster in some areas then others, I thought this was the perfect time to talk about the struggles some heart kids face in the winter months.

Branden from the age 5 and up seemed to always struggle to keep warm in the winter. You would often see his hands/face red or blue and his toes too. It didn’t matter if I spent the $100 or $400 on the best or warmest jacket the companies declared, he just never could keep warm. I know $100 doesn’t seem like a lot today, but it was 15/16 years ago. But it got to the point where he wasn’t allowed out at recess during school day and long fun trips to the local hill turned to short trips for tobogganing.

When Branden was a baby and living in North Bay and relying on the bus system and walking to and from daycare Branden was fine in a good winter jacket and snow pants, bundled up with a blanket. It wasn’t until we moved south and he started to go to school did I see the big change. In February 2004, Branden started turning red fast and sometimes blue. No longer did the warmest jacket work. He couldn’t control his body temp. His arms turned to what I call “marble cheese”. I went with my gut and called sick kids. Off he went for a unscheduled echo. They discovered one of his two leaflets clasped. For the next 10 years it was a up and down battle to keep him warm.

Branden started off by staying in at recess on really cold days. (School should accommodate your child’s special needs). For the first few years he was sent to the office with actives that I provided. He was allowed to bring a friend to play the games. For the most part it seemed to always be a girl, I guess they had a soft spot for him. This worked for a bit but the battle to keep him warm continued.

It seems the unscheduled echos in Feb/March became almost like tradition. For 10 years every Feb/March I would called his Cardio Doctor and say Branden isn’t looking right. Most of the time he was fine- twice he wasn’t. BUT nothing would keep him warm during those cold winter months. I spent hundreds of dollars on new snowsuits the best of the year the warmest jacket ever. I would buy thermal underwear and shirts, the thickest socks. Nothing kept him warm. It was crazy. So no longer was he able to go out on the nicer winter days at recess. He started joining some clubs the schools ran and some, like Lego club was a big hit for him. Branden’s only time spent outside was walking to and from school. It got to the point where I felt like the weather police and kept him hostage in the house. Which was sad as he had younger siblings who had no issues playing outside. (I would let him out for a 20 mins at a time, but I guess this was the year Branden realized he wasn’t a regular child). But all through school from Jk-grade 8 Branden wasn’t going out during the cold days he lost and never had the chance to learn social aspects of play outdoors with other kids..

So how do we keep our heart babies, toddlers, children, teens and almost adults warm?

It gets harder to do, with the new suggestion from private organizations that have done some research on this on what is safe and unsafe in regards to car seats.

If you can’t put snow suits in the harness car seats, you can’t use those nice warm JJ coles bags any longer to bundle up your baby it gets harder to keep those little ones warm. I know with baby number 5 all these suggest came into place, we have seen them pop up on our local news feeds on facebook, in the papers and maybe even on yahoo. I worried about how to keep this youngest one warm and she isn’t even a heart baby. I researched a lot to find an infant car seat that sold a warm bag, that you were allowed to keep in the seat. I bought the plastic cover to go overtop the car seat ( best invention ever) and put a warm blanket on top of the seat while going from house to car. I also bought a fleece suit; it was thin and safe to go in the seat. She was warm all winter.
It gets harder when they are out of the infant seat. If you can’t put kids in seats with snow suits how do you keep them warm. There are a few suggested jackets that would be safe according to all of the research I have done. Primaloft is one I have found in my research if you lucky and get a code you can sometimes get it for 50% off at Gap. These are some of the struggles a mom’s of of little ones face, But would that car seat approved jacket, keep a heart toddler warm outside building a snowman? ( we all know we are building Oalf’s this year). I wish there was a magical answer to this question. I wish the Doctors would give us a manual of what to buy them to keep the safe and warm.

But I guess there isn’t. Each heart child is different, some can handle the weather changes and others like Branden can’t. I think it depends on which stage they are in during their heart journeys. I can say what worked for my heart child in the last 16. It really is trial and error and learning from experience. I wish heart parents would share more often what has worked for their kids so parents wouldn’t have to struggle so much.

