When Ty Turner was born in April 2008, his parents, Michelle and Justin, thought he was a perfectly healthy baby boy.
At seven days old, however, Michelle noticed Ty was having difficulty eating, and he was sleeping close to six hours at a time. Michelle, a nurse at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, repeatedly convinced herself that Ty didn’t need to come to the hospital.
Then she noticed Ty’s rapid breathing.
“There weren’t really tell-tale signs, but as the days went on, I could tell that he was breathing fast. I would just sit there and count his breaths,” Michelle recalls.
At 10 days old, Michelle brought Ty to University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, where an X-ray showed that he had a congenital heart defect known as aortic coarctation. In other words, the pathway that brings blood and nutrients to his heart was narrowed. Compared to a chest X-ray taken when Ty was born, the new test showed that his heart had doubled in size.
Immediately, the Turners were sent to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), and Ty was started on intravenous medications to help his heart function until he could undergo surgery. When he was two weeks old, Ty underwent a closed-heart surgery, or thoracotomy — an incision made on the side of the chest between the ribs — to expand the narrowed pathway.
A pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at UI Children’s Hospital told the Turners that Ty probably wouldn’t have survived many more days at home.
“He said he was telling me this so that I could pat myself on the back and say ‘good job’ for bringing him in instead of beating myself up thinking that I did something to cause this,” Michelle notes.
In February 2012, doctors and nurses at UI Children’s Hospital began screening every newborn for congenital heart defects using pulse oximetry — a quick, non-invasive test in which sensors are placed on the hands and feet of newborns to check the amount of oxygen in the blood and the baby’s pulse rate.
As an assistant nurse manager for the Inpatient Obstetrics Unit, Michelle was part of the committee that implemented the congenital heart defect screenings.
“I often wonder if the screening was in place at the time of Ty’s delivery, would his defect have been caught?” Michelle says.
Michelle hopes her son’s story will encourage people to “trust their gut” if they feel something is not right with their children.
“I take care of and often spend time doing non-stress tests on moms who have babies with heart issues. I feel like I can relate to their feelings, and I am able to talk them about what the PICU experience is like and try to prepare them,” Michelle explains.
Today, Ty is a thriving, active little boy who loves to wrestle, play video games, and toss the ball around with his dad and two older brothers, Drew and Gehrig. He also returns regularly to UI Children’s Hospital for follow-up care to make sure his aorta does not re-narrow due to scar tissue.
“He’s doing great and has no restrictions. I almost forget what happened until I see his scar,” Michelle says.
Michelle emphasizes the care Ty received at UI Children’s Hospital was amazing and she could not imagine going anywhere else.
“I am so thankful to the doctors and nurses that cared for Ty,” she says. “They were compassionate, respectful, and professional.”