This post is sponsored by Ochsner Pediatric Cardiology but is an authentic first hand account from a local New Orleans mom, Caroline Robertson.
The Strongest Hearts Have the Most Scars
Everyone has gone through something in their lives that has altered who they are forever. Whether it is a joyous event or one that is accompanied by heartache, or a mix of both in my circumstance, these moments in time change you. After these experiences, you will never go back to the person you once were.
But, let me back up a bit. In November of 2020, after I had purged the rest of my baby items because that chapter in our lives had closed – or so we thought – my husband Wesley and I learned that we were (unexpectedly) expecting our third baby. At the time, we had a three-year-old daughter (Elizabeth), and a one-year-old son (John Wesley, aka “JW”). Emotions were high, feelings were frantic, but when I discovered that my due date happened to be the same day as my Godfather’s “First Heavenly Birthday,” it all made sense. This baby was no surprise; this baby was being sent directly from heaven by my newest guardian angel.
Then, on March 1, 2021, my entire world changed after my 20-week anatomy scan. I can still remember exactly what I was wearing that day, but more importantly, I can still remember exactly how I felt. Leading up to the visit, something just felt “off.” I kept telling my husband that I had this terrible feeling that something was wrong (and you know what they say – “gut feelings are your guardian angels – listen to them”). After our appointment with Ochsner Baptist’s Maternal Fetal Medicine Department, we were sent to the Fetal Cardiology Department for additional testing of the baby’s heart. This is where we learned that our baby had a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) called Aortic Valve Stenosis. In layman’s terms, this means that the aortic valve is too narrow, and this narrowing keeps the valve from opening fully. This can reduce blood flow and oxygen to the body, make the heart work harder, and possibly cause other critical heart issues as well. If left untreated, congestive heart failure is 100% possible.
The staff that day was simply amazing. Between Nurse Anne in Cardiology, the Fetal Cardiology Tech Camille, and the Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Jessica Mouledoux, they all made me feel so much at ease during one of the darkest days of my life. Dr. Mouledoux patiently explained the diagnosis to my husband and I (P.S. Cardiologists LOVE to draw pictures for you), possible next steps (like an in-utero procedure in Houston or Boston, which I thankfully avoided), life expectancy and outcomes of the baby, etc. We left very informed, yet still very scared. As I’m writing this, tears still fill my eyes just remembering that day. I didn’t want this to be happening to me – to us. I hated it. But I knew I had to be strong. I had two babies and a husband who needed me. So even though I wanted the world to stop, I had to keep going. And the earth kept turning as if nothing had changed.
We learned that Aortic Valve Stenosis is a “tricky” CHD because there can be varying levels of severity, and there is only so much a fetal echo can see; therefore, they wouldn’t know 100% what they were dealing with until the baby was born (I say “baby” because we did not know the gender – after all, we love a good surprise). Due to this uncertainty, I was heavily monitored throughout the rest of my pregnancy. This care at Ochsner ranged from routine OB care to Maternal Fetal Medicine scans to Prenatal Testing to Fetal Cardiology scans. So much testing! I can’t thank the staff at Ochsner Baptist enough for taking such good care of me and my baby. I knew they were not going to let anything happen to either of us. I felt so safe. To Drs. Nicole Charbonnet, Sherri Longo, and Jessica Mouledoux – I will never be able to express my gratitude in words, but just know that I am forever grateful, and you three will always hold a special place in my heart during one of the darkest and scariest times of my life.
Welcoming Henry (and his heart)
After months of anticipation and anxiety, on July 14, 2021, our CHD baby BOY was born, and he was absolutely precious! Henry Thomas Robertson. The plan was for Henry to be taken to the Ochsner NICU for an echo immediately, and then we would know the next steps. So, I was able to kiss him, take a few pictures with him in the OR, and then say goodbye.
When I was wheeled into recovery after my c-section, I expected to see my husband waiting for me. But it wasn’t my husband. Instead, it was Dr. Ivory Crittendon – an Interventional Cardiologist. As soon as I saw him, I said, “you’re taking my baby, huh?” Dr. Crittendon confirmed what I expected and told me that Henry’s Aortic Stenosis was too critical – it was too dangerous – Henry needed immediate intervention in the Cardiology Cath Lab located at Ochsner Main Campus (a different hospital than the one in which I would recover uptown). Dr. Crittendon couldn’t have been more caring or kind, and he assured me that my baby was in good hands, and that he would keep me posted on everything. Ochsner Pediatric Cardiology is just amazing in terms of how they handle these critical moments of a young baby’s life. Within four hours, my baby (who I had barely met, much less even held), was taken via ambulance transport to the Cardiac Cath Lab for a “balloon valvuloplasty” in the hopes to expand his aortic valve. Henry’s procedure was a huge success thanks to the brilliant minds and hands of Drs. Ivory Crittendon and Victor Lucas – and I can’t help but think that some assistance from above played a part, too.
A few days later, I was finally discharged and able to “meet” and hold my baby in the Cardiac ICU. I was glowing. We had made it. We did it. We had conquered what we once thought was impossible. Throughout our stay at the Cardiac ICU, the staff became like family. From the respiratory therapists, to the nurses, doctors, social workers, etc., we just adored them. In between taking care of Henry, they also tried to make us feel “normal” again by doing the little things – like offering us coffee, telling personal stories, or just making us laugh. I truly cannot say anything else about them besides that they are real angels on earth, and everyone deserves that kind of care and experience. The day we were finally discharged home felt so surreal. Like a nightmare that had finally turned into a dream. So, thank you all for making that happen. Seriously – thank you. Thank you, Ochsner Pediatric Cardiology.
The upcoming days and weeks felt so sweet. I was finally (mentally) ready to decorate Henry’s nursery and settle in as a family of five. Then, at 6 months old, in January of 2022, Henry’s heart wasn’t as healthy as Dr. Mouledoux wanted. It was time for another “balloon valvuloplasty” with Drs. Crittendon and Lucas again. Entering into the Cardiac ICU, it was like we were reunited with old family members. They all remembered us, and we received the same phenomenal care that we did just six months prior.
Thank You, Ochsner Pediatric Cardiology
Henry is constantly being monitored by his fabulous Pediatric Cardiology team as the future of what his CHD will do is unknown. He may continue to have cath procedures, or he may need open heart surgery one day to replace his valve. We never know the news we will get, and those visits strike a certain type of anxiety that you can’t explain unless you live it.
But, as one of Henry’s Cardiac ICU nurses told me, “The things we witness behind the walls of this Pediatric Cardiology unit are the closest things to real life miracles your eyes will ever see,” and I will NEVER forget that. Henry is my miracle. Thank you for my miracle.
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