November Recap – Grateful Hearts

Throughout the month of November, we took a look at everything we have to be grateful for, through the hard times and the good. And we discovered that we have so much to be grateful for in this crazy thing called life! 

I just want to make a quick note to the PCHA community, next week you won’t find our usual PCHA blog. Keep an eye out for something special this December and be sure to check back. In the mean time, we are posting tons of great material, so be sure to stay up to date! 

 

A Journey Shared – Joseph Burns

The Gift of Life – Sara Engstrom

Angels in Scrubs

Always Enough – Rebeka Acosta

Angels in Scrubs

In times of hardships, it can often be difficult to maintain gratitude. This week, Heather Speakman shares with PCHA how hardships can often teach us the most about gratitude.

It’s the Eve of Thanksgiving and I can’t help but feel overwhelming gratitude to the team of people that take care of our sweet Madison. I know that there are a few hundred stories and posts of a very similar sentiment but I’ve never been one to let someone else tell my story. So here’s my version

To all of the Doctors, NP’s, and PA’s, I see you.

Image result for gratitudeYou’ve explained procedure after procedure, making sure I understand what’s going to happen. You’ve stopped what you’re doing to comfort me when my daughter’s heart rate dropped to 50, assuring me why it happened and how you’re going to fix it. I’ve gotten update after update and I see the look on your face when you wish it was better news. I see the hope in your eyes that she will get better and that you will get her in my arms no matter what. I see how tired you are but no matter how busy it is you make sure everyone is taken care of, often hopping from room to room with coffee in hand. I see that you’re up all night and you still greet me with a smile and ask how I’m doing. I’ve heard your voice on the phone in the middle of the night asking for consent, I know it can’t be easy to ask for permission in a time like this but thank you for being kind. I’ve heard you say, “Are you coming in soon?” knowing that you have to sit me down and have a really hard conversation about what another blood clot could do to my daughter. You’ve greeted me at the door because you couldn’t wait to tell me the good news that she’s going to come off Ecmo. I’ve high-fived you in rounds because we made it over a huge bump in the road. You’ve made it easy to report back to family what the plan is for the day and what it means so I can remember it easily. You’ve looked me in the eyes and promised that you will tell me when it’s too much because I didn’t want to be that mom who put her baby through unnecessary procedures if the result was going to be the same. You’ve also given me the look that says you’re up for the fight and you’ll do everything in your power to save her.

I’ve had to call your name quickly before you left her room to tell you that I think it’s time, she’s tired. With tears in your eyes, your hand holding mine you slowed your breath and regrettably agreed. My heart wasn’t the only one breaking, yours was too. You’ve come to visit, paying your respects and giving your condolences, telling us that she fought and fought hard. You’ve empowered me, reminding me that this is OUR journey with Madison, no one else’s.Image result for gratitude

To the CICU nurses, I see you.

No matter how many times that pump goes off or the monitor beeps you’re there. You’re always asking me if I’m okay, even if you’re not our nurse that day. You’ve seen our baby post op and assured me that there will be ups and downs in the next 24 hours. You’ve let us in the room even when you weren’t ready because you knew we could handle it. You’ve kicked us out so we can get lunch and promised to call if anything changes. I’ve seen you on your hands and knees checking chest tube drainage, making sure she’s not too sleepy or not too agitated on her pain meds, changing countless dressings on her lines. You’ve been able to get IV’s in places like her head, and feet. You’ve hugged me and told me to go home after a surprise phone call in the middle of the night. Telling me that you’ll take good care of her. I’ve seen you try not to laugh when we’re being goofy and super inappropriate and eventually you break down and participate. I hope you know that we love it when you talk to us and ask questions about our life outside of the hospital. It makes me feel like there WILL be a life outside. I love that you talk out loud when you’re trying to figure out why she doesn’t look right, it gives me comfort to know that you’re not afraid to tell us when something is “off”. Although I must say, you have pretty good poker faces. There have been times where you come to us with a problem but you never come without a plan. I’ve seen the look on your face when you have to come in after the doctor just gave us bad news. Even still, you ask if you can get us anything. I wish you could see the look on your face when I ask for vodka and Xanax, I never said it was for me ;0). You’ve told me to get my kisses and love in before each surgery or procedure. You’ve celebrated victories with me, big and small. I love that you come to say hi, even if you’re busy. You’ve greeted me with a smile and a full report if I missed rounds. I’ve laughed with you until my cheeks hurt.  You let me hold my baby girl after 28 days on the ventilator because you knew I needed it. I’ve seen you work hard in other rooms when it wasn’t an easy day and cover each others lunches sometimes jumping from one room to another.

