February is here! That means that, among other things, many of us will be celebrating with flowers and hearts for Valentine’s Day. But amidst all the heart-shaped chocolate boxes and cards, we can’t forget the many little ones in our care whose hearts need help—those with rare heart defects and other complex heart problems.
This month’s Roots for Life featured child is Wen, now a chubby little boy with a winning smile. When he arrived at Little Flower on November 13, 2012 at three and a half months old and just 2.6 KG, however, he was a tiny, pale baby with a big cleft who was extremely malnourished.
The orphanage told us that he had a cleft and a heart defect, so one of the first things we did was take him to the cardiologist for a consultation. They confirmed that it was a heart defect, and a severe one at that. Wen was born with pulmonary atresia, which means that the artery that goes from the heart to the lungs (to oxygenate the blood) isn’t connected. This is a particularly complicated problem to fix, because each case is dependent upon how developed the artery is—what is there and what’s not. Surgery on such a small fragile baby would be very risky.
Wen’s arrival at our baby home happened to coincide with a visit from Little Hearts Medical, another wonderful US organization that provides cardiac care to orphans and impoverished children in China. He was seen by a very talented pediatric cardiac surgeon, Dr. Langley. Although Dr. Langley was only in Beijing for only 4 days, he was able to visit our infant care home and examine him. He was shocked at how skinny little Wen was.
Ultimately, the prognosis did not look good. A lot would depend on the anatomy of the pulmonary artery. The best we could do at that point was to get him bigger and stronger—if there was to be any hope of surgery, he had to grow to a healthier weight. We couldn’t even begin to worry about his cleft until his heart issues were resolved.
Wen didn’t get too much bigger before he got really sick. His little heart just wasn’t going to do any more. He’d only gained a pound, but soon abruptly stopped gaining weight. His oxygen levels were dropping; it was clear his heart was failing.
The debates began among the members of our medical team. Was there any hope? At that point, options were few and far between. We called the surgeons to see if they would try. Without immediate surgery, he certainly would not survive.
The surgeons agreed to give it a try, despite the fact that Wen was so small and fragile. They planned to do a BT shunt, which creates a connection between the heart and the lungs. It was one of the simplest procedures they could try--the only thing they thought might succeed. The doctors were nervous, as they hadn’t had a lot of success operating on such a small and fragile infant. These hospitals don’t have the same level of equipment, technology, and training that are found in top hospitals abroad.
But Wen ended up being one of the first cases that those doctors took a risk on and succeeded with beyond their expectations. As it turned out, Wen’s pulmonary artery was more developed than previously thought. They ended up being able to do a Glenn procedure, which is a better option, but a more complicated surgery. The success of Wen’s surgery gave the doctors more confidence and self-assurance, which has served them well with future surgeries.
After Wen came home, he took off and started putting on weight.
The doctors who did the operation came to the infant care home to visit him and couldn’t believe he was the same baby.
He was getting cuter and chubbier, and is now a toddler. He’s a shy baby who can be uncertain among new people. He loves swinging in the swing before naptime, and seems happiest when it’s lunch or dinner time!
This little introvert loves playing on his own rather than in large groups, but the most endearing thing about him is that if he’s not playing by himself, he loves to take care of the younger toddlers and has on occasion helped to push the swing when they’re sitting in it.
He's also learning to walk on his own!
But the journey isn't over. This has been just the first stage of a complete heart repair. He still needs additional surgeries, and can get a cleft repair once the heart issues are resolved. But we're optimistic for this little guy's future, and have enjoyed seeing him grow day after day!