Things that have worked for Branden:

I have bought many brands over the years nothing kept him warm or if it did it was for a short time frame. I started researching jackets and brands of what people used when climbing snowy mountains or people who camped in the winter. I checked out MEC which is a supply store I heard many people talking about. I talked to people who work outdoors all day long in all weather conditions. Through out my research one of the Jackets I have found was the down filled North Face jacket. I went to a store near by that sold them. I got one 50% off. I tend to buy in Jan/Feb where they are trying to get rid of winter stock. I gave it a try, when Branden started fooling around on the coldest days instead of doing his papers I knew for once I found a jacket that kept him warm. I can’t even say Branden was in great health as we knew our days were number to the next surgery. But he was out for a few hours and wasn’t cold. I felt like I found gold. He needed a good warm jacket and snow pants, good Sorel boots, thick socks, layer clothing and a hat. Finally at 14 he was able to join the cold winter weather.

These suggestion might not work for your child but they might also. Lets start talking more about what we do to keep our kids warm and safe this cold winter.

Here is a blog of other suggestion
http://carseatblog.com/24645/baby-its-cold-outside-winter-coat-suggestions-for-kids-in-carseats/

http://www.thestar.com/life/2013/01/21/for_children_in_car_seats_snowsuits_bunting_can_pose_a_safety_risk.html )

Shannon

Shannon is a regular blogger for Cardiac Kids. To read more about her and her son Branden click here

What’s Next?

As parents who love our kids it is our job to ensure that they have the best possible care. We give them the medications, we take them to every appointment, we hold their hand for every blood draw, we sign consent for every surgery, we shed tears with them when it hurts, we hug them when they are scared, we seek therapy for them when they need added help. In every way we seek to make their lives as great as possible, we strive to give them as normal a childhood as possible; sometimes we succeed and sometimes as hard as we try to we have to admit defeat.

I am generally a fairly hopeful person, it wasn’t until Joshua’s third surgery that it really struck me. There is no cure for what ails my son. It doesn’t matter what I do, I will never be able to fix his heart. It was a bitter pill to swallow, one that still has a bitter after taste years later. As I wrestled with the idea of Josh always having a heart defect I also began to research what his future will look like. I wanted to be as educated as possible, what I learned was disturbing but not hopeless.

In the 1950’s and 60’s a child born with a congenital heart defect had a twenty percent chance of surviving to adulthood. Fortunately, today, ninety to ninety-five percent of children born with a CHD survive. The growing number of survivors is leaving us with a beautiful yet unique problem.  Where we have never before needed an adult care system, we now have a desperate and constantly growing need for specialized cardiologists in the field of Congenital Heart Defects.

When Joshua turns 18 he will leave the safety of his paediatric hospital and enter an unknown adult world of medicine that is not ready for him. He will leave Sick Kids and be met with new doctors who may not be specialists in the world of congenital heart defects. As a parent I have learned a great deal about the medical system from pre-natal, through to pediatrics and now realize what the adult care system is currently facing in terms of larger numbers of survivors, a lack of specialized doctors and health care providers.

But what would happen if there were a place where adult CHD patients could all be treated with equal care, equal value–just one all encompassing system such as they already receive as kids? What would happen if we had a place for all CHD patients—baby, child or adult? What would happen if we went to one place for prenatal care, paediatric care and then adult care? What if Josh, who has always been followed by one specialized cardiologist, whose surgeries were always done by the same surgeon, was followed throughout his life by the same institute, the same care providers?

I see all the problems that face Josh and survivors like him, I see the lack of specialists in this field, I see the lack of education for the patients leaving paediatrics, I see the cracks in the system that are just waiting for kids like Joshua to fall through and I see a deep need for change. As parents it is our job to take care of our kids, to help them in any way that we can; I cannot cure my son, I can’t fix his broken heart, but I can do everything in my power to see that his future is as secure as possible. I can make sure I tell everyone who will listen about this silent killer who stalks our kids. I can do whatever is necessary to see a place like this dream institute can become a reality.

This is not so farfetched a dream. It only needs an action plan. It needs people like you, people with a voice, people who care about the future of our children, people with the power and will to make things happen, to ensure change.