You’ve talked to us about Madi’s prognosis and helped us ask the hard questions. I’ve seen you love on her like a proud auntie or fairy godmother. You’ve protected our privacy fiercely, drawing curtains and adding a sign to the door. You’ve done some impressive acrobatics hopping up and down from counters so Erik and I could switch spots, despite the ventilator and a few dozen lines in the way. I’ve seen you check on me from your desk, making sure I was comfortable as I held my baby girl in the middle of the night for the last time. You assured me that it’s no trouble at all to put her back in bed if I needed to rest.

You volunteered to be her nurse on the hardest day of my life, one of the many reasons why I think about you every day. You brought clothes from home because you didn’t know if I had anything to change her into. You’ve granted me every wish on my sweet girl’s last day on Earth, minus the Xanax and vodka. You’ve laughed with me and let me cuss like a sailor, giving countless hugs and allowing me to be whatever I needed in that moment. I’ve seen the tears in your eyes as you placed Madi into Erik’s arms so we could say goodbye to our brave, strong girl.

To the “Special Teams” I see you.

I’ve seen you talk to my daughter in your baby voice and call her peanut.  You’ve checked setting after setting on her ventilator, rooting for her every step of the way. You ask me how she’s doing, even though you already know she’s having a great day. You always smile and say hi when you’re walking down the hall or offer a wave from a distance. You’ve done trial after trial to make sure she’s ready to be off the vent.

You gave Madi her first and only Christmas tree, decorated with bells and Beads of Courage, it will stay up year long at our house. No matter how many times we had to switch places to hold her, you were always there with a smile and saying “no problem at all.”

You come and chat with me to let me forget about how tough this can be. I get to tell you the dumb thing I did that week. You’ve listened to me happy or sad and remind me that it’s okay to not be okay. You ask if we’re eating and sleeping. You’ve offered meal vouchers on nights when we didn’t want to leave. I’ve seen you after a rough weekend and distract me with a funny story. You promise that if you come visit it’s not because someone called you to check on me.

You’ve allowed me to speak freely and openly without judgement. I’ve told you how hard this has been financially. You’ve provided resources and help when I was ashamed and embarrassed, assuring me that something like this can cripple a hundred thousand dollar savings account. You’ve called us to tell us someone adopted us for Christmas, I was so relieved.

You were there when I had to tell my thirteen year old daughter that her sister wasn’t going to come home, you listened as I apologized to her for what’s to come. I’ve seen you make Madi’s hand and foot prints, asking Tristyn if she wanted to help.

You’ve given me the power to be an advocate for my daughter, helping me make some really tough decisions. You’ve rallied the troops and packed her hospital room so I could read this very blog to all of you, that moment was incredibly special and I’ll cherish it always.

We’ve prayed together after our sweet angel gained her wings. You’ve helped usher my family and I out of her room, telling me we could stay as long as we wanted but you knew I couldn’t take it anymore. You’ve promised to stay with her until she had to go.

I’ve heard your voice on the intercom so I can come back to see my baby. You’ve given me a red sticker everyday and make sure I’m not full of icky germs. The occasional chocolate is a really good plus. You’ve stocked carts and given me bottles and labels galore.

I know that there are many more angels in scrubs and business casual gear that we don’t see but we appreciate you and everything you do to make sure our daughter is taken care of.

I am constantly telling my friends and family how amazing you all are. Sometimes they even ask for you by name. We pray for you everyday. Being in the cardiac ICU is rough and I hope you know that we appreciate and love you. You’ve become a special part of our extended family and made this journey that much easier.

