In two weeks, Tony Rodriguez's mother will never have to give him heart medication again. And considering the 8-month-old has been on several prescriptions his entire life, that's a big deal.
Doctors discovered Tony had a heart murmur during a routine check-up when he was a week old. To rule out any serious problems, his parents Charree Donley and Anthony Rodriguez were referred to a heart specialist in Wichita, Dr. Cynthia Battiste.
After an echocardiogram (ECHO) and an Electrocardiogram (EKG) test, Charree and Anthony were told their infant son was born with a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot.
The American Heart Association web site describes Tetralogy of Fallot as a heart defect consisting of four things: a narrowing of the right ventricular outflow tract, an aortic valve with biventricular connection, a hole between the two bottom chambers (ventricles) of the heart, and an overly thickened muscle surrounding the lower right chamber of the heart.
Basically, Tony's heart was working overtime to supply enough blood for his little body to function.
When Charee and Anthony took Tony to Wichita for his one-month check-up, the diagnosis came back with more bad news: because their tiny baby's heart muscle was so enlarged, he would need complete open heart surgery.
"I couldn't handle the thought of my baby laying there for surgery. What if something went wrong?" Charree said.
But just six months later, Charree had to overcome her fear. Tony was scheduled for surgery Sept. 26 in Kansas City. To the family's dismay, Tony's surgeon called Sept. 24 and cancelled his procedure because the hospital's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit was full.
"It's a lot to mentally prepare yourself for," Charree said referring to the surgery. "I was in tears."
Tony's doctors and family had been focusing on keeping him healthy so the change caused disappointment and uncertainty.
"If he got sick, they would have to put off his surgery," Charree said. "The doctor told me RSV season begins in October so they wouldn't be able to operate on him after that."
That's when Charree decided to take the situation into her own hands. The devoted mother called Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. and begged for an available slot for Tony's surgery. Luckily, Tony's condition was brought under the watchful eye of Dr. James Hammel, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the hospital.
"They told me that if I could get all of Tony's information faxed to Omaha by the next day, there was a chance Dr. Hammel could do the surgery," Charree said.
On Oct.1, just a week after Charree first contacted Hammel, 7-month-old Tony underwent complete open heart surgery. Even though the surgery required his chest muscles and breast bone to be split, Tony was breathing on his own and his heart was pumping normally immediately following the procedure.
Page 2 of 2 - "We were so blessed to have a doctor that explained everything to us," Charree said. "We knew exactly what was going on throughout his whole surgery."
Charree explained that Tony was hooked up to a central line, an arterial line and an IV when the surgery was completed.
"He was so sedated and had so many tubes and wires that I was afraid I would hurt him when I held him," she said.
But after 24-hours of not being able to comfort her son, Charree knew her baby boy needed her.
"I held him for two hours while he slept and I was finally able to console him," she said.
Charree and Anthony were able to take Tony home two days after his surgery and have seen a dramatic change in their brown-haired little boy.
"He's a whole new baby," Charree said. "He's so much more active. Before the surgery he would get worn out just from drinking a bottle. He doesn't crawl yet but he is always moving around and he loves his feet."
Tony had his first check-up since the open heart surgery this week with Dr. Battiste in Wichita. Charree said the cardiologist was pleased with his progress. His monthly check-ups will eventually turn into yearly appointments, but both Hammel and Battiste assured Tony's family their smiling baby won't need any more surgeries and should be able to lead a normal life.
Charree said she's not sure how she and Anthony made it through such a monumental process with Tony, especially while raising two other children at the same time.
"Everyone has been so supportive. Anthony's family, my family, the community," she said. "No one ever talks about babys with heart defects so it was important to me to get the word out."