Laurie

Laurie is a regular blogger for Cardiac Kids. To read more about her an her son Josh click here 

Be sure to check back next week for a post from Crystal

Marathon Friends

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Friends and family are a lifeline and pillars of support when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I have always said (as have many others) that weddings and funerals bring out the best and the worst in people. This adage also applies to having a sick child. My family and I have been very lucky to have a large circle of support to help get through our struggles with Owen’s heart. I don’t just mean the big things either, like child care for my older children or preparing meals on a daily basis, even the smallest of acts of kindness can make the biggest of differences. An extra large coffee in the surgical waiting room can do wonders. The support does not end out of the hospital. For babies born with congenital heart defects, their battle is life long. There is no cure. Their journey, their life is the ultimate marathon. We have some truly amazing people in our lives that have been there for the long haul.

But then….there are those extraordinary people who turn up and write a children’s book about your child to raise funds to help your cause. And that is exactly what happened to my family.

I met  in grade 7 (only a few short years ago). We remained friends all through junior high and high school. In fact, she was the one who introduced me to my husband (again, only a few short years ago). As with most of my school friends, we lost touch in university being separated by cities and provinces. But then along came the Facebook era and we were reunited.

And then Owen was born. My life became a whirlwind and still is. So, Emis asked if she could write a book about Owen. Honestly, I never really thought about it much. I was like, “Sure”. Fast-forward a few years and the “The Mighty O” is officially launching.

To say that I am grateful would be an insult. There are no words to describe my feelings of gratitude and awe. The amount of time and energy put into this project is astounding. I have literally contributed only by giving birth to a very sick little boy. She has taken this project from just an idea to publication. Emis, and project “The Mighty O”, have partnered with Cardiac Kids to bring her little book idea to fruition and ready for sale.

I am ecstatic to announce that, as of October 24th, 2014, “The Mighty O” will be available to be purchased. All proceeds from the sale of this book will be going to SickKids Foundation and Make-A-Wish Canada in honour of Owen’s battle.

For more information you can “like” us on Facebook or to order a copy, contact: emisakbari@gmail.com

On-line sales will be up and running soon and I will do my best to plaster that site everywhere!

Laura 

Laura is a regular blogger for Cardiac Kids, to learn more about her and read Owen’s story click here 

Busy Waiting

Most people think when you have a heart defect, you get it fixed and you’re done! And that would be correct for several defects. But, for those of us who have children with complex congenital heart defects this is not the case. Far from it.

Complex heart defects often times require several surgeries to correct the defect. “Correct” meaning change the anatomy of the heart so that the defect becomes survivable. It is important to remind you that there is NO CURE for heart defects. Heart defects will always be there in some way. Even when a child becomes an adult, their heart is not like a healthy adult. He/she will never have a normal heart.

But I digress…several surgeries. So, when there are multiple surgeries, there is a lot of down time. This down time is not nearly as delightful as it sounds.

In the case of Owen’s heart, the treatment is generally a 3 staged reconstruction of the heart. The first stage at birth, the second at around 6 months and the last around the age of 3. With the exception of the first stage, the last two are based on weight and health of the child. The time frames of the surgery of 6 months and 3 years is an average. Owen is 6 and has yet to have the final stage. He is a bit of an exception and is not typical of the defect.

With the potential of surgery years apart your life as a family can be put on hold. Surgeons wait until you are sick enough to require the surgery but not sick enough that you won’t survive the surgery.

Read that again.

Surgeons wait until you are sick enough to require the surgery but not sick enough that you won’t survive the surgery.

That means, we are waiting for our kids to start deteriorating. We are waiting for them to start becoming blue more often. To lose their breath more easily. To become more tired. To eat less. To become more cranky and irritable. To get colds more often and take longer to recover. We are waiting for our kids to start dying.

In the meantime, you cannot plan for things much more then 2-3 months at a time. Because, like us, you never know when this “deterioration” will start. In general it is a slow deterioration. Though, it is not impossible for an illness, such as a common cold or flu, to kick start it quickly, very quickly. For Owen, it has been this past summer….but it has been a long time coming.