I expected to grieve the loss of my amazing daughter but what I wasn’t expecting was grieving the loss of her amazing medical team. We miss you all so much.

Thank you doesn’t even begin to cover it but this thankful, grateful mama is going to tell everyone.

Heather Speakman has been married to her high school sweetheart Erik for 13 years and has 4 children, Tristyn Gage, Hayden and Madison. Madison was born with a heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome with heterotaxy and 3 other defects. She lived for 41 days before she succumbed to complications of her heart defects and passed away on November 30th, 2017. Since Madi’s passing Heather has helped raise awareness for congenital heart defects. Heather is an avid blogger, and blogs as a way to help cope with her grief and shares her feelings in the hopes that people will know they’re not alone.

Delbert Collins

Our handsome baby boy Delbert was born at the Children’s Hospital Colorado in December 2017. Del was originally diagnosed with aortic stenosis but after he was born doctors were able to determine it was actually hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). He spent his whole life in the hospital, and during this time he went through 11 surgical procedure, 5 of which were open heart. At 2 months old he suffered a stroke leaving him without 40% of his brain function. Even through all of this he continued to fight. Delbert won his fight on Father’s Day 2018 and became one of the most beautiful Angel’s our family will ever know. He was so strong and fought so hard, and we will forever miss him. I hope he brings as much happiness to heaven as he did to us while he was here.

August Recap- Finances and CHD

CHD take such a huge toll on patients and their families, mentally, physically, and financially. Finances can be such a daunting conversation when it comes to CHD. This series in August attempts to make that conversation a little less scary, so that families may feel like they have some tools to conquer the financial aspect of CHD. 

 

The Ways we Pay for CHD

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits With a Congenital Heart Defect

Congenital Heart Disease in an Era of High Deductible Health Plans

Conquering CHD… And Medical Bills with Akina!

Inside Out

 

 

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits as an Adult with CHD

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits as an Adult with CHD

 

Tens of thousands of adults are thriving with congenital heart defects. While many are able to live full lives, it’s possible that at some point your heart function will decrease and you’re unable to maintain employment. If you’re no longer able to work due to your heart condition, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers monthly resources for people who cannot work. While a CHD does not automatically qualify, thousands of adults may be eligible.

 

Medical Eligibility for Social Security

 

The SSA uses its own medical guide, known colloquially as the Blue Book, when determining whether an applicant will be eligible for disability benefits. The Blue Book lists exactly what medical results or symptoms you’ll need to be approved for Social Security with your CHD. There are many cardiovascular disorders under which someone with a CHD could be eligible. Here are a couple of examples:

Chronic heart failure: this will qualify if you have systolic heart failure with diastolic dimensions greater than 6.0 cm or ejection fraction of 30% or less. You can also qualify with diastolic failure with left ventricular posterior wall plus septal thickness totaling 2.5 cm or greater, OR an enlarged left atrium greater or equal to 4.5 cm.

Arrhythmias: these will qualify if they’re uncontrolled with medication and you have episodes that cause you to faint or nearly faint.

Symptomatic congenital heart disease: there are three ways to qualify under this listing. If you have cyanosis (blue discoloration of skin) at rest, plus hematocrit of 55% or greater OR arterial O2 saturation of less than 90% in typical room air.

You can also qualify if you have “intermittent right-to-left shunting resulting in cyanosis, plus an arterial PO2 of 60 Torr or less.

Finally, someone with symptomatic congenital heart disease will qualify if they have secondary pulmonary vascular obstructive disease with pulmonary arterial systolic pressure elevated to at least 70% of the systemic arterial systolic pressure.

The entire Blue Book is available online, but (as you can see) the listings were written for medical professionals and can be very challenging to read for typical CHD patients. If you’re not sure if you’re eligible for benefits, you should review the Blue Book with your cardiologist to get an idea as to whether you’ll qualify.

