When Chip was born just three days after Christmas, his family was excited to welcome their new son into the world. But things immediately took a turn for the worse. Within a matter of minutes, Chip’s body turned from a healthy pink color to a grayish blue tint. That’s when the doctors knew something was wrong.
Immediately jumping into action, a neonatologist at a Washington, D.C., hospital rushed Chip to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). As his oxygen levels plunged over the course of 30 minutes, it wasn’t entirely clear what was wrong. After a series of tests and consultations, Chip’s dad recalls the moment doctors gave him an update on his son’s condition.
“It could be one of two issues,” he remembers being told. “Something could be wrong with the heart, which it turned out to be, or something broader in the circulatory system, which would have been much worse.”
With a definitive prognosis eluding medical staff, Chip’s neonatologist knew he needed to be transported to Children’s National as quickly as possible. Jeffrey Becker, M.D., Director of Outpatient Cardiology at Children’s National, diagnosed Chip with transposition of the great arteries (TGA), a heart defect in newborns in which the aorta and pulmonary artery are attached in the wrong places. Known as “blue-baby syndrome,” TGA causes non-oxygenated blood to travel through the body, a situation that can be fatal if not corrected surgically.
Soon after arriving to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Chip underwent a cardiac catheterization procedure to open up communications between the left and right side of his heart. Six days later, he was scheduled for open-heart surgery to correct the placement of his arteries.
“Within three hours, Chip was born, diagnosed with TGA, transported to Children’s National and had his first procedure,” Chip’s mom said in disbelief.
She admits that the time leading up to Chip’s surgery took an emotional toll on the entire family. Her husband, parents, sister and brother-in-law rallied around her in what she describes as a “lifesaving” moment.
“Is he ever going to leave the hospital? Is he going to make it past childhood? Is he going to make it to teenage years and adulthood? Those were the thoughts swarming in my brain,” she said. “It was terrible.”
On January 3, 2013, at six days old, Chip underwent an arterial switch procedure by Richard Jonas, M.D., Co-Director of Children’s National Heart Institute. Five days later, he left the hospital in good shape with nothing more than Tylenol.
Chip recovered smoothly from surgery with only a faint scar, but Children’s National left a long-lasting mark on his parents’ hearts. His family credits the care team for creating a “calming effect” that helped them find peace in the midst of a stressful hospital stay.
From the doctors to the nurses and staff in the Cardiac ICU, the team at Children’s National helped reduce the anxiety that comes with caring for a sick child. The compassionate team spent time making sure the family thoroughly understood each step of Chip’s surgery and recovery as well as potential complications.
A few days after Chip’s surgery, his parents stepped out of the Cardiac ICU for a short period and returned to find one nurse’s small act of kindness.
“She cleaned up the room for us, folded my clothes, made my bed, straightened up the sheets,” Chip’s mom said, expressing gratitude. “This helped to put order in our lives where there was none. It was so appreciated and unexpected.”
Now, Chip is your typical happy and healthy 4-year-old kid with a ton of energy. He loves going on hikes, playing with trains and spending time with his sister Aleena and yellow lab named Cutter.
“When you start talking to people, you really find out that there are a lot of cardiac kids out there and a lot of people who’ve been touched by Children’s,” Chip’s mom says, recalling a time when Chip and a young boy – both of whom were patients of Dr. Jonas – showed each other their scars from open heart surgery.
“Children’s National made all the difference in the world,” she says confidently. “They saved Chip’s life. We will forever be grateful.”
Every year Chip comes to Children’s National to see cardiologist Charles Berul, M.D., Co-Director of Children’s National Heart Institute, for a check-up.
“One of the greatest joys of my career has been to build an extended family of people like Chip and his parents. Many of the families contact me every year during the holidays. And it’s amazing how many kids like Chip contact me independently themselves for the first time as they finish college,” says Dr. Jonas.