One of the most joyous days in a mother's life is bringing their newborn home from the hospital and no one imagines that just days later they will be rushing their baby back and admitting him into the ICU. This month I sat down with my sister-in-law, Kathleen Hill, mama to precious Walker, who at 10 days old was diagnosed with a heart condition called SVT (Supraventricular Tachycardia).
By Catherine Hill
Here is Walker's story....
Walker’s birth was normal and he was deemed perfectly healthy both at birth and when he was discharged from the hospital at two days old. It wasn’t until his tenth day of life that I felt something could be wrong when he did not want to eat. This went on for several hours, and when he finally ate, he threw up. Shortly thereafter, I noticed he was breathing heavily, so I placed my hand on his chest and it felt like his little heart was racing. I panicked and called for my husband, who confirmed that Walker’s heartbeat seemed fast, but he thought babies’ hearts were supposed to beat fast. I watched him for about 30 minutes and then called my sister to ask if she thought the events of the day were normal. She was at my house in a matter of minutes and she urged me to take him to the ER. I panicked and gathered my things as quickly as I could. Meanwhile, I called our pediatrician's after hours line and they told me that they would alert Children’s Hospital that we were en route. Upon check-in, my worry only worsened when I observed the sick children waiting nearby, so I asked if we could wait in a private room versus the main waiting room. My request was met almost immediately as they took us to an area where they checked vitals, and then took us to a room to wait for a doctor. When the nurse entered the room, I explained Walkers' symptoms. He looked at Walker and turned to me and said something like, “He is congested. His nasal passages need to be cleared, so that's why he’s having trouble breathing.” I cried in relief that it was not something serious. While the nurse went to work, a doctor came in, listened to Walker’s heart, and then fetched another doctor to listen as well. The second doctor listened, and then asked for an infant heart monitor. She turned to me and said that she would have a diagnosis in a matter of seconds. That was the last calm moment. As soon as the heart monitor showed his heart rate was 280 bpm, the doctor said, “This baby is in SVT! Rush him to critical care!” At that moment, my heart dropped into my stomach and I started shaking and crying. The doctor grabbed me by my shoulders and said, "you did the right thing by bringing him here." As we rushed Walker through the ER department to the critical care unit, I heard alarms sounding and doctors being called into critical care room 9 for an SVT patient. As we entered room 9, our tiny, 10-day-old baby was placed on a huge hospital bed and he was surrounded by about a dozen doctors and nurses as they inserted IVs and placed tiny shock pad stickers on his chest. At this point, I still did not understand what was wrong and what was going on because it all happened so fast. So, Children’s appointed a woman who served as a liaison between our family and the doctors to keep us informed. She did her best to explain, but there was so much going on in the background that I still did not fully understand. As she spoke, I heard a doctor say, "Give him another round of Adenosine. His pressure is dropping, is he still stable?" They were unsuccessful at getting his heart rate to lower by breaking the SVT cycle, so they called another doctor to come in that they had been corresponding with over the phone. He arrived with another doctor from the cardiac ICU. They talked to all of the doctors and nurses in the room, and then addressed my husband and me. The ICU doctor told me that Walker was going to be okay as this condition is almost never life threatening. He explained that it’s really scary, but once the cycle is broken, he will be fine. That was the first time I was told that he would be okay. I thanked him through a pool of tears! The team of doctors decided that the cardiac ICU team was better equipped to handle Walker, so they moved him up to the cardiac ICU floor, where they continued to try to break him out of the SVT. Shortly after we got up there, he broke out of SVT. I knew that our prayers had been answered! The doctors told us that he was in good hands, so we could go home and get some rest, but we could not leave him! My husband and I snuggled up on a couch in Walker’s ICU room so we could stay close. The next afternoon, we were able to move out of the ICU and into a normal cardiology room. That night, my husband and I were saying goodnight to Walker when his monitors started alarming and nurses came running in to check on him. He had gone back into SVT but they were able to break the cycle by putting a bag of ice on his face (a tactic they try before medicine). The doctor came in and said that Walker was going to need to be on two medications due to the second episode. We stayed put for monitoring over the next few days. It was comforting to be at the hospital over that time period because I knew he was under a watchful eye. I was terrified to go home. I worried that I would not recognize if he went into SVT, and if he did, what I would do? A very dedicated nurse calmed me she gave me great tips on what to look for, how to monitor his heart and what to do if he goes into SVT. We were so happy to be discharged and to get back to life at home. However, Walker was back in the hospital a week later and then again when he was almost a year old. The hospital visits never get easier because he is becoming more aware with age. We are praying for no more hospital visits and that he outgrows this very soon. I am so thankful to God that the SVT is treatable with medicine. If Walker doesn't outgrow it (as many children do), then it can be cured by a procedure. I am also so thankful that it doesn’t affect his day-to-day life.