 

Starting Your Application

 

The easiest way to apply for Social Security benefits is online on the SSA’s website. If you’d like the help from a Social Security representative, you can always apply in person at your local SSA office. Call the SSA toll free at 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment to apply online today.

It should take five months or so to hear back from the SSA regarding your claim. Once approved, you can spend your monthly benefits on your upcoming medical care, childcare, home modifications, rent or a mortgage, groceries, or any other daily living needs.

You can apply for Social Security online at www.ssa.gov.

 

For more on when and how to apply, more helpful links include:

https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/4.00-Cardiovascular-Adult.htm (Blue Book)

https://www.disability-benefits-help.org/social-security-disability-locations (SSA offices nationwide)

https://www.ssa.gov/disability/disability.html

 

 

Deanna Power is the Director of Outreach at Disability Benefits Help, an independent organization dedicated to helping people of all ages receive Social Security disability benefits. She’s currently thriving with Ebstein’s Anomaly w/VSD and is forever grateful for the Adult Congenital Heart Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. If you have any questions on how you or your child could be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, she can be reached at drp@ssd-help.org

CHD365 – Recurring Giving Program

Welcome to CHD365!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHD365 is our recurring giving program.  Your contribution through this program helps us to give knowledge, a voice and hope to hundreds of thousands of people impacted by congenital heart disease.

 

WHY GIVE A RECURRING DONATION?

Recurring donation benefits both you and PCHA. Here are just a few examples:

  • Convenience: A recurring gift is deducted monthly from your bank or credit card account.  You don’t have to think about. You can easily change the amount or discontinue the donation at any time.
  • Stability: A monthly donation provides consistent funding to our education, support, research and awareness programming all year long. By giving consistently, throughout the year, it helps with budgeting.  Not only is it predictable for your check book, but it helps us when planning our activities.
  • Access: By joining our CHD365 program, you will receive exclusive updates and opportunities throughout the year. Get in-depth insight into how your money is making a difference in the lives of others.

 

How do I join CHD365?

It’s easy! Start by clicking the image below. This will direct you to our donation page.  As you make a donation, simply select recurring.  That’s it!!

ACTION ALERT: Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act is moving forward – we need your help!

ACTION ALERT:

Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act is moving forward – we need your help!

The Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act passed the House, this past February and is now making its way through the legislative process in the Senate.

We are thrilled to report that this Wednesday, July 25, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) will hold a mark-up of the CHFRA. This is an essential step to move the bill out of Committee toward becoming a law.

The Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act will authorize the CDC and NIH to build upon existing successful programs to address a leading public health issue and improve the quality of life and care for individuals with CHD.  More specifically, the bill will:

  • Expand the CDC’s longitudinal surveillance of individuals with CHDs across the lifespan, including regarding healthcare utilization and demographics through a cohort study, leading to evidence-based practices and guidelines for CHDs.
  • Authorize an awareness, outreach and education campaign at CDC, which will help inform the children, adolescents and adults with CHDs who are unaware of their high risk of additional complications as they age about the need to seek and maintain lifelong, specialized care.
  • Assess the research needs and existing projects related to CHDs across the lifespan at NIH, which will allow us to better understand the current state of biomedical research and what gaps may exist.  

 

ACT NOW:

This is the perfect time to reach out to your Members of Congress and remind them to support S.477 (The Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act). Email, call, tweet, connect with them today!

We are also specifically targeting the offices of those who are on the HELP Committee, participating in Wednesday’s mark-up.  If you live in the following states, please call or email your legislator, today!! See below for a complete list.

  1. Find your Senators: www.Senate.gov
  2. To send a quick tweet: Calling on @SENATORNAME to support S.477 in upcoming mark-up on Wednesday. It matters to me and 2.4M others with #CHD. #Conqueringchd #CHD4Life
  3. Call or email:
    1. If you are calling be sure to include the following:
      1. My name is __________ and I’m calling from __________.
      2. I’m asking the Senator to support S.477, the Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act during the mark-up process, this Wednesday, July 25
      3. Congenital Heart Disease is important to me because ___________
      4. This legislation will help build upon existing work by the NIH and CDC, build upon existing successful programs to address a leading public health issue and improve the quality of life and care for individuals with CHD.  
    2. If emailing:

Dear Senator _____,

I’m writing from ___________.  As your constituent, I am asking you to support S.477, The Congenital Futures Reauthorization Act  during the mark-up process, this Wednesday, July 25.

