Seacoast NH “heart mom” shares her daughter’s journey

My name is Rebecca Nichols, I grew up on the New Hampshire Seacoast and am currently the Technical Director of our Echo Lab at Wentworth Douglass Hospital (WDH) in Dover. I have been a sonographer at WDH for almost 14 years. I got into being a sonographer because I truly felt that if I was going to spend 40 hours a week doing something, I wanted it to be something that was good and helpful to my community, to the world. Sounds corny, but it’s true.

Never did I ever imagine that I would go from being an Echo tech to being a “heart mom”.

My beautiful baby girl, Hailey Adeline Nichols was born on September 28th 2020 at Wentworth Douglass by a very planned C section. She was my second baby, my son Colin was 4 at the time, and I was ready to kind of breeze through this one. My husband Doug and I felt like we’d had enough “practice” with Colin and were just so excited to welcome this sweet girl into our family.

I had a planned C-section, but shortly after being hooked up to the monitors, I was told things didn’t look quite right and that our baby may be “sick”. After being delivered, my daughter took a while to “pink up”. I heard “Respiratory STAT” over the speakers and people flooded into the room. She FINALLY started crying and was handed to us ,- we were soo relieved. They told us that cord was around her neck – twice – which could have contributed to her distress. We were also told that she had a “murmur” which thankfully was detected right away and would need to have an EKG and an Echo.

This is the test that I have performed my entire career, I honestly didn’t think much of it, I knew she had passed her 20-week anatomy scan, and honestly the term “murmur” to us Cardiology people, can indicate a completely normal heart sound. But, I was happy that they were being thorough.

The next day she went for her Echo, and I being a nosy Echo tech and nervous mom, noticed that she had been gone for a bit longer than I had expected. She came back still connected to an Oxygen Sat monitor – which worried me. The pediatric cardiologist then came in and drew a picture of our daughter’s heart.

Hailey was born with a complex congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. It’s a combination of four different small defects. Basically instead of directing blood properly through one side and then the other it becomes mixed and less oxygenated and creates cyanosis – what’s often referred to as blue baby syndrome. We were told that, at the very least, she would require open heart surgery at or before 3 months.

Words just cannot describe the sadness and fear that comes with a difficult diagnosis for your beautiful newborn baby. You immediately fast-forward through their entire life, and all you can initially see is the negatives, it’s hard to move past that feeling. There was quite a long time that I couldn’t even say the words Tetralogy of Fallot.

I will never forget what one of the cardiologists said to us – “I hope the happiness in all of this is not lost, we are so lucky to live a hour from some of the best hospitals in the world, and this is treatable.” I needed to grieve the loss of the idea of perfection and embrace the fact that we were incredibly lucky to have lots of knowledge about her condition and knew how to fix it.

So, we took her home and loved her as we prepared for surgery at just three months. Surgery took six long hours, but recovery lasted 8 days. Nothing about those eight days was easy, but my family and I are so incredibly grateful to have options. The option to not just save our daughter’s life but her quality of life. We feel so blessed. Our experience changed our lives forever.

Hailey is now a strong, funny  toddler with endless opportunities ahead of her. Her heart is now essentially just like any other kid’s. She will always have to go for checkups but at her last visit, her Cardiologist said that her heart looked so good that she would only need checkups every two and a half years instead of ever year.

Thank you to all of you who support the American Heart Association. If it weren’t for their research on the littlest hearts, we would not have the treatments and care that helped save my daughter. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!