The Greatest Gifts Come from the Heart
This month we are sharing reader-submitted stories that reveal the true spirit of the holiday season. This is Hannah’s story as told by her mom, Libby.
Every day when I look into the eyes of my happy, healthy six-year-old daughter Hannah, I am reminded that miracles do happen.
In April 2006, I took then 4-week-old Hannah to the pediatrician for her well baby check-up. After listening to her heart, the doctor said he heard “something” that could indicate a ventricular septal defect (VSD) and he wanted to refer us to Cincinnati Children’s to have it checked out.
Ventricular septal defects are one of the most common congenital heart defects. A VSD is a small hole between the right and left pumping chambers of the heart, which usually closes on its own within the first few weeks of life. Regular check-ups with a pediatric cardiologist and observation are often the only treatment required.
Naturally I was concerned. But some of my concern was tempered by the fact that I am also a Registered Nurse, so I understand the importance of not overreacting. A consultation is a consultation, and it could turn out to be nothing. Better safe than sorry, right?
Our appointment was scheduled with Dr. Robert Beekman at Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute. The first test showed that Hannah had lower blood pressure in her legs. This prompted the team to do an echocardiogram so they could look at her heart and how it was beating.
When we returned to the exam room afterwards, we were met by a team of doctors. Now I was concerned. One of them started drawing a diagram of Hannah’s heart on a white board while he explained to us that she had a coarctation of the aorta that would require surgery to repair.
Basically Hannah’s aorta, the main blood vessel that carries oxygen from her heart to the other organs in her body, was too narrow, which meant the left side of her heart had to work harder to pump blood to the lower part of her body. Since she was so young it was possible that her heart wasn’t strong enough to compensate, and that could quickly lead to heart failure.
My motherly concern became flat out devastation. The only thing I remember saying as the tears ran down my face was, “Will this go away?”
In the kindest, gentlest tone the doctor answered no. Our only option was to repair it surgically. The good news– if there was any — was that Hannah’s coarctation was moderate, and the team felt like we could hold off on surgery until she was at least two years old. However, her condition had to be monitored closely, and if it got worse they would need to operate sooner.
Monitoring Hannah closely required monthly hospital visits and a mother’s watchful eye.
I didn’t sleep much after that. Not only was I dealing with the normal stress of caring for a newborn, I was vigilant in looking for any change that could indicate her condition was getting worse. Things like shortness of breath, a change in her color or circulation, a lingering cough, and a host of other things.
We returned to Cincinnati Children’s for our monthly visit just before the holidays in December 2006. By then, we were frequent fliers in cardiology and knew the drill: echo lab then a meeting with the doctor. Let me tell you there was nothing routine about this particular “routine” check-up.
The echo lasted about three hours instead of the typical 20 to 40 minutes. The technician kept leaving the room during the procedure, which I found incredibly frustrating since it seemed to prolong our visit unnecessarily.
When we finally got into the exam room, Dr. Beekman didn’t offer any apologies. Instead, we both got the shock of our lives. For the rest of my days I will remember his exact words. He said, “I don’t know why, I can’t tell you how, but it’s gone. Her coarctation is gone!”
Fast forward to 2012. As you can see from the photos, Hannah is a healthy girl. She loves cheerleading, gymnastics and soccer.
I’ve yet to encounter anybody in the medical field who can explain how Hannah’s heart healed itself, nor have I heard of a similar case.
I want to thank everyone at Cincinnati Children’s for the unbelievable care you provided. I think of you all often and I will never forget that fateful day when Dr. Beekman and his staff delivered the happiest news a parent could ever receive — my precious baby was well. It was and remains my December miracle.
Our family moved to North Carolina in 2007. We continue to follow-up with a cardiologist every two years and I am happy to report that Hannah was once again given a clean bill of health at our appointment last week.
Thank you, thank you a million times over for what you do! Merry Christmas and God bless you!
Hannah’s mom Libby has been a Registered Nurse since 2004. She currently works in the ICU at Wakemed Cary.