Gerrard and Kristen were thrilled to be expecting their second child, a girl they would name Tatum. With COVID-19 precautions still in place, Kristen attended her medical appointments alone, with Gerrard waiting after each visit to hear how his wife and their daughter were doing. At 20 weeks, a scan revealed terrible news: Their baby had a heart defect.
After transferring care to Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, more scans were performed, and the news got worse. Tatum had a hypoplastic (small) aortic valve, severe coarctation of the aorta with a large ventricular septal defect (a hole between the heart’s pumping chambers) and a congenital heart defect causing a blockage of blood flow to the body. Babies with this defect require open heart surgery once they are born, but the problem can’t be cured.
Kristen recalls the rest of her pregnancy as a blur of anxiety.
“I remember our pediatric cardiologist, Darren Klugman [director of pediatric cardiac critical care], said, ‘She’s fine inside you. It’s after she’s here that we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.’ So, for those last couple weeks, I almost wanted to stay pregnant.”
At 39 weeks, birth was induced and Gerrard and Kristen’s “sassy little Tater Tot” entered the world, screaming and crying. She was immediately taken to the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit (PCICU), where a bed was waiting for her, and she was prepared for surgery.
“There is no routine open-heart surgery,” Kristen says. She placed her faith in cardiac surgeon Bret Mettler, director of pediatric cardiac surgery and co-director of the Blalock-Taussig-Thomas Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center, who Kristen says was “about to perform one of the most complex, insane surgeries on a 4-day-old whose heart is the size of a walnut.”
While Tatum was recovering after the surgery, Gerrard went to the PCICU to hold his daughter for the first time. He felt in his heart it wouldn’t be the last. The surgery had lasted an entire day, the longest day of the parents’ lives, but it was a success. While it would be several months away, Gerrard and Kristen knew they would be able to take home a healthy baby girl.
“Tatum and her parents demonstrate the incredible outcomes that we achieve in our Blalock-Taussig-Thomas Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center,” Klugman says. “We partner with parents to allow our patients to thrive, and we love watching our patients grow up strong and healthy — it’s why we do what we do.”
In two months, Tatum transferred to a hospital that specializes in feeding. Then, after 88 days of hospital life, Tatum was able to go home.
“It felt amazing,” Gerrard remembers. “It felt like reaching the finish line.”
Today, Tatum is a happy, healthy 2-year-old girl with her whole life ahead of her.
“The level of care we got from the Children’s Center during a global pandemic is immense,” Kristen says. “And we’re so grateful to have Johns Hopkins in our backyard. We’re here telling Tatum’s story — this is chapters one and two, and Tatum’s going to get to tell more of her story as she grows up.”