Two years ago this week, our 9 week old daughter Eve was lying peacefully on our bed. It was one of those rare, but happy weeks when she was home from the hospital. Her mitral valve leak was “moderate” when we were discharged….down from “severe” during those first few weeks. We were just so desperate to bring our new baby home….relatively speaking, we were very, very new on our CHD journey. I was going to start changing her, when my husband and I thought she was breathing a little heavy. As had become our routine, we grabbed the stethoscope to check her heart rate. No need to start the stop watch. It took only a couple seconds to know she was in SVT – Supraventricular Tachycardia. During episodes of SVT, the heart’s electrical system doesn’t work right. In her case, her heart rate would soar up to 280 beats per minute. Most episodes of SVT are caused by faulty electrical connections in the heart. In Eve’s case, in addition to her mitral valve defects, she had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome – and that was causing her chronic SVT, happening 20 times a day at its worst. We had learned in the hospital what “tricks” could be used to help pull her out of these heart-racing episodes. Pushing her knees up to her chest, ice across her eyes and nose area. These would usually work, although in her early hospital bouts with SVT, she was almost always given the drug adenosine which ran right into her line – a straight shot to jolt the heart back into rhythm. We had seen SVT often enough that we were quite calm about it. Even when we couldn’t get her heart rate to come back down, we calmly got our coats and shoes on, grabbed a bag and headed for the hospital.
It was about 10 minutes into that 20 minute drive. Even though it was dark in the van, I could tell her skin had changed color. She stopped moving. I put my hands on her couldn’t feel her breathing in her carseat. I started to panic….telling my husband to drive faster. I unbuckled her and held her in my arms – in a car going 80 mph down the frozen highway. If she was going to die, I was going to be HOLDING her, not WATCHING her strapped in a carseat. I prayed. Hard. Just let her be OK. PLEASE…I will do anything. Quietly, I started whispering that mommy was there and everything was going to be OK. I said “I’m sorry”….over and over.
Once we got to the ER, the docs started working on her. They tried the ice. No. Then they tried putting her whole head and upper body into a big tub filled with water and ice. No. Then again. Still 260 bpm. Then they started trying to get a line in her to do the adenosine. She was always, always horrible to get a line in. Tiny veins…most of which had been annihilated by all the IVs and PIC lines during her ICU stays. They handed her to me with a towel, she was freezing cold and limp…and I started whispering again. This time: “Mommy’s still here. It’s not time to leave. Slow your heart down and come back home with us.” I started reciting “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” in her ear…her favorite. I can picture all of this like it happened yesterday. After about 30 seconds, like magic, we watched the heart rate monitor pop back down to 130.
We actually ended up going home that morning. She started to get her color and vitality back – and docs didn’t think we needed to stay since we were scheduled for our cardiology appointment 2 days later. It was at that appointment we found out that Eve’s heart had plummeted back to a 4+ leak and was summarily admitted to the ICU for an extended hospital stay. She was in heart failure. During the following 7 weeks, she would be home with us a total of 9 days, including the few days leading up to her trip to Children’s Boston for her ablation and open heart surgery.
Since we had to stay strong for Eve and our other children, I’m not sure Paul and I ever truly absorbed what happened that night – or really much else leading up to and through her surgeries. It’s survival mode. Heart families everywhere get that.
But this past weekend, when I looked at the calendar and realized it was the 2nd anniversary of Eve’s christening – and approaching two years since that horrific car ride to the hospital – I had another meltdown. I prayed that we would never experience that fear again. I prayed others who know this fear may have peace in their journeys. And I prayed that we never forget the debt we owe.
Eve’s life – and the talents of her medical teams have given us the unique opportunity to know more and do more. It is because of her that 1in100.org and Facebook.com/1in100 were founded. She has even helped ensure that soon every newborn in this country will be screened for heart defects before leaving the hospital. We are profoundly grateful…