This important legislation will authorize the CDC and NIH to build upon existing successful programs to address a leading public health issue and improve the quality of life and care for individuals with CHD.  

This matters to me because ____________.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Name

 

Senate Help Committee Members:

 

Father’s Day – A Heart Dad How-To

For Heart Dads new to CHD,  feeling a little lost, or those not sure where they fit in the CHD world, Aaron Carpenter shares what he found, after 8 years on the CHD roller coaster, worked best for him and his family. His tips just might help you too!

I am the dad of two kids, one with complex CHD and one with minor CHD combined with a rare airway disease.  The kids like to say our family is 2 in 100, since every 1 in 100 babies are born with CHD.

Dads generally have two goals when it comes to their family – happiness and health. Heart dads are certainly in that group, but the process of obtaining and maintaining that second goal can be much more complicated.  CHD is your own, often unfair and definitely unwanted, version of normal.  You live by the calendar, whether it is doctor appointments, medication dosing, or interventions and surgeries. I like to say heart dads are regular dads with a lot more to remember.

The voices of heart dads are sort of quiet in the CHD community. If you’re anything like me, you’re an introvert who pays attention to data and isn’t so great with support groups or big picture ideas. I want to be just as involved and just as knowledgeable as the next heart parent, but how do I do that in the world of Facebook groups and blogs? It only took my wife and I eight years on the CHD rollercoaster to come up with a plan, a split of duties so to speak. We are both involved in ways that work to our strengths and preferences. Our sons see both of us doing work in the CHD sphere and we always come together as a family for local CHD activities.

Here are a few of the things I have found helpful along my heart dad journey, helping my kids to be happy and healthy, and somehow finding myself happy and healthy too:

 

Teach a new skill/game/trick

Teaching your kids new things is fun and exciting for them, but it also helps promote a strong bond and connection with you, which is far more important than the rules of any game. I still remember when each of my boys could dribble a basketball, hold scissors the correct way, and especially when they learned to swim. And we are working on shuffling a deck of cards now, along with reading Harry Potter.

 

Compare scars 

It’s important for your child to know that their scars don’t define who they are or who they will become, but it can also be something they have pride in.  Show off any scars you may have so they can see how their own scars might change over time.  When I was 12, I crashed my dirt bike and ended up with an emergency splenectomy and a scar the full length of my abdomen. This provided a great connection with my son after his first surgery and throughout his preschool-aged years.

 

Promote connections

Promote a connection to any other family members who have heart disease, even if it is long-distance. Find other heart kids/teens/young adults so they have role models for different stages of their lives.  Even though we know our kids are 1 in 100, at times they can surely feel like they are the only ones going through this. My father-in-law had open-heart surgery shortly after my youngest son’s Glenn surgery. It was very touching when he removed his shirt so that he could compare his scar to my son’s over video chat. Even though their grandparents live across the country, they are bonded through their hearts with Pops and through gardening with Mimi.

 

Manage medications

Know your child’s medications and dosing schedules inside out, backwards, and on little to no sleep.  Anytime there are changes to the medication schedule, be it sickness or higher doses as they grow, I build an Excel spreadsheet with the new dosing schedule.  It gets printed and taped to the kitchen counter so that I can mark off doses when given. My spreadsheet was super handy during the weeks following my son’s Fontan surgery when meds are given around the clock. Sure there are apps for this, but doing the spreadsheet was my way of being involved and connected.

 

Attend medical appointments

Attend every appointment that you can, no matter how routine it is or how quickly it goes. Each interaction with your child’s clinicians is an opportunity to advance your knowledge on how to best care for you child. I think we all worry about our CHD kids growing up and taking over their own care. Start young and show them what staying in care looks like, which means us dads need to go to our own doctors too!

