She seemed perfectly healthy just after she was born. The labor and delivery were hard work, but worth the reward of meeting our beautiful daughter for the first time in the peaceful setting of a free-standing birth center. My husband and I reveled in the glow of her first hour of life. Her big, dark eyes were wide open, taking the outside world in. I delighted when she took to nursing immediately, and thrilled at the feeling of bonding with my baby.
Then, everything changed.
Right after one of her feedings, our baby girl Zelie was lying in bed next to me, alert and looking around. Then, suddenly, she closed her eyes, went limp, and started turning blue.
“She’s not breathing,” I said to my husband, not believing that what I was saying could possibly be true. Rob quickly picked her up, flipped her over, and started rubbing her back. Thankfully, she started to cry and her color came back. We told my midwife what happened, and she checked Zelie over again. Her lungs seemed clear, and we weren’t quite sure what had happened.
And then it happened again. And again. We knew something was wrong.
My midwife listened to her heart and heard a “significant murmur” that she hadn’t heard just after birth.
After that, everything happened so fast. The call to a doctor. The ambulance arriving. The drive to Wesley Hospital NICU in Wichita. The machines. The tubes. The doctors. The wondering. The waiting.
And, finally, the consultation with a pediatric cardiologist via video conference around 2am at Zelie’s bedside in the NICU. We finally had an answer.
Our Zelie had a heart valve that had never formed properly. “Severe pulmonary stenosis.” Lots of big words meaning that one of her heart valves was so small and constricted that blood and oxygen could not flow properly, leaving her with too little oxygen in her lungs and body. Leading her to stop breathing and turn blue.
Amidst the cardiologist’s explanation of my daughter’s condition, my spinning, tired thoughts realized that we were dealing with something rather serious, but fixable–and something that meant a transfer to a bigger, more specialized hospital.
Before leaving for Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, we had Zelie baptized by a local priest. I didn’t want her going under general anesthesia to have a catheter poked into her heart without receiving her first Sacrament. The NICU provided a beautiful baptismal gown made from a donated wedding dress and there, hooked up to her machines and medications, our little girl officially entered into the graces of the Catholic Church.
I was in a fog. I had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl, and now she was being prepped to fly on an airplane to another city, while my husband and I drove behind. I had just been nursing her only hours before, and was now told that I couldn’t feed her due to potential complications with the medicine she was taking.
All we could do was move forward in faith that God would give us the strength to handle whatever the future held.
Rob and I arrived in Kansas City and checked in to the Ronald McDonald house right across the street from Children’s Mercy Hospital. We immediately knew we were blessed to have a room there, as the house was beautiful and would provide for all of our basic needs (and then some!) during Zelie’s stay in the hospital. What a relief not to have to worry about where we would sleep or get our next meal while under so much stress already!
The next several hours were a whirlwind of learning more about our daughter’s condition and the procedure she would undergo Christmas Eve morning.
Then Christmas Eve came.
We arrived at the hospital early to see Zelie before she was prepped for her heart catheter procedure. At this point, I felt like every moment with her could potentially be my last. The doctors had assured us of the high success rate of the procedure, but there were also serious risks associated with putting a 2-day-old under general anesthesia and poking something into her heart.
While in the pre-op room, we were suddenly bombarded with a list of the risks and asked to sign a consent form, in the midst of which Zelie had another episode of not breathing and turning blue. I’d held it together fairly well until then, but as I said goodbye to my new baby girl, the tears started flowing. And I started to pray harder than I ever had in my life.
I waited for Zelie in the Ronald McDonald family room in the hospital while my husband drove back home to pick up our other children and bring them back for Christmas.
I had a small private room to wait in during the two hour procedure so I could lie down and rest my post-birth body. I clutched my Rosary and the tears flowed. With each passing decade, I received updates about Zelie. And soon after finishing my Rosary, I got a phone call that Zelie was done and that it “went great!” What a relief! She came through well, the ballooning procedure had stretched open her valve, and she is now on the road to recovery.
After spending about a week and a half at Children’s Mercy Hospital, Zelie and I finally got to come home. That week and a half was filled with experiences and small miracles that I will never forget, many of which I hope to share in future posts.
But, for now, I will end this part of Zelie’s story by saying we are grateful to be home, and thrilled that she is progressing well after the heart catheter procedure. She has been blessed with the fruits of a multitude of prayers!