Owen, ideally, should have had surgery years ago. But years ago, he was in such terrible heart failure, surgery would have killed him.   He has been on medications to improve his heart function and under the watchful eye of a cardiologist. The decision has been made to take the risk and repair his heart.

Yet, we are still waiting. Because now we are waiting for a surgery date. We are holding our breath. Owen is starting grade one, his school year will be interrupted. His brother and sister’s lives will get   flipped upside down. Our extended family will be on call. My husband will have to take a leave of absence from work. All three kids will have to, in some way be prepared….

But once this final reconstruction is complete, another round of waiting begins. Because kids with complex heart defects are never truly out of the woods. Some will need a transplant at some point, some will need several more procedures and surgeries. All will be under the care of a specialized cardiologist. All require waiting. We are permanently busy waiting.

Laura

Laura is a regular blogger for Cardiac Kids to find out more about her or to read Owen’s story, click here.

Check back in 2 weeks for a post from Melissa 

Being a Heart Family

In November 2008 when our son Tyson was born, our world changed forever and we became a ‘Heart Family.’ I’d already had seven years’ experience being a ‘Mom,’ but being a ‘Heart Mom’ is different. It’s not better, it’s not worse; it’s not inferior or superior; it’s just different.

What does it mean to be a Heart Mom? Being a Heart Mom means never looking too far ahead in the future, but trying to live each day in thankfulness and praying you get to enjoy many more. It means taking things one day at a time – some days one hour at a time, and some hours one minute at a time. It means preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best.

Being Heart Parents means we had to brush up on our knowledge of the heart anatomy and how it works, because in three short days our newborn son was having his first of three palliative open-heart surgeries. We had three days to try and understand what the cardiologists meant when they told us ‘your son has very serious, complex congenital heart defects.’ We had to try to understand the complexity of his heart and what the surgeon planned to do to help, and still afterwards mentally prepare ourselves to lay our newborn son on the operating table so that the surgeon can stop his heart, open his sternum, and re-knit his tiny, strawberry-sized heart. Being Heart Parents means nervously waiting hours in the surgical waiting room, hoping and praying that the surgeon’s hands are steady, praying that the heart and lung machine will keep our son alive during the procedure so that he will be given back to us again when it’s over. It means spending hours by his bedside, watching him fight for his life on life-support, with so many tubes and wires you can’t even count them, with monitors and machines beeping constantly.

Being Heart Parents means learning and developing a new kind of ‘normal’ when we finally get to go home from the hospital. It means learning and administering several different medications, trying to make meds with rigid schedules fit into a baby’s unpredictable one. It means doing things that seem so unnatural like having to wake your baby in the middle of a nap because he’s slept too long and we’re already an hour late with his heart medication, or trying desperately to keep him awake for just half an hour more so he can have his meds before he drifts off to sleep. It means weighing him every morning to make sure he’s not losing weight, feeding him low-fat formula when all you want to do is nurse him again, and having home care nurses come to your home to help monitor him for heart failure. It means squeezing his lumpy thighs morning and night, trying to find a new spot that isn’t already bruised and batted up from his anticoagulant injections. It means low-fat feeds, feeding pumps, NG tubes and reflux. It means needles, X-rays, ECHOs, ECGS, antibiotics and IVs. Blood thinners, sedation, MRIs, heart caths, stickers and bravery beads. It means that hospital visits aren’t actually that scary at all, because in a sad sort of way, the hospital kinda feels like home. Being a Heart Mom means learning the hard way that a two-hour car ride from our local hospital to Sick Kids in Toronto takes a mere sixteen minutes via helicopter. It means joining online support groups, living in ‘heart world,’ and having some really good friends on the computer whom we’ve never actually met in person.

