Newlyweds Heather and Graham Irvine were thrilled to find out they were pregnant with a “Honeymoon Baby” but shocked to learn during an ultrasound that their baby boy would be born with a congenital heart defect. Logan has a complicated version of a condition called Tetralogy of Fallot, making his heart unable to properly function.
"The hardest part was coming to terms with the news that our baby would be born with significant challenges and not just get to be a baby.” Heather says. “It's a time when you want to be decorating a nursery and celebrating his life but instead you have even more uncertainties and fears than most first time parents have. You ride a rollercoaster of emotions. But you just find something within you that makes you go on."
Graham remembers that day all too clearly. “One second you’re there for an ultrasound, the next they’re showing you pictograms of the heart and talking about surgery. It’s like being hit in the gut again and again.” He found educating himself was the best form of therapy and is now a cardiology buff. “It’s become an infatuation with how the human body works,” he says. With Tetralogy of Fallot, typically the child has a narrowing of the pulmonary artery and valve. With Logan, the artery and the valve didn’t form at all. His right ventricle didn’t have blood pumping out of it. But how would they fix it?
The doctors told them Logan would require surgery within the first week of his life.
“It was amazing what they had to do to get the heart to pump effectively without being over or under worked,” Graham says. “Think of it like plumbing. They installed a shunt to bypass the artery and get blood going to the lungs.”
From the beginning, ‘Logan being Logan’ (a phrase coined by his doctors), wasn’t about to make it easy. He arrived a month and a half early on October 21st and after having the shunt put in developed a bowel condition and suffered from severe sleep apnea episodes where he’d stop breathing up to 14 times a day! He and his parents took up residence in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at CHEO for two months and brought him home four days before Christmas. “Our best present ever!” his parents say.
“It was a week before we could hold him,” Heather remembers. “When they gave him to us for the first time in NICU we all cried, even the nurses. I’ll never take any of the ‘normal’ baby moments for granted.”
Just over a month ago, Logan had another surgery after his heart catheterization. In the surgery he had a patch sewn in to close the large hole in his heart. He also had a new main pulmonary artery put in, along with a pulmonary valve, a patch on the right lung artery and several collateral arteries that shouldn’t be there, snipped. It’s a 10-hour procedure. After that, he spent two weeks in ICU for nasty drug withdrawal. Heather says it’s not over for Logan. “When he's four or five he will have a second open heart surgery, and subsequent surgeries every five to ten years as he grows to replace his pulmonary valve. Our hope is that technology advances to the point he never has to have it again.”
Heather can’t heap enough praise on Team Logan. Social support worker Claudette Boillard, Dr. Jane Lougheed, all the Cardiology staff and the nurses - especially Faith and Heather - who still run to see Logan whenever they hear he’s at the hospital for a check up. She remembers having to hand over her baby to the anaesthetist outside the OR. “He started humming a lullaby to Logan,” her voice cracks. “That was the only thing that willed our feet to move. They understood he was a baby and we knew he was in good hands.”
One pair of those special hands belongs to Dr. Maharajh. “He doesn’t just fix hearts,” Heather says. “He touches them. He goes home at night and before he turns in, calls to make sure his babies are okay. After open-heart surgery, you pose for a photo with everyone on the team. It goes on the wall to inspire other families. It meant we had survived! Dr. Maharajh held Logan in the photo. Before handing him back he kissed him on the forehead – a kind of final blessing.”
Heather maintains that CHEO embodies a perfect marriage of science and the power of love. “There are all of these amazing staff and specialists and medical advancements, but we’ve seen things in the NICU that doctors can’t explain and there are miracles all around us. Our son is living proof!”
It’s been a long road in a very short time for the Irvine family. But through it all they’ve followed a mantra to stay positive. Heather says they've put a new spin on the old saying, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”
"We say don't sweat the big things because for us it's the small ones that matter."