Thursday, January 12, 2012

Carter's Story

On February 9th 2010, Erick and I were blessed with our third child.  To continue what was an inadvertent trend, we named him a presidential name, Carter.  Our other two children are named Madison and Clinton, while we didn’t realize the presidential connection initially, by the time we were pregnant with Carter it became apparent and we decided to continue with the theme.  We were so happy to meet Carter and just as anxious as we were with Madison, our oldest, to take him home and introduce him to the rest of the family.  He was such a good boy.  He wasn’t very fussy, and slept a lot, but he also wasn’t eating.  After a few days my mother’s intuition started to wonder if he was too quiet, and if he slept too much.  His coloration also seemed to be a bit off.  So, we decided to take him to the hospital on the 12th of February.  I was convinced that I was just overreacting, but I wanted confirmation and assurance.  Never would I have imagined that after getting checked in and going through the normal hospital protocol and paperwork drills the urgency that all of the hospital personnel were working with Carter.  I was even more surprised to find that that he had to be immediately air lifted from our hometown of Mt. Vernon, Washington to Seattle Children’s Hospital, 60 miles away.  That did NOT give me confidence or the reassurance that I was seeking.
Erick and I were not able to fly with Carter on the helicopter to Seattle Children’s Hospital, so we had to make what seemed like the longest drive of our lives to Seattle to meet him there.  Once we arrived at the hospital we were briefed by the medical staff as to Carter’s condition.  It was then that we learned that he was born with a severely underdeveloped left ventricle in his heart, a condition known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and Critical Aortic Stenosis.  The left ventricle is responsible for delivering oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body.  Because Carter’s left ventricle and artery were so under developed he was receiving only 20% of the oxygen that his body needed.  He was admitted the the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of Seattle Children’s Hospital. 
At this point we were given our limited treatment options for our newborn baby.  The first was what is often referred to as “Compassionate Care”, basically we were offered the option to take Carter home, make him comfortable, and give him all the love that we could for the short number of days that he would be expected to live.  The only other option that we had was to undergo a three phased series of surgical procedures that wouldn’t repair his under developed heart, but would help to redirect the blood circulation. 
On the 23rd of February, when Carter was only 3 weeks old, he underwent his first open heart surgery.  He went through a procedure known as the Norwood procedure.  This life saving procedure allowed us to eventually take Carter home with us.  We knew he was very weak and that the Norwood procedure did not solve the problem entirely.  Over the next few months we made many trips back and forth to the hospital for check ups, and for other “minor” surgical procedures.  On the 26th of July 2010 Carter was healthy enough to go through the second phase of the surgical process, the Glenn procedure.  This was his second open heart surgery.  As you can imagine we were extremely nervous for Carter to undergo such an extreme procedure for the second time in his very short life.  Thankfully, he came out of the surgery as well as could be expected.  Over the next few days and months it became apparent that while the surgery was successful, there were remaining complications, and that Carter was not responding to the surgery as he should be.  We went through more “minor” procedures and many, many trips to the hospital.
Over these next months though, we got to really know Carter.  He has blessed our home and family in so many ways.  He has done things that doctors told us would not be possible.  Had his first birthday, took his first steps, and though his speech is slow to develop, he is communicating as well.  His favorite words are “No!”, just like any toddler, and “Ouch!”, which always breaks my heart.  He has a wonderful smile and loves to play with his big sister and brother and his many cousins.  He has a special connection with his cousin Ilijah, who was born just a few days after Carter, who also has a congenital heart defect and has since had a pace maker installed.  Ilijah and Carter love to play in Ilijah’s new ball tent.  Carter loves books and coloring and he loves to wrestle with his big brother Clinton.  While the rambunctious play makes Erick and me nervous, we love to see him live each day to the fullest and have fun with his family.  We are also very thankful that Clinton and Madison have not yet taught their baby brother to jump off of their beds.
We have adapted to “normal” life for our family.  This means: knowing infant CPR; introducing all of the emergency technicians in our small town to Carter so they can know the details of his care if called in an emergency; having Seattle Children’s Hospital on speed dial; and knowing how to administer feeding and breathing tubes if needed.  We have lived this “normal” life since the Glenn procedure while we waited to see if Carter would be a good candidate for the final surgical procedure, the Fontan.  This procedure is usually done when the patient is approximately 30 pounds.  However, right around Carter’s first birthday there were some complications and between February 2011 and March 2011 it became apparent that he would not be a good candidate for the Fontan procedure and that the only other course of action would be a heart transplant.
By June 2011 Carter was on the list to receive a heart transplant.  Since that time we have come to realize that the only thing that would make him truly healthy was a new heart.  We continued our routine of multiple hospital visits and checkups and so forth to ensure that he stayed as healthy as he could be but we were also advised that he would get sicker and sicker and that a time would come when he would have to be admitted to Seattle Children’s Hospital for constant medical attention while he waited for his heart.  Even though we were told that this day would come, and we have been preparing for it we were still shocked and saddened when that day came, January 10th 2012.  Just one month shy of his second birthday, Carter was admitted into the Intensive Care Unit of Seattle Children’s Hospital where he will remain until a suitable donor heart is found.  He has been moved to the highest priority on the transplant list, 1A. 
Erick and I have worked out a plan to ensure that Madison and Clinton get to keep going to school and maintain their normal day to day routine with the help of our family and friends.  We know that they are going through so much too.  We continue to be amazed at the strength of all of our children.  Erick and I have developed a schedule to ensure that one of us is always by Carter’s side.   But it is very clear that what was “normal” is going to change drastically!
All we can do at this point is pray that Carter receives a heart as soon as possible.  But even once he receives his new transplanted heart, he will have months’ worth of recovery time.  We know that we have a long road ahead of us and we thank you all so very much for your thoughts, prayers and wishes.  The outpouring of support from our family, and friends has been overwhelming.  We are truly humbled by the love you have shown for Carter and our family as a whole.  All that we can ask is for your continuing support and prayers.  However, if you are so inclined below is a list of charitable organizations where you can provide donations that support our family directly and indirectly.
God Bless,
Teresa, Erick, Madison, Clinton, and Carter

The Carter Care Fund
c/o St. Paul's Episcopal Church
415 S. 18th Street
Mount Vernon, WA 98274
Rev. Vicki Wesen

St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church
Memo: Carter Tillman Fund or Vicar’s Discretionary Fund
410 Jackson Street
Gridley, CA 95948
Rev. John Harris
Seattle Children’s Hospital

Ronald McDonald House Charities Western Washington and Alaska


  1. Teresa we will continue to keep you and your beautiful family in our prayers. May god always bless Carter, and give you and your husband strength in the days to come. May the angels guide the doctors and nurses and everyone involved in his care. Hugs and kisses to little Carter from Brenda, Shae, Andre, Eric, and Nicky.

  2. Teresa, I am so sad to hear this. Carter will be in our prayers. What an amazing mother you are. Your family is beautiful and may little carter remain strong through this trying time. Much Love, McKendra (Payne) Berry