 

Use your strengths

I am an analytical computer nerd with a passion for physics so I built the medication dosing spreadsheets and dove into the world of cardiology, until I learned everything that I could about my kids’ specific anatomy.  Everyone is talented or passionate about something.  The real trick is figuring out how to channel that energy into something that helps your family or the broader CHD community.

 

Have a strong partnership

This is probably one of the most important things heart dads can do.  The CHD journey is no joke, and having a solid relationship with your spouse, co-parent or significant other is crucial. Divorce rates among parents with medically-needy children are super high for many reasons, not the least is the incredible amount of stress. Whoever said that building a house together was a true test of a marriage, never had kids with CHD. Talk to your partner, listen to your partner, go to counseling separately or together if needed. You are a team.

 

Find other CHD dads

I have met a few other heart dads along this journey, from fatherhood veterans to fatherhood freshmen. There is a common bond between us because of CHD and no other dad has ever understood the gravity of seeing my son’s pink fingers and toes for the first time after Fontan surgery. Sometimes we don’t even talk about CHD or our kids but being together with those who truly get it is validating.

 

Take care of yourself

Let’s face it, the CHD journey is a marathon that never really ends.  If you don’t stop and decompress once in a while you are going to burn out.  Find a hobby. Exercise. See your doctor every year for a physical and actually tell them how you are doing (I am still working at this). Please, take it from my years of doing so, don’t compartmentalize everything until you explode.

 

Get involved with the CHD community

There are a lot of options once you are ready to take this step. Does your state have a PCHA chapter? Do other CHD organizations have a presence in your community? Do you have a skill you can lend to the broader CHD community? Will you send emails or make phone calls to your legislators, asking them to support key CHD measures? Can you visit Washington DC in February for lobby day? Do you want to just go bowling with other heart dads? Do it!

 

Heart dad is a designation that I doubt any of us asked for, but it is a badge we proudly wear. It says that we are fighting the CHD battle right alongside our kids, doing whatever it takes to keep them happy and healthy. Be proud of the work you are doing in your family. Tell people you are a heart dad, advanced dadding required.

 

Aaron Carpenter is the proud Heart Dad of two, a Software Engineer at University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), an alum of North Carolina State University (Go Wolfpack!), and master of the post-op medication spreadsheet. He routinely empties his vacation time bank at children’s hospital visits and enjoys running, hiking, and grilling up a good burger.

Aaron welcomes messages from Heart Dads and science enthusiasts everywhere at amcarp8@gmail.com.

Father’s Day – Amit’s Story

Being a first time father, while exciting, can be stressful on its own. Add to it the prospect of your child being born with multiple heart defects, and the excitement over your first child turns to fear. This week, Amit Shah shares his story, learning his son’s diagnosis and how it has changed the meaning of Father’s Day.

 

 

 

 

To help people understand what Father’s Day means to me as a heart dad I have to give a little history of our journey.

We were so happy when we found out we were pregnant.  We were excited about this amazing new step in our lives.  We were thinking about how happy our family and friends would be, what silly Halloween costumes we would wear to announce baby Sai, the fun we would have looking for nursery items & planning a baby shower.  Alas that fairytale was not meant to be our journey.

At my wife’s 12-week ultrasound/OB appointment we had been told that there could be a potential for something to be wrong with our baby’s heart, but there was no need to worry, we just needed to get a precautionary echo.  A few weeks later at our 1st fetal echo we were told Sai definitely had an issue with the right side of his heart specifically the tricuspid valve.  The pit of my stomach dropped out from under me.  I started thinking this was not the way it was supposed to be, we are supposed to be celebrating.   This cannot be right, the doctor made a mistake, everything will be OK.  At that time little did I realize how our fetal cardiology appointments would get progressively worse, turns out things were not going to be OK.

