Mum Aisling on her miracle son Lee: 'We were told to prepare ourselves for the very worst. I used to tell my unborn baby that he would be alright'
When Aisling Considine became pregnant with Lee, her second son, she soon learned there was a problem. But, she says she could never have imagined just how severe his problems would become.
To say that Aisling Considine (35) has been on a roller coaster ride since the birth of her baby, three years ago, would not be an understatement. What she and her husband, Alan Cotter, have been through has been both dramatic and terrifying.
Aisling first became aware that something was amiss when she went for her first scan at 13 weeks. "I was told that there was too much fluid," Aisling recalls. "I was distraught. I hadn't encountered any problems when I had Joe, two years before that, so this came as a total shock."
She was told it was just too soon to tell exactly what was wrong. So Aisling was told to return in two weeks' time. In the meantime, she was given to understand that a heartbeat might not even be present at their next visit.
But mercifully, a fortnight later, that tiny little heart was still pumping away. When it was pointed out to them that a chromosomal problem was suspected, Aisling and Alan consented to an amniocentesis test. If this proved to be the case, staff needed to know the extent of the problems, so they would be better able to deal with them at the time of the baby's birth.
A couple of weeks later, they learned, that while there wasn't a chromosomal abnormality, the baby had a large hole in his heart. They were then referred to a cardiologist from Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, who would be holding a clinic in Cork, where the family lives. Congenitally corrected transposition of the great arteries (CCTGA) was diagnosed. Aisling was 20 weeks' pregnant at the time.
According to cardiologist, Dr Orla Franklin: "This is a rare and complex defect, where the position of the right and left ventricles, the heart's pumping chambers, are reversed. It is frequently associated with other heart abnormalities. Lee also had a ventricular septal defect, which means he had a hole between the pumping chambers of the heart."
Aisling says they were devastated when they got the news. "To go from thinking our baby had one hole in his heart, to all this, was a terrible shock. We were told to prepare ourselves for the very worst."
Aisling says though she has a wonderfully supportive family, no one could really understand what she and Alan were going through.
"I used to tell the baby that he would be alright," she explains, "and I prayed for him. I always knew he would live." At this time, Aisling was working as a carer for people with intellectual disabilities. Alan works for a company that makes prosthetic joints.
Some 39 weeks into the pregnancy, Lee Cotter, weighing a respectable six and a half pounds, was delivered in the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street in Dublin.
"We had full audience participation," says Aisling, "with six doctors and a midwife present."
She was allowed to hold her infant son for just a few minutes, before he was whisked off to the Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin. "It was so weird to be in a ward with five other women who all had babies, while I had none," says Aisling.
The following day she discharged herself from Holles Street and made her way to Crumlin, where Lee was undergoing tests. A week later he was allowed to go home to Cork. However, five weeks later they had to rush him to Cork University Hospital (CUH), because his heart was racing.
"A normal heart rate in a baby is about 110-150 beats a minute, but Lee's was 330. They diagnosed supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). This is usually caused by a faulty electrical charge," says Aisling,
She says Lee was given a particular drug five times in attempts to normalise his heart rate, but each effort failed. He was then given an anaesthetic so his heart could be shocked back into an acceptable rhythm, but when that didn't work either, he was rushed back to Dublin. "We couldn't go with him in the ambulance, as he had to have a nurse and a doctor with him," Aisling remembers. "So we drove up. It was the longest journey of my life. We didn't know if he was alive or dead. The last time we'd seen him he was unconscious. When we reached the hospital, I saw Kathleen Crumlish, the specialist nurse, coming out of ICU. When she said they had reverted the heart back to normal, it was a massive relief."
Lee was kept in ICU for a week and then a pulmonary artery band was inserted to reduce the flow of blood. Two months later, he was discharged. Yet again, just hours after he got home, he suffered another episode of SVT, so he was rushed back to CUH.
Aisling says Lee was "put on ice" and this slowed down his heart rate. Nonetheless, he was transferred back to Crumlin and ended up spending two months there. In the course of 2013, he experienced another three episodes of SVT, but thankfully, each time, an icy dunking sorted him out.
Then, just a few weeks ago, a Glenn Procedure was performed. This major surgery facilitated the flow of blood from the head and neck vessels directly into the lungs, bypassing the ventricle. Lee made an astonishing recovery and just a few days later, he was running all over the place.
During Lee's many visits to Crumlin, Aisling, Alan and Joe have stayed in Ronald McDonald House, which offers refuge to the families of sick children who do not live in, or near, Dublin. They stay in comfortable family rooms, complemented by communal recreation areas for parents, and play spaces for children. Financially and practically, the centre relies on the generosity of the public.
"Volunteers do all the shopping and the cooking," says Aisling, "so that allows us to spend time with Lee. Joe, who is very protective of his little brother, tells everyone he's staying at a hotel when we are at the Ronald McDonald."
Lee, who is an absolute dote with an impish grin, is still not out of the woods, so the chances are high that he and his family will be back at this very special "hotel".
"This has been such a godsend for us," says Aisling. "As have all the staff at Crumlin, particularly his cardiologist Dr Orla Franklin, his cardiac surgeon Professor Mark Redmond, and Kathleen Crumlish his specialist nurse. We are just so grateful to them all."
To make a donation, or for more information, contact Ronald McDonald House Charities. Tel: (01) 456-0435, or see rmhc.ie
Sunday Indo Life Magazine