Blue Baby Boy

Blue Baby Boy
Patient Name : Graham Gaither

When Kimberli Gaither took her quadruplets home to Panama City, Florida from Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women, she knew she would return. She just did not know when. Fred and Kimberli chose to deliver their babies far from home when they learned that one of their four sons, Graham, suffered from a heart defect. Arnold Palmer Hospital had everything they needed, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for the quads and the Congenital Heart Institute for Graham.

At twenty-seven weeks, Kimberli’s contractions began and she quickly came to Arnold Palmer Hospital where the maternal-fetal medicine team placed her on strict bed rest. Pediatric cardiologist Aykut Tugertimur, MD performed an ultrasound and explained that Graham had a mild form of Tetralogy of Fallot, a series of heart defects that allowed unoxygentated blood to dilute oxygenated blood prior to pumping into the body, a fatal defect without corrective surgery.

When the babies were born on April 13, 2005, Dr. Tugertimur confirmed his diagnosis that Graham would not need immediate surgery. Graham’s heart would enable him to grow bigger and stronger before the operation. At birth, Graham was pink like his brothers, Grayson, March and Miles. But it did not take long for him to start turning blue. “His lips and nail beds always had a blue tinge,” Kimberli explains.

Just like any baby, Graham cried when he was hungry, he cried when he wanted to sleep and cried when he wanted his mommy. “I had to feed and comfort Graham first,” she explains. As Graham got older and larger, the signs of his heart defect became more obvious. “The ‘blue spells’ were the worst. When Graham had a crying fit, he looked more dead than alive. He was that blue,” his mother says. The agitation caused even less oxygen to pump through his heart turning him very blue, almost purple. Kimberli had to watch her son constantly. “Every time Graham would turn blue, I was nervous. I wanted him to weight 11 pounds quickly.”

On August 31, 2005, at five months old and over 11 pounds, the time had come for Graham’s open-heart surgery. “I thought I was scared about the surgery when I was delivering the babies. Now he was no longer just one of four babies I was carrying, he was Graham. I knew his personality, the sound of his cry, his unique smile,” she says. “I knew how ill he was and I felt completely helpless.”

“I have never been so scared in my life,” Kimberli shares about the day she gave her son to pediatric cardiac surgeon, William DeCampli, MD. “It was worse than anything I had been through,” she says. As a doctor and nurse, Fred and Kimberli understood all too well the delicacy of Graham’s surgery. “They had to stop his heart. The bypass machine is all that was keeping him alive,” she explains.

During the operation, Dr. DeCampli removed excess bundles of muscle within the heart that were obstructing the flow of blood to the lungs. He then closed the hole between the heart chambers with a patch. Unlike what is often done in repairs of this heart anomaly, Dr. DeCampli “spared” the valve between the heart and the lungs. This would mean a decreased chance of Graham ever needing another operation for his heart problem.

Pediatric critical care specialist Harun Fakioglu, MD with the Congenital Heart Institute monitored Graham following the surgery. “He was there all the time at the bedside of each child,” Kimberli says in astonishment. The special attention brought much comfort to the nervous parents. Graham was always under watchful eyes. The nurses in the cardiac unit at Arnold Palmer Hospital recognized when Graham’s lungs could not keep up with the repaired heart. “The nurses were on top of it. They knew what they were doing.” Graham had to go back on the ventilator when one of his lungs collapsed.

“With our medical background we critique everything about our medical care. Arnold Palmer Hospital is a place we trust. We trusted every decision the Congenital Heart Institute team made. They did such a great job. A really great job. They answered all our questions and even gave us their cell phone numbers should we have more questions,” Kimberli says.

Graham left Arnold Palmer Hospital nine days after surgery, pink. “I would not hesitate to return for care or send someone else,” she says. “I have a baby whose heart is repaired. I am grateful for Arnold Palmer Hospital and the Congenital Heart Institute. I am thrilled and grateful for all they have done.”