With bright blonde hair, a stubborn cowlick and big, soulful eyes, Gabriel Grimes looks as healthy, active and determined as any three-year-old. But stand him next to his twin sister, Samiya, or his preschool classmates and you’ll see that he’s shorter, smaller. On the playground he’s weaker, too, taking rest breaks as he struggles to keep up with the other children. But he’s growing and thriving, thanks to the care he’s received at the Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center of Alabama located at Children’s of Alabama.
While his mother, Kristen, was pregnant with the twins, prenatal testing revealed a tumor near Gabriel’s heart. The tumor disappeared before the babies were delivered, but because of its location, Gabriel’s adjacent heart valves failed to develop properly. "Gabe was born with a very rare heart condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome in which the left half of the heart is undeveloped,” pediatric cardiologist Robb Romp, MD, explained. “This requires a sequence of complex surgeries to redirect blood flow, to utilize the right half of the heart for pumping of the blood. Fortunately, Gabe did extremely well with all three of his surgeries and is developing much like other children his age. Though I'm sad that he'll be following up out of state, after the family's move to South Carolina, I'm glad that we were able to contribute to his care and correct his heart defect."
Gabriel and Samiya were born by Caesarean-section at UAB after Kristen was transported from their hometown hospital when she went into labor. Gabriel underwent his first heart surgery when he was just three days old by pediatric CV surgeon Robert Dabal, MD. Kristen’s husband, Chris, had to return to work in Opelika just a few days later, able to visit only on weekends. “We lived at the Ronald McDonald House for three months,” Kristen said. She remembers carrying little Samiya in the baby seat to and from the hospital as she recovered from the C-section, cared for her newborn daughter and prayed for her son who spent all that time in Children’s NICU. “As a mom, you just do it,” she said of those stressful days.
A second surgery performed when Gabriel was six months old required a six-day stay. He underwent his final surgery in November, 2014. Doctors say his heart is now fully developed and the surgeries have been successful. Gabriel now needs only periodic check-ups.
The Grimes family’s recent move to South Carolina has caused some concerns for Kristen who said she is reluctant to leave the care of the Children’s staff she’s come to know so well. “I don’t want to leave because Dr. Dabal is a great surgeon. I know a lot of the nurses, too. The familiar faces make it easier,” she explained.
But Dr. Romp has already found Gabriel a doctor in the family’s new hometown and expects the transfer of care to be a smooth transition. And that’s a source of comfort for Kristen who shares this advice for other parents facing a child’s surgery: “Just pray for your child, but don’t worry because the doctors here are wonderful.”