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Andrew's story- finding joy in unexpected places

May 02, 2012

Just days before going into labor on December 23, 2007, Steve and Betsy were anxiously awaiting the birth of their little bundle of joy. All of their doctor’s visits and checkups had been normal, and they were expecting to bring home a healthy, happy baby just a few days after giving birth. Like many other first-time parents, they felt nervous, excited, and a little scared as they awaited the new addition to their family. What they didn’t know was that they were about to go through the most challenging time of their lives.

Andrew was born on December 23, 2007 at a local hospital. At first, everything appeared to be normal. Both Betsy and Steve were able to hold their little baby in their arms and share their new blessing with their family until the nurses took him to get cleaned up and perform routine newborn screenings. Thankfully the nursery nurse placed a pulse oximeter on Andrew leading the medical staff to discover that he had been born with a heart defect. They knew that he needed to be quickly transported to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Winnie Palmer Hospital if he had any chance of survival.

“As scary as it all was, there was little time to process.  All we knew is that we loved our boy and trusted God to provide for whatever lie ahead”, Betsy remembers.

After arriving at Winnie Palmer Hospital, Dr. David Nykanen, Director of Cardiology at The Heart Center, explained that Andrew had been diagnosed with heterotaxy syndrome, a rare birth defect that affects the heart and other major organs. He had many organ defects, including complex single ventricle, which means that he only had half a functioning heart. Betsy and Steve soon realized that their child might never be “normal”, given the complexity of his medical condition.

Andrew’s condition became critical at just 5 days old, and he was transferred to Arnold Palmer Hospital for his first heart surgery. This was to be his home for the next 5 months.

“This wasn’t what we expected or hoped for our little boy,” Betsy reflects. “But sitting in his hospital room on Christmas Eve, my husband and I knew that no matter how long our little boy lived or what the journey looked like ahead, our son would know he was loved, and he would never have to fight alone. And there was no better first home for our son.”

His first heart surgery was the start of a dreaded roller coaster of life-threatening moments, leaving Steve and Betsy wondering if their little boy was going to make it to the next hour, day or week. The scariest moment of them all was when Andrew went into cardiac arrest at 2 weeks old.

As Betsy recalls, “The worst part of the roller coaster is that it became scary to hope. We were steadfast in our hope for Andrew, but the fear of the letdown was very real. At one point, we even had to sit down with the doctors and discuss when we would stop trying to keep Andrew alive. Words cannot even begin to describe the emotions, but we relied on God and somehow He got us through.” 

Throughout these 5 months, Andrew proved time and time again that he was a fighter. He was always such a joy and every moment spent together as a family was one moment closer to a miracle. On May 27, 2008, Andrew was able to go home- a dream come true for Betsy and Steve. A dream they are still living today.

Betsy and Steve will be forever grateful for the team at Arnold Palmer Hospital. They explain, “If it weren’t for their superior medical care and knowledge, Andrew would not have survived. They became more than doctors and nurses; they became family. They laughed with us in good times and encouraged us when times were tough. They shared in the trials and joys of the first 5 months of Andrew’s life, a precious gift for us who had no choice but to begin our life as a family in the hospital. The team cared for us and our son and they will always hold a special place in our hearts.”

As for Andrew, he is now 4 years old and a joyous miracle for all who know him. His life is different than what Steve and Betsy expected it to be, but as it turns out, his unusual journey has been a beautiful blessing. They don’t take a single minute for granted, and they never will.