Sweet Caroline

By: Caroline’s Mom, Melissa Guarracino

“Caroline is a sassy, intelligent and charismatic 5-year-old.”

We have a trend in our little family to only use due dates as a (very, VERY) general guideline. None of our children have been born in the month they were due. So, when my late August due date came and went for baby number 3 and September began, all I could do was laugh. Caroline arrived, on her own time, in the early morning of September 4th, 2013, 5 long days late. We had a slew of visitors on day 1 including her older brother & sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents & dear friends. We were smitten and so thankful for this little life after an incredibly rough year of loss & grief in our extended family.

Eager to get some rest after her busy birth day my husband Nick and I sent Caroline to the nursery in the late evening of September 4th with the request to bring her back for her feeding. Right on schedule, in the wee hours of the morning the nurse wheeled Caroline in right next to my bed.

About an hour after feeding Caroline I was awoken by a wonderful nurse and attentive physician’s assistant who switched on the lights in our room to let us know that they had come to take stats and noticed that Caroline’s color was off – she might have said dusky, I was so tired it’s a blur. She assured us that it was likely nothing but she was going to take her to the NICU for a bit to have her checked out. We had been through this drill before with our oldest, George, who needed a few weeks in the NICU to strengthen his lungs after birth so we didn’t worry too much and we drifted back off to sleep. A few hours later we woke up and Caroline was still not in our room. We decided to find a wheelchair for me and go find her. We were directed to the NICU, which brought back a slew of emotions for both of us.

In the NICU amongst the beeping & chirping of machines we found Caroline in room 4. Our prior experience reminded us that the lower the number (out of 4), the closer you were to going home. Not good, Caroline. We stood by her open crib (good sign) and commented on how good she looked! A kind neonatologist approached us and asked us if anyone had been by to talk to us about Caroline. Nope, not yet. So he asked us to join him in “Caroline’s Room” within the NICU space to discuss what they’d found. Nothing could have prepared us for the news he delivered. Caroline was born with three complex heart defects. Transposition of the Great Arteries, Ventricular Septal Defect and Coarctation of the Aorta. Whoa. Our first reaction was – can you fix this? He assured us that she had some of the most easily fixable defects. Easily fixable with open heart surgery doesn’t sound easy at all when your baby’s heart is the size of a walnut. We were terrified, heartbroken and so overwhelmed.

The next week involved a lot of research, a lot of questions, many red tear-filled eyes & so much support from those around us. We had everyone from our pediatrician to our families to our new friends at Yale rallying for our sweet girl. We sought out second opinions, researched the pediatric heart surgeons, educated ourselves on her specific defects and tried our hardest to balance our time at the hospital with time at home bringing our older two children up to speed on why Caroline wasn’t coming home.

At 8 days old, Caroline underwent 9 hours of open heart surgery. We filled the waiting room with family who worked hard to feed us, make us laugh and distract us. The surgery blew by the expected duration which is when our anxiety ramped up. An hour after we thought she’d be out we were called to a conference room. Caroline’s body temperature was being brought back up and the surgeon informed us that the repairs were successful.

Caroline’s recovery was slow & steady. She was in the hospital a total of 20 days from birth to discharge. We felt so incredibly thankful for modern medicine.  Born 40 years earlier, our sweet girl most likely would have not had the same outcome.

We continue to have Caroline checked out every 4-6 months. She has only needed one additional intervention since her surgery – and is a sassy, intelligent, charismatic 5-year-old. You would never know of her newborn struggles unless you saw the scar on her chest. Just last night Caroline was asked about what that mark was on her chest. She tentatively looked at me and then back at the young girl asking and proudly said, “that’s where they fixed my heart!”

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