Rhys' healing heart

Docs said there was no hope, but my son performed a miracle...

Published by: Jo Burrows & Amy Thompson
Published on: 7th April 2011

A slippery layer of gel covered my belly as the nurse pressed an ultrasound wand over my skin.
This was it, the moment of truth – was it a girl or a boy?
I gripped my boyfriend Mark’s hand excitedly.
‘After this, we can go and buy the baby’s first outfit,’ I smiled.
I was only 20 weeks pregnant, but I couldn’t wait to start buying bits for the baby.
‘I reckon we’ll be buying something blue,’ grinned Mark, 28.
‘No way,’ I scoffed. ‘It’ll be pink. Just look at my sister, she’s got four girls!’
But before he could argue, the nurse interrupted us.
‘I’m afraid I can’t find your baby’s heart,’ she frowned. ‘I can hear its beat, and everything else looks fine, but I’d like the doctor to come and check. Is that okay?’
I nodded, smiling. You might think I’d be worried hearing something like that, but I’d had a scare like this before. At my 12-week scan, the nurse hadn’t been able to find my baby at all!
‘Must be a false positive,’ she’d said gently.
‘But I took five tests!’ I’d protested. It wasn’t until the doctor came and looked that they realised my dates were wrong. I was only 10 weeks pregnant, so my baby was lower down than it would have been at 12 weeks – the nurse had been looking in the wrong place! So I knew not to worry.
‘You’ll have to take a seat in the waiting room until the doctor arrives,’ said the nurse.
‘Can you tell us the sex of the baby now?’ asked Mark, eagerly.
‘It’s a boy,’ she replied.
His face lit up. ‘Blue it is then,’ I laughed, climbing off the bed.
In the waiting room, we talked about painting the nursery, the things we’d need to get. Half-an-hour later, the doctor came to give me another ultrasound.
While me and Mark babbled away about our plans, the doctor’s face suddenly fell.
‘What is it?’ I asked, suddenly gripped by fear. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘There is a heartbeat, but your baby’s heart doesn’t seem to have formed properly. I need to refer you to a specialist for tests.’
Shocked, we drove home in silence. Tears rolled down my cheeks as the doctor’s words sank in. ‘He’ll be okay,’ Mark whispered gently, squeezing my hand. ‘Doctors can work absolute wonders these days…’
‘You’re right,’ I nodded, brushing away tears. ‘We’ve
got to stay positive.’
But, a week later, the specialist dealt us another devastating blow.
‘Your baby has a condition called tricuspid atresia,’ he said gravely. ‘It means his right heart valve hasn’t developed properly and is starving his blood of oxygen.
‘He’ll need an operation as soon as he’s born, and he’ll have to spend three months in hospital.’
Three months?!
How could my baby be in hospital for the first three months of his life? That’s when I should be bonding with him, getting to know his routine, all his little quirks. I’d never get that time with him back.
If I thought that was bad, though, worse was to come…
‘Many sufferers with this condition don’t live beyond the age of five,’ said the specialist.
‘You may wish to consider a termination,’ he added gravely.
My blood ran cold. My little boy already had fingers and toes, he could even hear my voice.
Every day he was growing inside me and, although I hadn’t felt him kick yet, I couldn’t bear the thought of never holding him.
‘No,’ I said firmly. ‘I’ve got to give him a chance.’
Mark nodded in agreement.
We were so determined he’d make it that we chose a name for our son, Rhys.
A nurse took some fluids from my womb to run more tests so doctors would know exactly what they were dealing with when Rhys was born. This was a risky procedure, though. There was a chance I could miscarry over the next few days.
As each hour ticked by, I prayed my baby would hang on.
‘Be strong for Mummy,’ I begged, running a hand over my tummy two days later – and felt a tiny kick against my palm.
‘Mark!’ I yelled, filled with excitement.
‘What?!’ he gasped, hurtling through the kitchen door.
‘Rhys,’ I beamed. ‘He just kicked.’
We stood watching my stomach for ages before another little flutter distorted my belly.
I knew it was a sign our little boy was a fighter.
‘We’re going to get through this,’ I smiled.
At my 31-week scan, there was more unexpected good news.
‘Rhys condition isn’t as serious as we first thought,’ said the doctor. ‘He has tetralogy of fallot, not tricuspid atresia. It’s a similar condition, but he won’t need an operation until he’s older.’
Relief flooded through me,
but worry still niggled at the back of my mind. Rhys wasn’t out of the woods yet, he still had a hole
in his heart.
It seemed our little fella wasn’t letting that stop him, though.
Three days before I was due to be induced, my waters suddenly broke…
Just two-and-a-half hours after arriving at Bristol Royal Hospital, Rhys was born weighing 5lb 10oz.
‘Go with him,’ I panted to Mark, too exhausted to see our little boy’s face properly before doctors whisked him away.
But, even after I’d recovered, I couldn’t see my precious little boy. I’d lost so much blood I wasn’t allowed to move for 15 hours. Mark kept me updated, though, and even brought me a photo of him.
‘He looks so fragile,’ I sobbed, wishing I could hold him. His skin was a deep purple colour. ‘I just hope the doctors can help him.’
The next morning, I was allowed to hold him for the first time. He had a breathing tube in his nose but looked perfect.
‘He’s got your eyes,’ I smiled at Mark.
When the doctor came to see us, he was smiling, too.
‘Your son’s something of a miracle,’ he said, looking pleased. ‘We’ve given him a scan and… his heart has healed itself!’
‘It… he… what?!’ I gasped.
‘There’s a small hole at the top now, which we thought he’d need surgery to repair but, somehow, his body is working around it,’ added the doctor. ‘You’ll be able to take him home in a few days.’
I stared at him stunned.
‘Y-you mean he’s going to be okay?’ I spluttered.
‘I can’t quite believe it myself, but yes,’ he replied. ‘He might get worn out more quickly than other kids when he’s older, but apart from that he’s fine.’
So, from being so ill that a termination had been mentioned to me, to operable but serious heart trouble, to this? It was like a miracle.
My boy was healing himself!
Back home, Rhys went from strength to strength. He’s a happy, thriving three-year-old now, who loves Thomas the Tank Engine.
To look at him, you’d never know he has a heart defect and, as for getting worn out quickly, he’s defied the doctors once again! We’re forever chasing after him.
I still can’t believe I was offered a termination. Rhys’ recovery might be a rare case, but he’s living proof that sometimes miracles really do happen.
Teresa Hawes, 23, Plymouth, Devon