The first birthday celebration for any child is special, but it’s especially meaningful for Chad and Lyndsey Fowler’s young son, Brooks. Because of a serious heart condition, there was a time when they weren’t sure that it would ever happen.
At 20 weeks in utero, an ultrasound revealed something was wrong with Brooks’ heart. Lyndsey’s doctor in Montgomery sent her and Brooks to Children’s of Alabama for more testing, which revealed Brooks had Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), a rare condition caused by a combination of four heart defects that are present at birth. “It was a shock because we have two older boys, Treyson and Benjamin, and they were both perfectly fine,” Lyndsey said.
When Brooks was born, he was immediately transferred to Children’s, intubated and placed on a ventilator. Doctors had told the family to prepare for open heart surgery, but Brooks started to show signs of improvement. Two days later, Brooks was off of the ventilator and later cleared to go home. “It was so unexpected because we were thinking surgery,” Lyndsey said. “We knew that with his heart condition he wasn’t going to breathe great, but doctors were hoping he could go home and grow some before having to endure the surgery.”
Brooks’ first night at home went well, but by the second day, his condition worsened. Then tragedy struck. The following day, while on the way home from a cardiologist appointment, Brooks stopped breathing. “At first he was just screaming, and then he stopped,” Lyndsey said. “We thought maybe he had just calmed down, but he stopped because he couldn’t get air out. He turned gray and went stiff, and his eyes rolled back in his head. He was in full cardiac arrest. I really thought he was going to die.”
Chad and Lyndsey immediately pulled over and started CPR. After about 10 minutes of CPR, he started trying to breathe, but his airways kept closing. Chad and Lyndsey were eventually able to get Brooks to the emergency room and he was airlifted to Children’s. He had an airway compression so severe that his airway would randomly collapse.
“It was the worst,” Lyndsey said. “Every time it happened, we would have to turn him on his stomach to get the pressure off his airway so he could breathe. We had to watch him 24 hours a day. What I appreciated was that Children’s cared about the tremendous stress we were under. A counselor came and talked with me and spent time with me when I needed it most. She was so patient and kind with me when I was going through the worst experience of my life.”
Brooks underwent open heart surgery, which was a success, and he was discharged home after a couple of weeks. While his airways are not yet considered normal, he is expected to continue to get better. He will require more open heart surgeries, but for now, Brooks is doing well. He and his family were recently able to celebrate his first birthday – a significant moment for all.
“To have your child literally die in front of you and have to do chest compressions and give CPR, there is nothing that can take that memory and the trauma away from you,” Lyndsey said. “But Children’s was wonderful because they not only helped save Brooks’ life, but they helped us get through it.”