Heart and Soul
Christ performs major surgery on the deepest need.
by Dave Moors as told to Priscilla Tate Gilmore
In February 2001, when my wife was four months pregnant, our obstetrician, Dr. Robert Olson, delivered alarming news: “Based on previous blood tests, there is a ten percent chance that your baby will be born with Down’s syndrome.”
After that announcement, sorrow and fear, with a big jumble of emotions, filled my days. I learned how to cry. I cried at church, at work, at home, and in the shower. Why us? I wondered. Why our baby? When will the blessings replace the fears?
No answers came from people or from God.
Mr. Fix It
I believed there was a God, but I didn’t understand Him or His ways. And I was frustrated that I, as the father, couldn’t find a solution.
Employed as a mechanic in the construction industry, I solved problems every day, maintaining and repairing trucks and driving dump trucks for construction jobs and residential deliveries. I had a say in what I did and what happened.
And at home, my wife looked for me to fix the plumbing and electrical wiring, chop wood, and remodel the house. Nothing appeared too difficult. I just jumped in and did it.
But this — this was different and difficult. To surrender my child over to surgeons, doctors, and more studies was more than hard.
Two weeks later, Dr. Olson performed the next round of tests: an ultrasound and an amniocentesis (puncture of the amniotic sac) in order to remove amniotic fluid around the baby.
My wife and I hoped the previous diagnosis was a mistake, but our hearts sank as the doctor revealed more test results. “The baby has an endocardial cushion defect, also called AV canal defect,” he said. “Open-heart surgery will be essential. Swedish Hospital in Seattle is equipped to deal with high-risk pregnancies.”
A day trip to Seattle followed the Bellingham doctor’s referral. My wife and I met the team of doctors and familiarized ourselves with the area.
Then a week later the nurse from our obstetrician’s office called. “The results of the amniocentesis have arrived. When can you come in?”
In the office, the doctor reported his findings. “It’s a boy. He has Down’s syndrome.”
After that announcement, he explained our three options.
First and second choices: Terminate the pregnancy, or treat it like any other with no extra medical intervention. If we chose the second alternative, it would likely result in a stillborn fetus. The third option was to proceed with open-heart surgery.
Like any father, I wanted a boy. I felt our baby was a gift — a special gift. Through tears, I said, “We cannot terminate. Please do whatever you can to medically ensure our son’s survival.”
Questions raced through my brain. Am I ready for the tremendous responsibility of caring for this child? How will I handle the stress? What about the long drives and bumper-to-bumper traffic in Seattle? And what about the disruptions to my two-year-old daughter’s life? Will there be lasting effects?
I tried to brush aside my mental chaos. It was time to move on to the next doctor.
Learning and support
Dr. Kim Krabbil, a pediatric cardiologist at Swedish Hospital, explained the heart defect in layman’s terms. After she clarified the medical words, some of my fears were relieved.
Next, Dorene and I did an in-depth study of Down’s syndrome. We turned to Down’s Syndrome Outreach, our daughter’s pediatrician, and family for support. Then we met a family whose son was born with Trisomy 21 and had survived the same open-heart operation that Jason would undergo.
Encouraged by all, we waited for Jason’s arrival.
Our son was born by emergency C-section on Father’s Day, June 17, 2001 — one month early. He weighed only four pounds, seven ounces. After delivery, Dr. Ed Rittenhouse, the heart surgeon, placed a band on Jason’s pulmonary artery to help diminish the blood flow throughout his body.
However, in spite of that procedure, blood mixed in the heart, causing a lower oxygen saturation level of 80 to 85 percent, compared to a normal level of 99 to 100 percent.
At seven weeks, Jason came home in fragile health with a large hole in the center of his heart — about one-half inch wide and over an inch long.
Dorene and I learned that hospitals in the United States do not perform open-heart surgery on babies weighing less than eight pounds. So our goal was to get Jason’s weight up before his heart gave out and he died.
Getting him to gain weight wasn’t easy. Because of his nasal feeding tube and small stomach, the feedings stretched over long periods.
Next, we had to limit his activity. This included controlling Jason’s crying because it burned needed calories and inhibited weight gain. We also had to keep Jason healthy. If he got sick, it would require stays in the hospital and demand supplemental oxygen.
My wife rocked our child for hours and suffered from stress and depression.
I didn’t know how to deal with all this. The fear that Jason would pass away in the night gripped me.
Still struggling for oxygen, Jason made it to open-heart surgery in December, at eight and one-half pounds.
The surgery was a success. My child recuperated in the pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Swedish Hospital.
I listened when one of his night-shift nurses told me that her husband was a pastor. Every night before dropping her off at work, they would stop at the church and pray for all of the children in the hospital.
After hearing this, I spent the night in a small room a few doors down from my son. As I lay on the couch, my mind spun. Why would that nurse waste her time at church praying for these children when so many would suffer and die? My wife and I had had the saints and pillars of the church on their knees praying for Jason. A surgeon had to come in and perform heart surgery. No miracle there.
As I waited for sleep, I felt the intense presence of God. Although I didn’t hear an audible voice, I knew that Jason had been healed by God through the hands of a surgeon in a manner planned before Jason was ever conceived. This convinced me that God was real and that the words in the Bible were true.
On that night, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. Jason’s heart was healed physically; mine was healed spiritually.
Today, years later, I don’t have any specific long-term dreams for Jason. I’m not concerned about whether he will go to college or live independently. But my prayer is that he and I both will enjoy life, love the Lord, and have a positive impact on our community.