At what I think was the 4th fetal echo, the tech and the cardiologist spent what felt like hours taking scan after scan as I held my wife’s hand.  Something felt off. When the cardiologist said we needed to find a conference room, I knew the news was not going to be good, but I was not prepared for what we were going to hear.  Our heart journey with Sai started prenatally with a diagnosis of tricuspid stenosis, progressed to a hypoplastic right heart, and then added an enlarged left atrium & ventricle with mitral valve complications, arrhythmia, and slight fluid buildup around his heart.  My head was spinning, and I felt sick as we got the news   At that point I had minimal idea what all of it meant.  We were prepared for HRHS and knew what we needed to do, but this was too much. I was just overwhelmed with sadness, anger, and wanted answers.  It all felt unfair.  A week later, on December 14th 2016 (the date is etched in

my mind), we had a more detailed confirmation fetal echo appointment with the hospital’s super tech to make sure nothing had been misdiagnosed.  Unfortunately, no mistakes were made in Sai’s diagnosis.  Due to all the complications discovered prenatally Sai had a poor prognosis (I hate that term), there was a very real likelihood that he may not make it.  If he did get to term we would have a very complicated situation since both sides of his heart had issues, we needed to prepare for him to pass or for a very a long road filled with surgeries and no guarantees.  We left the hospital that day and cried the hour back home.  We decided to get a second opinion 2 weeks later from another leading hospital with an excellent pediatric heart program, and they confirmed the diagnosis but with a grimmer prognosis.  Devastation is what I felt, when I was looking for hope.

We had spent the better part of my wife’s pregnancy emotionally drained and exhausted. I hated the fetal cardiology appointments and MFM appointments, I was pretty sure we would never get good news.   I tried to attend as many Doctor’s appointments as I could and started the great learning process of everything that was wrong with Sai’s heart.  I could get information on individual pieces but nothing on all of them together.  I normally think of myself as a strong person, but I was lost in my own head, I did not have any answers, I could not help Sai, and I did not know what to do to help my wife.  I can never imagine what she was going through, but she is a much stronger soul than I am.  We did our best to support one another through those months, but they were really dark for me.  At times my wife and I were mechanical, at times impersonal, and times overburdened with anxiety.  We were going to do everything

in our power to save Sai, but we knew the odds were stacked heavily against us.  From December 15th, 2016 until he was born, after breakfast, lunch, and dinner I would text or call to see if Sai had moved. This was a difficult but necessary routine.  Every time my wife said yes, we were closer to him getting to term, and I could rest easy for 4-6 hours.

Outside of my wife and some support groups, I did not know who to talk to about Sai’s situation especially

as it progressed.  How do you tell someone that your son potentially may not make it?  When people would ask how the pregnancy was going I usually said everything was great with a smile.  Privately with family and a few close friends I would breakdown at the thought of losing him.  In my mind I was not a strong father or husband, I was supposed to fix things and I could fix nothing.

Turns out you can only keep saying everything is “OK” or “great” for so long.  As we reached the 3rd trimester many friends and family started asking about the baby shower so that they could make plans.  The 1st five times people asked I said we were working on it, and after the next 5 times people asked we concluded that we need to send a communication explaining the situation.  This was one of the hardest e-mails I have written in my life.  There was not going to be a baby shower, and we need all the thoughts, prayers and good energy people could send our way.  I have read this e-mail many times, and still read it from time to time.  The goal has always been that I not to tear up, so far I have failed miserably.  As it turned out I needed to write that e-mail, I needed to let people know what was going on and share.  The e-mail updates helped me cope and express myself.  We would send an e-mail update out about every 2 weeks and keep people informed on big milestones.

As we approached Sai’s due date, we did get some positive news.  While things were still very serious, it seemed that Sai’s heart was repairing itself, and there had been no arrhythmia for 4 weeks, all amazing

signs that Sai was fighting to stay alive.  During this time we became aware of a new potential defect, Coarctation of the Aorta (CoA).  The potential CoA and the left side of his heart (including the mitral valve) turned into the most immediate concerns for the doctors.

