Baby Zaan’s heart
Two months old and in heart failure – my baby needed an operation.
My third son, Zaan, the smaller one of twins, was diagnosed with a heart defect two days after birth. To put it in layman terms, he had a 1cm hole between the left and right side of his 3cm heart with a single valve in-between instead of two. This type of atrioventricular canal defect has to be corrected surgically between 4 and 6 months.

Zaan spent the first 3 weeks in Neo-Natal ICU. When he came home, he had a feeding tube for milk, a saturation monitor to check his oxygen levels and oxygen for when he slept. At the age of 6 weeks he needed oxygen all the time. We went for weekly check-ups at the paediatric cardiologist. Our aim was to get him as close to 5kg as possible by mid November. He would have been 3 and a half months old then, and he needed to have the heart operation before the doctors and staff went on annual leave.

However, Zaan was 2 months old when he went into heart failure. He was stabilised in the Paediatric ICU for a week and his operation was moved up to a week later. On Monday, 22 October 2007, Zaan was admitted to the PICU. He weighed 3.5kg and was only 2 and a half months old. One of the smallest babies to receive this type of operation.

We were given a booklet, made by a mother whose son had undergone the same operation, with photographs of what to expect afterwards. We were also told not to get a fright if our baby was blue. The procedure was explained by the cardiologist, as well as the recovery. Because of Zaan’s age and oxygen dependency his recovery could take longer and the risks of the operation were higher. Even with all of this information we still received a huge shock when we saw our son for the first time after the operation.

Six o’clock on Tuesday morning we were at his bed, his operation scheduled for 7:30. The nurses prepped him and we walked with him to the theatre. There we were able to kiss him one last time before the anaesthetist and theatre staff started with their work. Opposite the theatre was a small waiting room. That room terrified me! We couldn’t sit there and wait so we went for a walk.

Zaan came out of the theatre at midday. As soon as we walked into the PICU you could feel the charged atmosphere. All the staff were hyper alert and ready to react to the first sign of an emergency. Everyone was hushed. The machines beeping next to Zaan’s bed was constantly checked and changes were made as soon as one of the 13 alarms went off. More medicine was connected to the arterial line and drainage bags were monitored. Notes were made every 15 minutes of his stats.

Today I wish that I had taken a photograph of Zaan right after the operation. It’s almost impossible to explain his colour. I took one the next day when his colour had returned to normal. My baby looked like he was swollen to double his size. His whole body was the colour of a purple-blue bruise. Zaan had swollen so much from the by-pass during the operation that the surgeon was unable to close his chest. The chest cavity was left open with a covering of synthetic skin. On Friday the swelling had gone down enough for them to close his chest and stitch him up.

He was on the N2O ventilator for seven days. Another 3 days to wean him of the oxygen ventilator and by 3 November, he was taken of the ventilator completely. He still received oxygen, but with a box covering his head instead of a machine. On 22 November Zaan came home. He still needed regular check-ups at the cardiologist, but his operation was a success.

Read more on a baby's experience in hospital.

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