Eugene appears to be a typical 5-year-old boy. He loves to run, skip and stomp in puddles. He loves playing ball with his older brother. And he loves watching silly cartoons on his mother’s phone.
Looking at this fun-loving, active little boy, it’s hard to believe that he almost didn’t survive his first year of life.
Born six weeks premature with a severe heart defect, Eugene spent most of his first year as a patient in Children’s Hospital Colorado. Prior to his delivery, his mother, Eunice, had no idea that anything was wrong.
“When he was one day old, they found a heart murmur,” she recalls. “Soon after that, they diagnosed him with tricuspid atresia.”
This rare heart defect occurs in around 1 in 10,000 live births. Babies born with tricuspid atresia have malformed valves between two of the heart's chambers, creating just three heart chambers instead of the normal four. As a result, blood can't flow through the heart and into the lungs, so oxygen isn’t effectively delivered to the rest of the body.
Eugene’s case was serious. He was transferred from the family’s local hospital in Colorado Springs to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, Colo., and at three months old, he underwent the first of three open heart surgeries to repair the defect.
Initially, the surgery seemed to help, and Eugene was able to go home for the first time in his life. But just two weeks later at a check-up, doctors discovered dangerous levels of fluid accumulating in his lungs. Eugene was immediately transferred back to Children’s Colorado by ambulance. He remained there for another four months, fighting to survive.
For Eugene’s mother, it was a low point. At the time, she was living in Colorado Springs with Eugene’s two older brothers. But Eugene’s condition was so precarious that he needed the level of care offered at Children’s Colorado, which has one of the best pediatric heart programs in the country. Eunice spent months commuting between Aurora and Colorado Springs, all while juggling the schedule demands of a single mother.
Thankfully, the staff a Children’s Colorado was a tremendous help. Eunice says that they provided support and resources to help her family, and that the care Eugene received was outstanding. Shortly before Eugene’s first birthday, he returned home again.
“The nurses, the doctors and the surgeons at Children’s Colorado are life savers,” says Eunice. “They are making miracles in that place.”
Eugene still sleeps with oxygen tubes every night to help boost his blood oxygen levels, which remain below normal. And while he may someday require a heart transplant, today Eugene is doing better than anyone could have expected – even Eunice.
“We weren’t sure that he’d survive – let alone make it this far,” she says.
She credits his incredible progress to the team at Children’s Colorado and the resilient spirit of her young son.
“Eugene is such a strong, loving boy,” she says fondly. “He makes me stronger because he is a fighter.”