Baby ’s fight to survive

MILESTONE: At six months, Ethan is very happy, healthy and busy Picture: Supplied
MILESTONE: At six months, Ethan is very happy, healthy and busy
Picture: Supplied

Proud mom Sarah Pretorius tells ESTELLE ELLIS of her little Ethan’s miraculous journey to a clean bill of health after shock heart diagnosis

Two days after Ethan Pretorius was born on March 2 at Frere Hospital in East London, his mom was getting ready to take him home when a doctor stopped them.

This week, as Ethan celebrated turning six months old, his mom, Sarah, 32, spoke for the first time about the family’s months of medical emergencies following that moment when Dr Maurice Levy from Frere Hospital told her that he had heard a murmur in her son’s chest.

“I needed an emergency C-section as he got stuck. He was a full-term baby. “He was taken to the nursery as his breathing was of concern.

When I got to see him later that day, he was receiving oxygen from a machine.” She said before she could take him home two days later, Levy, while doing a final check-up, heard a murmur in his chest.

Instead of going home, Ethan was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit following an echocardiogram.

The next day, the Emergency Medical Services helicopter rushed Ethan to Dora Nginza Hospital in Port Elizabeth for emergency care by paediatric cardiologist Dr Lungile Pepeta.

TERRIBLE TIME: Ethan at three weeks Picture: Supplied
TERRIBLE TIME: Ethan at three weeks
Picture: Supplied

As the helicopter landed, Ethan had a seizure and stopped breathing. On closer examination, doctors found that the arteries leading into his heart were switched around so oxygenated blood was not getting to the rest of body.

He also had a hole in his heart and other heart complications. Then he got pneumonia. “On March 15, we finally got the phone call we had been waiting for,” Pretorius said.

“A bed had become available at the intensive care unit at Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.” Again, the EMS helicopter was dispatched.

“There was no room for me as he was in an incubator and was intubated so he had to have a paramedic and doctor escort him.” Pretorius waited for a flight.

“Meanwhile, his dad, Eugene and sister, Erin, drove to Cape Town so that he would not be alone when he arrive at the hospital in Cape Town.”

After he was admitted, his right lung collapsed. He developed pneumonia again.

“By March 30, doctors told us that they would have to do the operation. He had a 20% chance of surviving the surgery but had a 0% chance of survival without it.”

The operation took 6.5 hours. “It still scares me to see what he went through,” Pretorius said.

“I had a couple of break breakdowns. He was so tiny.”

Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Andre Brooks, who did his internship at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth, carried out the surgery.

Doctors fitted Ethan with an external pacemaker to ensure his heart rate did not slow down too much.

For a few days, doctors also left his sternum open in case they needed to do emergency surgery and for the swelling to go down.

“By April 4, he was being weaned off morphine, the ventilator and by April 7 he was moved to a general ward.”

It was then, when he was five-weeks-old, that Pretorius first got to hold her baby. On April 14, mom and Ethan were sent back to Frere Hospital.

“The next day, Dr Levy said he could go home for the first time since his birth. “We received such wonderful care from the staff at all three hospitals.”

Pretorius said she was very proud of Ethan.

“He is a very happy, healthy, busy six-month-old. “He went for a check-up on Wednesday and we were told that his heart is perfect.”

“He smiles, giggles, babbles and tries to eat everything he can get close to his mouth – including his parents,” Pretorius laughed.

“From the start, Ethan’s survival was a miracle. “While we were still in Port Elizabeth, my husband and I took a break from the hospital and went to a bakery that made cakes.”

“There was one birthday cake there perfect for a little boy. I just started crying. ”

“I said this is the cake we are getting for his first birthday. Now I can.”

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