The day he was born was one of the most amazing and scariest days in my life.  We did not get to hold him. I got 3 pictures before a team whisked him away to the NICU.  We were expecting surgery, and for 5 days we waited for next steps.  We held him, hugged him, and gave him as much love as we could, navigating wires, tubes and many annoying alarms.  Not being sure what would happen, we spent hour upon hour in the NICU, so much so, that the nurses said we need to take a break; they would call if there is an issue.  Five days and a lot of grey hairs later, we were told that Sai would actually not need surgery immediately.  Turns out the Aorta was actually functioning fine (branching in the scans had thrown

the doctor’s off) and his mitral valve was functional enough that we could wait and see.  While he had pulmonary hypertension and moderate/severe mitral valve regurgitation, we would be able to treat both with medicine. He was (and still is) a high risk candidate for surgery, and they would not do surgery unless it was absolutely necessary.  After 11 days in the NICU we could go home with a lot of follow up doctor’s visits.  It was amazing to bring him home and show him his new room.

So this brings us to Father’s Day.  We never really celebrated Father’s day growing up (for a number of different reasons).  I was not very close to my dad or grandfathers, and I vowed to myself that I was going to change that if I had children.  I wanted to show Sai he is surrounded by love. This became even more of my mission as we have progressed through this journey.

Father’s Day last year was an amazingly special day where my wife and I got to celebrate with our miracle.  It was a day filled with a lot of reflection for me, a day filled with tremendous joy and sadness.  Sai was about 10 weeks old at that point, and all I could think about was that I was happy he was alive, not in the hospital, did not need surgery immediately, and was actually eating.  I remember thinking how sad I would be if he wasn’t here.  There was something amazing about holding him in my arms as he slept and as I thought through the past year.

This year’s Father’s Day it is going to be different.  I am not going to spend time thinking about how Sai might not have been here but spend time celebrating him and what he has overcome.  Being a heart dad has taught me a lot.  This year I am not going to reflect on any sadness.  I am going to concentrate on how we can make a positive difference.  I am going to reflect on how Sai has changed our lives for the better and made us better people.  I believe that everything happens for a reason and that Sai is right where he is supposed to be (with us). Sai has shown us how to be strong, persevere, and never give up.  This year, even though he will fight with all of his might (he is quite independent), I want to hold him, hug him, and have him sleep on my shoulder.  I want to show him how much we love him and that we will do anything and everything to make sure he is OK.

My wife and I are forever changed as people.  We are humbled at the strength of heart kids and parents.  Through all this we have learned to not take life for granted, appreciate everything around us, and that miracles do happen.  We also realized that we are not alone and that there is so much help and support available.  I am not sure we would have gotten through this without the help from our family, friends, and support groups.  I never understood what people meant when they said that heart warriors are different, don’t underestimate them or give up on them, but now I do.

When we met with the surgeon prenatally he stated one thing that has really resonated with me in recent months.  He stated, “If he[Sai] is going to keep fighting, we need to fight for him”.  My wife and I have tried to expand on this and broaden it, so that we fight for all heart warriors.  Through this process we have met so many amazing kids and parents that have gone through or are going through so much more than we did.  My hope is that sharing our story helps another heart dad (or mom) to know that they are not alone, that there is support and help.  You may feel lost and alone, but there is a huge heart family out here that understands what you are going through.

Today Sai is doing incredibly well, even the doctors are amazed.  As we continue to educate ourselves and ask our doctors more specific questions, we have learned that Sai’s heart anatomy is pretty unique but functioning much better than expected.  It is scary to me that medical science does not have answers on why his heart defects occurred, why he is doing so well, or how he will do in the future.  I fear what the future may bring; I have so many thoughts that go through my head.  I don’t know if I am ready to hear the words “it is time,” but I know that we will do everything in our power to fight for Sai and that we are surrounded by people who are also fighting with us.

Happy Father’s Day to all the heart dads out there, remember we too have a voice.

 

 

 

Amit Shah is a husband and a father of a headstrong son, Sai, who has multiple heart defects.  He is pretty convinced that Sai is trying to take over the world.  Amit is trying to navigate life as a new parent and a child with CHDs.  He hopes through spreading awareness and knowledge of CHD that doctors and researchers can eventually find a cure.