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Friends always ask me to explain what this impending Fontan surgery entails.

Being more of an arts person than a science person I have struggled to answer it with the degree of certainty a perfectionist like me demands. So I have grilled Ted’s surgeon and also his cardiologist. They have drawn me diagrams and patiently answered my questions. Even those irritating ones generated by reading terrifying research papers late at night. I have taken to research like only a frustrated housewife could and finally I have the answers. Well, I have some.

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An ordinary heart has two ventricles, with the left one pumping (red) oxygenated blood to the body and the right pushing (blue) blood to the lungs where it is then oxygenated and flows back to the heart.

Ted’s heart is different. When he was born all of the structures on the left side of his heart were too underdeveloped to pump enough red blood to keep his body alive. In the uterus it was my circulatory system doing all the work, that is why he was otherwise perfectly formed. He was safe in the womb, it was taking that first breath that started the danger.

The first and second stage surgeries totally re-plumbed Ted’s heart so that his right ventricle did the work of the left as well as the right, thereby mixing red and blue blood. When you stand Ted next to other children you see his colour is different, he is blue. This final stage aims to stop the mixing of the blood, by changing things so that his single ventricle heart has only one function; sending oxygenated blood to the body.

The blue blood will passively flow straight into the lungs totally bypassing the heart. This is done by disconnecting the inferior vena cava (the vein that normally takes our blue blood from the lower part of the body up to the heart) and re-routing it with a gore-tex tube up to the lung arteries. Red blood can then pass freely to the heart.

I have a headache. Do you?

Hopefully that makes sense to you.

That all sounds great you say, why the panic and why the dread? Because friends, nothing comes without a cost and there are a number of risks and short and long term side effects that I can delve into in another post. The bottom line remains, and that is that without this procedure our son’s heart in the current form is not compatible with life.

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