Last April, during the onset of COVID, Craig and Anna welcomed their baby girl, Valerie – a little sister for their two sons, Carter and Lee. Life was busy and complicated as one could expect during this time, but when Valerie was about 2 ½ months old, things took a very unexpected turn.
Valerie stopped breastfeeding unexplainably. When they took her to the pediatrician to be checked because she was losing weight, the astute physician suggested that “to be safe” she wanted to get their baby’s heart checked. When they completed the echocardiogram a few days later, a very concerned cardiologist sat them down and said they needed to be sent by ambulance to the Alberta Children’s Hospital immediately…their baby was in serious heart failure. She was admitted directly to the ICU and scheduled to fly to Edmonton that night to have heart surgery the very next day! While Anna was able to fly with Valerie, Craig was left to make the long drive to Edmonton…still in shock as to what was unfolding in their family.
As it turned out, Valerie was diagnosed with an extremely rare congenital heart condition known as ALCAPA (Anomalous Left Coronary Artery from the Pulmonary Artery) – basically, her heart was wired incorrectly – a condition that occurs in about 1 in 300,000 births. The team in Edmonton took great care of them, but the surgery was really tough on Valerie. In fact, there was an agonizing week-long stretch where they weren’t sure she was going to pull through. Thankfully, after that week, Valerie’s heart started working on its own and by the end of the summer, the family returned to Calgary and the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
Craig and Anna spent the next four months at the hospital with their baby girl as she grew stronger – two months in ICU and two months on Unit 2. Even though there were some difficult days, they were so overwhelmed by the genuine kindness extended to them by everyone on Valerie’s care team. Craig and Anna were well-informed and comfortable with everything that was happening to their baby girl, they were taught how to manage her care and always felt well-supported. The nurses became family – with one even knitting a stocking for Valerie’s first Christmas. And as they had hoped, they were able to bring Valerie home on December 21 just in time to celebrate the season with her big brothers.
While home now, Valerie still has a contingent of specialists – homecare, OT and speech therapy – to support her and her parents. The hope is that her heart will grow and stay strong, but it’s entirely possible that future surgery may be required. But for now, the family is enjoying their baby girl with soul-piercing eyes and a feisty little spirit.
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