Our Newborn’s Heart Surgery and How we Survived

On an unusually warm February morning, I walked hand in hand with my husband, Chris, toward our 20-week ultrasound appointment for our third child. As we entered the doctor’s office, I had a startling impression everything would not be okay. I immediately wished we had prayed together before leaving the house, and offered a silent prayer for strength to handle whatever was to come.

The ultrasound technician announced we were expecting a baby boy! She did not allude to any problems, but Chris noticed she was taking quite a few pictures of the baby’s heart. Moments later our doctor and then a specialist both confirmed our little boy had a heart defect: Transposition of the Great Arteries. He would need open heart surgery soon after birth. The surgeon would be switching the two main arteries and other microscopic arteries attached to my son’s heart, roughly the size of a quarter. Without surgery, he would not likely survive long.

That night I wrote in my journal:

I like to think I have faith — that I have no real cause to fear. This baby’s life is in God’s hands. I trust Those hands. I try not to worry too much about things which are out of my control. Yet, here it is, 4:05am and I’ve hardly slept all night… I’ve been thinking, praying, and reading about his condition online, and reading the scriptures. Knowing God will provide and sustain us, come what may, I can’t stop the tears from falling. Our lives are forever changed by this little boy no matter what happens. I love him. He is so active in my belly- kicking and wiggling. I know he’s there. He will have challenges. Yet, I’m so excited for him to experience mortality with our little family.”

The doctors assured us of the 95% success rate of his impending surgery. This one fact along with plenty of prayers, left us truly looking forward to the birth of our son during the last 4 months of pregnancy.

Bridger entered the world blue and was rushed past me to the NICU. After two procedures, an 8 ½ hour surgery, a major scare and a few bumps in the road, we miraculously took Bridger home three weeks later. The first nine weeks of his life were hard work for our family; however, looking back I have only sweet and tender memories of that time. Bridger’s surgery was a success. He continues to do well and we all do our best to keep up with our energetic little man. I still reflect on his rough start and am overwhelmed with gratitude for our boy.

We had the VERY best physicians, and surgeons care for Bridger. Their knowledge, expertise, and confidence was astonishing and a great source of comfort for Chris and me. Three things made our ride in the NICU and beyond a happy and even peaceful time to look back on.

Prayer

We prayed personally, of course, but literally, hundreds of our friends and family let us know they had prayed and even fasted for Bridger. I cannot explain it, but those prayers were tangible. We felt total peace and calm, even in what could have been the scariest moments.

Bridger’s first procedure failed. For nearly a day his oxygen levels were alarmingly low and nothing the doctors tried seemed to be working. Later, Bridger’s cardiologist shared a tender experience with us. The night after the failed procedure, he awoke suddenly and had a strong feeling to try the same procedure again. He said he knew the idea had come from God. I am certain it was an answer to many prayers. I love all of those who prayed for us; family, dear friends, co-workers, people I have never met, and even an entire congregation of a faith other than our own. God hears, and He answers.

Support

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord’” (The Family: A Proclamation to the WorldPsalm 127:3).

Our parents were amazing and cared for our other two small kids at home while we spent days (and some nights) at the hospital. Friends helped with the kids, too, brought meals, and care packages. The little messages of love and encouragement via text or Facebook were uplifting and a great support to us.

My greatest support and total rock was Chris. He always made time to be there. After a couple weeks, when family had to return home, it was just us managing home, hospital, and c-section recovery. While our stay wasn’t as long as many others have experienced, it was amazing to see what our little family could accomplish together. The nurses assured us they would care for Bridger during the night and encouraged us to go home and get some sleep. But many nights Chris opted to stay. He didn’t want to leave Bridger alone. This experience taught us to love each other and our children more completely.

Positive Outlook

While I was in recovery mode, Chris updated our friends and family on Bridger’s progress on Facebook throughout our stay at the hospital. I noticed his posts usually began with something like, “Best moment of the day…” and highlighted Bridger’s progress and great blessings. Those posts were sincere. We felt blessed every day. However, I know life does not always feel that way. Day-to-day life and struggles with my kids now can be SO HARD. I fail and become discouraged, but I know I can rely on the Lord to teach me — especially about how to find joy during the hard times.

We can feel joy even while having a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad year! …the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.

Just as the Savior offers peace that “passeth all understanding,” He also offers an intensity, depth, and breadth of joy that defy human logic or mortal comprehension. For example, it doesn’t seem possible to feel joy when your child suffers with an incurable illness or when you lose your job or when your spouse betrays you. Yet that is precisely the joy the Savior offers. His joy is constant, assuring us that our “afflictions shall be but a small moment” and be consecrated to our gain.” (Russell M. Nelson)

Lessons Learned

 While Bridger’s heart defect and surgery was a difficult experience, it was a short-term trial. It was a blessing for our family with lessons I hope we can always remember.  The hair still stands on the back of my neck when I think of the love our Heavenly Father showed us (and continues to show us). The strength and blessings received through fervent prayer, a deeper and more complete love for my family, and knowing joy can be found in the most difficult circumstances.

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