Being a Heart Mom means sometimes being consumed with worry and fear. If our cardiac kid sleeps too long or he doesn’t answer immediately when we call his name, we worry about cardiac arrest or stroke. If he drinks too many fluids, it could put undue stress on his heart; yet if he doesn’t drink enough, he could dehydrate and be at risk for a stroke. Being a Heart Mom means monitoring daily fluid intake, and always watching and monitoring sleep patterns, behaviour, colour, and activity levels; checking respiratory rate, heart rate, and oxygen levels.  It means analyzing every little cough or sneeze. Does his cough sound wetter today than yesterday? Is he coughing because he has a cold or is this the start of heart failure? Is he looking bluer today? Does he look puffy? When was the last time he went pee – is he retaining fluids? Did he meet his required daily fluid intake?  Being a Heart Mom means trying not to let the worry surpass you, trying not to expect the other shoe to drop. It means owning medical equipment you never knew existed like pulse oximeter monitors and CoaguChek machines. It means owning an AED and praying you never have to use it.

Being a Heart Family means sometimes spending Christmas, New Year’s or long weekends in the hospital.   Being the sibling of a heart child means learning to roll with the punches; it means knowing that we can never etch our plans in stone because they are bound to change in a heartbeat. They develop an early understanding of life and death, heaven and Jesus, and have experienced the truth that God always carries us through. Being a Heart Family also means never taking a single day for granted and counting each and every little blessing as a gift from God. We make the best of our quality time, because we never know when his time will run out. It means rejoicing over all the little milestones that maybe we’d otherwise take for granted. And thanking God every day for His grace and mercy, acknowledging that it’s all because of Him that we have the blessed opportunity to know and love: a living, breathing *miracle.*

Melissa is a regular blogger for Cardiac Kids. Read her bio and learn more about Tyson HERE
Be sure to check back in 2 weeks for Laura’s next post!

The Little Things

 

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Joshua – 5 Years Old

When I was first told that our son would be born with a congenital heart defect I was too shocked to think about what that actually means. I worried more about the practical and short term things (for example: would I be able to keep my midwife? Would I be able to breast feed him?) It wasn’t too long before I started to really grasp that my worries should be more in line with; will he live? Will I ever know his smile or touch? Learning your child has a complex heart defect changes everything about you, everything about your life. In a moment you grow up. We had to learn all about the heart, we had to learn to make tough decisions in short amounts of time, and we had to learn to be not just parents for the first time but parents to a very sick little boy. It wasn’t always easy I will admit, it’s been a tough road and there are many nights I cry myself to sleep; however it’s also been a journey of discovery for us (his family). I have discovered joy in the little things, a hug, a smile, laughter. I have discovered strength where I didn’t think there was any, I have discovered courage, and I have seen firsthand what bravery looks like on the face of a child. Life doesn’t come with guarantees about health; it doesn’t come with promises of happiness, wealth or success. Courage can’t be found in someone who has never known fear, joy can’t be bought, and laughter sometimes comes on the heels of tears.

Hearing that our son had a congenital heart defect changed us, but in many ways it has changed us for the good. Our lives are made richer because each day is a gift, each smile a balm for a tired soul. Our children are not a diagnosis, they aren’t just statistics; they are beautiful, warm, loving, compassionate, little children who happen to have special hearts.

One of Joshua’s favorite things to tell you if you meet him is that he has pig valves in his heart, and he giggles. To him, it’s not a special heart, it’s just ‘his heart’ and in fact to him yours is the heart that is different because you ‘just have human parts’.

This is my first time posting for the new Cardiac Kids blog and I wanted to my first post to not be about the horror of CHD but the joy that can be found inside this world we live in. Living with illness of any kind reminds you that life is short and it’s precious and it’s very precarious. I no longer take the future for granted, when I am tired, frustrated, feeling hopeless, I look around me, look back at where we have been and smile because I have today, we have today. I have known too many ‘heart angels’ to not know how precious a gift that is.

None of us would choose this place; none of us want our children to suffer one more day, and given a chance I can guarantee that were we given a choice each of us would lay down our life if it would mean a cure for our kids. We didn’t choose to know about places like Cardiac Kids, Sick Kids, or any of the other groups and charities that help our children. We are here. End of story. What we do here is what matters now.

Laurie

Laurie Haughton is a regular blogger for Cardiac Kids. Read her bio and learn more about Joshua here

Be sure to check back next week for Shannon’s first post!