Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Heart of A Baby Reveals the Heart of a Community

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, February 11, 2014, by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

This is the week when hearts are everywhere. For Heather Jacklin, they are simply a reminder of the one heart that matters most.
Heather sits in the platform rocker in the Pugwash Road home in south Oxford she shares with husband Matt and their four children. Baby William naps in her arms as she recalls the prenatal check-up that changed her pregnancy.
“Everything was fine until the 20-week ultrasound. That’s when they detected that the left side of William’s heart looked significantly smaller than the right,” she says. 
A registered nurse, Heather was quick to notice the change in the ultrasound technician’s behaviour.
“He was lingering around and looking. Because I work in the health care field, I know when you don’t want to say anything obvious. When the tech said to the maternal fetal medicine doctor about taking a look at the structure, I knew something was off.”
Another ultrasound at 28 weeks confirmed the issue with the left ventricle and revealed two other issues.
William, in utero, also had a coarctation (a kink) in his aorta and a hypoplastic aortic arch, meaning the entire artery was smaller than normal. 
“Instantly everything I know about the heart consumed me,” Heather says.
The heart in question was no bigger than a grape, the two major arteries smaller than strands of hair. 
At the same time, another heart was revealing itself: The heart of a community.
Because of her baby bump, Heather says she was “a walking billboard” and questions about her pregnancy were difficult to answer. 
“Before the baby was born, my sister started a Facebook page and it helped,” she says. “I was worried because I like to keep things private but this was different. It let people know that this was going on, that this is the reason why I wasn’t at work. It helped the kids because people talked to them and offered to have them at their homes. People were absolutely wonderful with the kids.”
But other responses surprised Heather.
“We received cards and letters from people who knew the family but we didn’t know them. They told us their stories.”
She says it helped to know that others, whether themselves or their children, had gone through this kind of crisis and were fine. It gave her hope.
“It’s like there was this whole other community out there who understood what I was going through and I didn’t feel so alone.”
William, who was named after he was born, wasn’t about to let a kink in his aorta hold him back, though. He hung out in the womb for the full term so his heart was big enough and strong enough to allow him to have surgery three days after he was born last September. 
“I was worried I wasn’t going to get to hold him,” Heather admits. “I’d held my other children after they were born. He came out screaming and doing well. He was working a little harder to breathe but not so hard they had to rush him away. I got to hold him and see him then I wanted them to take him because then I was scared for him.”

William wakes from his short nap and sits on his mother’s knee. He spits up all over his shirt and grins. 
“Right now, he’s doing well,” Heather says as she wipes off his shirt. “He has high blood pressure and takes medication for that. He gets regular check-ups and is thriving.”
A normal heart valve in the aorta has three flaps in it to deal with blood flow; William’s aorta has only two flaps and so that valve is being monitored.
“Everything is great, today,” Heather says. “The hardest thing to understand is that William has heart disease. Is that valve going to cause problems later on? I try not to think about it.”
Instead, she focuses on the fact that at four months, William is just starting to come into his own and as the youngest of four (his older siblings are twelve, nine and five), he is spoiled.
“He’s happy, for sure,” his mother says. “He’s happy, he’s fun, he’s curious. The kids love him. He’s the centre of attention.”
He’s the heart of their home.

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