Miracle Child

To see Maebry Harrell running around, playing and enjoying life like any other two year old child today, you would never know that the daughter of Larry and Denise Harrell went through open heart surgery before her 1st birthday. Thankfully, that’s just the image that Maebry’s parents hope others see when they meet Maebry as she continues to grow and heal from her earlier issues.

Denise Harrell was 20 weeks pregnant when doctors told her that they felt Maebry had a significant heart defect. To get a more definite diagnosis, doctors wanted Harrell to visit with heart specialists affiliated with Sibley Heart Center in Albany, Georgia. There, doctors performed an echocardiogram, where they confirmed the initial diagnosis: Maebry had multiple heart defects. This required that Harrell go through yet another, more detailed test in Atlanta.

Following this test, plans were made for Harrell to deliver Maebry in Atlanta, in a setting prepared for high-risk births, under the watchful eyes of specialists on hand. Doctors requested that Harrell be there one week in advance of Maebry’s scheduled due date. To accommodate the family, and keep them as comfortable as possible, they stayed at the Ronald McDonald House. The haven is named for the hamburger chain’s world-famous mascot, where parents with ill children can stay temporarily in close proximity to the hospital.

Harrell gave birth to Maebry at Northside Hospital, where the newborn was examined and determined to have a large ventrical septal defect, a pulmonary atresia, and a transposition of the great arteries. Doctors began a plan of action for treating Maebry, which included administering a medicine to her to keep her patent ductus arteriosus blood vessel open, which would keep her alive and keep blood flowing properly until a full, more complete plan could be devised.

At 7 days old, Maebry underwent a procedure to place a stint in that PDA vessel. At that point, doctors waited to do any further procedures.

“The doctors wanted Maebry to grow a bit and gain weight before they did their next procedure,” Harrell said.

That was only a few days, though, as doctors installed another stint when Maebry turned 13 days old. They then entered a wait-and-see period until Maebry reached 5 months old.

“This was a tough time,” Harrell said. “We had to really make sure that Maebry didn’t cry a lot. The doctors told us that crying wasn’t good for her heart. I had to be very careful and cautious about making sure she didn’t cry too much, which is very tough when you’re talking about an infant.”

The next step for little Maebry was the most serious procedure yet: open heart surgery. An open heart surgery procedure is a serious operation for anyone, let alone a 5-month-old child. The surgery was performed at Egleston Hospital, where doctors performed three procedures, including patching up the large ventricular septal defect (the hole) in Maebry’s heart; they also rerouted the major arteries to the heart and put in a conduit tube to her heart. Maebry came through the operation like a champ.

“We stayed at the hospital after the surgery for a while, until doctors told us that the surgery had been successful,” Harrell said. “It was such a relief after everything she had been through in such a short period of time. We came home, and Maebry has been fine ever since.”

Once Maebry returned home, she was required to undergo periodical follow-up visits with her doctors.

“They listen to her heart, and so far everything sounds fine,” Harrell said. “As her heart continues to grow, her heart will stabilize and become stronger.”

Now, Maebry is required to see her cardiologist just once a year. After having already gone through more procedures than most heart patients will go through in a lifetime, Harrell said Maebry is just like any other 2-year-old.

“There are no restrictions on her,” Harrell said. “She is allowed to do anything.”

Written by: Phil Jones
Photography submitted by: Denise Harrell

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