Tri-Cities baby to receive third heart surgery in 7 months during the COVID-19 pandemic

Businesses are reopening in the Tri-Cities but life isn’t going back to normal for everyone, especially the Petersen family whose 7-month-old daughter has her third heart surgery on Wednesday.

Kyle and Sarah Petersen never expected their daughter to have a congenital heart defect when she was born but now it is a major part of their lives as they schedule visits with a cardiologist, travel to Spokane for surgeries, and try to protect her from COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of different types of congenital heart defects,” Sarah said, ” For her, the heart had to work really hard to really pump, to push that blood through and it was making her heart work in overtime.”

Monroe has two main issues with the way her heart works: she has a bicuspid valve instead of a tricuspid valve like everyone else and she had an aortic coarcertation, causing her heart to work harder to pump blood. Kyle and Sarah say Monroe’s case of congenital heart defect is easier than others because she doesn’t need open-heart surgery. Instead, doctors go through her side to access her heart.

“It’s actually fairly common too,” Kyle said, “It’s crazy how it can just happen. There’s no known cause for the defect.”

Sarah’s doctors didn’t find any early warning signs during pregnancy. She said Monroe wasn’t gaining enough weight later in the pregnancy so she had weekly ultrasounds until she was set to be induced at 40 weeks. Sarah experienced hypertension and was rushed into an emergency cesarean section. The umbilical cord was wrapped around Monroe’s head twice and in a knot. Nurses at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland noticed something was wrong after she was born.

“The nurses at Kadlec are amazing,” Sarah said, “They noticed right away that she was breathing kind of fast. It didn’t look weird, you know, newborn babies breath kind of fast but they were concerned. So they kept coming in and checking her breathing.”

Hours later Monroe was admitted into the NICU. Sarah was confined to her bed with a hypertensive crisis so Kyle was going back and forth from mother to daughter.

“He is such a strong, brave man,” Sarah said while looking at Kyle, “but he came back at one point and said ‘I just can’t watch anymore’ because there were so many cords and needles that go in. You know, it just hurts.”

Monroe was in the NICU for six days on strong medication and wasn’t able to eat at all.

“Our timeline of when she was born was she stayed with us for about 24 hours, was in the NICU at Kadlec for about 24 hours and she was medevacked after that.”

She was taken to Spokane for her first heart surgery. Monroe was in the hospital for almost a month recovering and being monitored by professionals. Since then, she has monthly check-ups with a cardiologist in the Tri-Cities.

“She was looking good enough that we went two months between visits,” Sarah said, “So that was the last time, that’s when they noticed that she had an issue. So this will be our third time going to Spokane for something.”

Monroe was born in December, just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic started. Kyle and Sarah said they were both able to take her to appointments and bring along their 2-year-old son Landon – that changed in March. Now, only one parent is allowed to go with Monroe to visits, including her heart surgery this week.

“We have a good dynamic anyway,” Sarah said, “I am really grateful for him because I kind of shutdown when I start hearing things, like everything just goes dark, but for him, he takes it in. He researches a lot. So I’m very thankful to have him in my life because I end up being like, ‘Wait, so what is wrong with my baby?'”

Kyle and Sarah continue to worry about their daughter’s health overall, especially taking her into a hospital during the Coronavirus pandemic. Sarah said she know hospital staff will do all they can to keep everyone safe but there and around the state, people don’t always follow the rules and put others at risk.

“She can’t wear a mask. She’s too young,” Sarah said, “I don’t feel like it’s that hard to wear a mask. And I know some people may find it uncomfortable, but when it comes to the life of someone else, you would think that you would do anything you can. So it just really kind of breaks my heart for people to not think about not just her, but any kid that’s immunocompromised like any kid with cancer.

Sarah said some people also don’t respect social distancing guidelines either.

“It’s scary. The world’s kind of scary. You have to go to the store sometimes, you can’t do everything online or you have to go into the Walmart pharmacy because it’s the only pharmacy that takes your insurance. That’s why it’s important that people wear masks because they aren’t respecting the six foot boundary all the time.”

“I glove up, I have mask on and I try and let people go by me if they’re too close or, you know,” Kyle said, “When I bring stuff home I wipe everything down with Clorox still. I just tried to do that. And, you know, if half people who don’t wear masks did, we’d be in phase two by now. That’s the big thing is everyone wants to go on with their life, but they’re not willing to take the steps to do so.”

Monroe faces a multitude of side-effects from her surgeries, medicines and treatments as well as the threat of COVID-19. Kyle and Sarah are staying hopeful during all of it though. They don’t always get the assurance they want for their daughter, or any assurance at all from doctors, but they realize there are so many possibilities for her health.

“It’s not always life threatening,” Sarah said, “but her condition is life shortening.”

“She’s very happy, she looks healthy, she’s doing great, she’s super silly, she’s a great joy in our life but you do feel a little jipped, I guess,” Kyle said, “Cause you don’t know if it’s going to be an issue for whole life, you know, there’s a lot of uncertainty and I think that’s a lot of worry involved.”