After 2 rounds of IVF/ICSI, the day our ‘longed for’ twins were to be born arrived. We are still in shock what happened soon after. On day 4, Noah became unwell with a suspected heart defect. He was transferred to St Michael’s neonatal unit in Bristol from Gloucester that evening and an echocardiogram confirmed that he had a Coarctation of the Aorta and a large VSD. Surgery was the only way forward to save his life. We were devastated. Jasmine was left behind in Gloucester until they could transfer her to be in St Michael’s also. At 3lb 13oz and tube fed, she was unable to be discharged from hospital to our care.
A day after Noah was admitted to St Michael’s neo-natal unit, Jasmine was transferred assuming she was fine –just a tired baby who wasn’t feeding due to her small size. However, on the morning of Boxing Day 2011, whilst having a cuddle with Mummy, she presented with a gasping sound and after Daddy held her to see what was happening Jasmine quickly deteriorated. In 30 seconds our world was turned upside down (again). A huge team of medics rushed in and we were ushered to a small room where we waited for hours. A different Cardiologist came to talk to us.
He told us that in all his 20 years, neither he or his colleagues had ever seen the combination of heart defects she presented with. She had Tricuspid Atresia, Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome, Truncus Arteriosus and bicuspid truncal valve. Jasmine has half a working heart. They couldn’t ever ‘fix’ her but instead treat her with palliative surgical options – but at that point, surgeons had no idea how or if they were going to proceed.
Flash forward to 28th December 2011 and whilst there was no clear consensus of what they were going to with our daughter, the surgeons had a plan for Son. He underwent a thoracotomy (through the side of his chest) to ‘correct’ his Coarctation of the Aorta. After battling a serious complication of the surgery – a chylothorax with chest drains and special diet, 6 weeks later, with a rapidly deteriorating heart, he underwent open heart surgery to patch the large VSD. The change in Noah after this surgery was nothing short of miraculous – he instantly gulped down a bottle of milk, something he had never managed before and literally thrived from that moment on with just a few medicines, he was finally discharged at 10 weeks old.
Jasmine, of course, was a much trickier case to contend with. She was tiny –and running out of time for intervention. They decided the Sano Shunt (a small shunt between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery) was the way to go. We will never forget the haunting words of her amazing surgeon – ‘it is very risky. But if I don’t try this, she will die’. She spent over 7 hours in surgery, over 2 hours on heart bypass, 3 blood transfusions and her chest left open due fluid build-up. She returned to PICU and, terrifyingly, we almost lost her on a few occasions due to sepsis and other complications.
After 2 months in Bristol, they were both discharged home. We finally felt a little like a family. However, within a week, Jasmine became very ill once again and for the next 5 months underwent substantial treatment in Bristol Children’s hospital – a prolonged stay in PICU, a BT Shunt thoracotomy operation, Glenn Shunt open heart surgery to name a few and many weeks on the cardiac ward. During this time, we were lucky to stay at the Ronald Macdonald House. Hospital became our home and we somehow managed to get through it. Finally, we made it home in late July 2012 along with copious amounts of medicines, feeding tubes and a strict regime.
7 years on from the start or our heart journey, there have been a plethora of issues and diagnosis for Jasmine – a Gastrostomy placement as she is fully reliant on tube feeding, Fontan Open heart surgery, a dozen or more admissions for acute illness, unsafe swallow, immunoglobulin deficiency and more operations on the horizon in the future to repair further defects. Jasmine is helped greatly at mainstream school by having full time one-to-one support and despite everything, is a happy little girl. Life certainly isn’t always easy or conventional in the Heath household but we grab each and every opportunity to enrich Noah and Jasmine’s life the best we can. A HUGE THANK YOU TO Noah and Jasmine’s parent’s for sharing their journey.