“Your son will need open heart surgery.”
Those are words you can never forget. My wife, Megan, and I heard those words on January 6th, 2015. It seems like yesterday. I still remember every single detail of that doctors appointment.
It all started a month earlier during a routine checkup for my son, Cooper. I remember our normal pediatrician was out that day so we saw another pediatrician in our office. He was going through a typical exam, then I noticed he had an odd look on his face when he was doing Cooper‘s heart check.
He looked at me and said, “does Cooper have a heart murmur?”
I replied, “no, not that we know of.”
“I am pretty sure I hear a murmur. It’s very soft. It’s probably nothing.” he said. “You could take him to the cardiologist and have it looked at. It’s up to you guys.”
Decisions of the Heart
That night, when we went home, my wife and I discussed it and decided we should take him to the cardiologist, just to make sure. We took him to an incredibly warm and gentle doctor named Dr. Mayman. He walked us through the process of checking out the murmur. At this point we were nervous, yet optimistic it would be nothing. We got through the entire exam with no signs of trouble, and as we were about to wrap up, the doctor said, “let me check one more area, just to be sure.” And sure enough, he said, “oh yes, there it is.”
It was at that moment, our hearts sank.
“Cooper has a hole in his sinus venosis that’s about 8 millimeters,” said Dr. Mayman. He then began to review the list of options we had:
A) You can choose to do nothing about this because it’s not really affecting him right now. However, studies show there is a chance your son will have a cardiac event at some point in his life – probably when he’s older; anytime between 40 and 60 years old, if you choose to not get this fixed.
B) You could do the surgery to fix the hole, and the outcomes are extremely good with this kind of procedure. After he gets it fixed, he should have no more problems and no limitations. The scary part is just going through the surgery. It’s an open heart procedure.
My wife and I asked the only question we thought was reasonable: “Doctor, if it was your son, what would you do?”
“Without a doubt, I would do the surgery,” Dr. Mayman said.
The Waiting Game
So we decided to do the open heart surgery. We figured he was young enough that he wouldn’t remember this anyway, and we could prevent future problems he might have. We figured it would be much harder on us than him; and it we were right.
We decided to wait nearly a year until the following summer because my wife (who is a teacher) could stay home with him as he recovered. Looking back, I wonder if we should’ve just done it right away. Having open heart surgery in the back of my mind felt like a constant reminder that this could be the last time we did anything. We would go to the park and I would think to myself, “is this the last time I will push Cooper on the swing?” This is a ridiculous thought, but for someone like me, who analyzes and then over analyzes, waiting a year for surgery was extremely grueling. I think a good lesson is that we never actually know the last time we will do anything with our children. Tomorrow is never promised, and it’s so easy to get comfortable and take people, things, and moments for granted.
The days leading up to surgery were awful. So much anxiety, very little sleep. The best part of this was seeing our family and friends rally around us. The bond we all formed was special and the support was incredible. You really find out who has your back when you go through something as big as this.
Life After Surgery
Cooper’s hole was fixed and within 6 days he was home from the hospital acting like the same, crazy kid we love. The doctor told us Cooper would likely be less energetic than usual while taking his medication following surgery. Apparently Cooper never got that memo as he was jumping off the couch and wrestling with his brother, Myles, from the moment he walked back through the door.
We feel incredibly lucky with the outcome of this problem. We know so many others have gone through much harder circumstances, and at the end of the day we still have a happy and healthy boy. Again, the take home point here is everything can change in the blink of an eye, so remember to take nothing for granted.