Logan Dixon will play soccer one day.
He may be only two months old. And he’s only recently gone home from the NICU at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. But after the year his parents have had, it’s not an unreasonable question for dad, Joe Dixon, to ask the doctor.
“My dream is having a healthy grown child, ”says Joe.
That dream became suddenly and unexpectedly threatened during a routine 20-week ultrasound in the family’s home town of Joplin, Missouri.
“They said we have a little bit of a heart issue and they were going to send us to a specialist,” says Michelle Dixon.”We just thought they wanted a better look at the heart.”
But after first seeing specialists in Springfield, Missouri, and then being referred to the Fetal Care Center at Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the Dixons learned their unborn child had a condition called double outlet right ventricle.
“Basically it was a large hole in the heart,” explains Dr. Caroline Lee, pediatric cardiologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “And both the aorta and pulmonary artery came off the right ventricle,” instead of having one come out of either side of the heart
Logan’s condition is treatable with surgery, but Michelle would have to be very closely monitored for the remainder of her pregnancy. In addition to her regular OB visits, she traveled to Springfield every month to see a specialist. And at 32 weeks, she returned to the Fetal Care Center for a series of ultrasounds, echocardiograms and meetings with fetal medicine doctors.
“Everyone was very nice and helpful and would spend lots of time explaining things to us,” says Michelle. “At the same time, it was also overwhelming.”
“The Fetal Care Center helps the family anticipate the medical treatments the baby may require,” says Dr. Lee. “A lot of the benefits to a fetal diagnosis have to do with counseling and expectation.”
Michelle’s doctors at the Fetal Care Center wanted her to carry Logan to full term, but also wanted to make sure she delivered where experts were on hand to manage his illness immediately. They scheduled an induction at 39 weeks at Barnes-Jewish Hospital on June 17. Father’s Day.
“They started inducing her at 9pm that night,” says Joe. “I’ll count that as my first Father’s Day.”
Logan arrived the following afternoon. Almost immediately he showed signs of infection (not related to the heart disease). He was lethargic and experienced projectile vomiting. The NICU staff helped stabilize him, and helped him overcome another newborn complication, jaundice.
The short term goal was for Logan to eat, grow and become strong enough to go home and then return to St. Louis Children’s Hospital for heart surgery.
“The main issue we watch for is weight gain,” says Dr. Lee. “So after a few months we’ll do the surgery. And after the surgery, symptoms should go away, he’ll gain weight, and that should be it.”
That was good news for the Dixons. In fact, in the last year they’d developed a pattern of scary moments- followed by good news.
In May of 2011, just after returning home to Joplin from their honeymoon, the Dixons lost their home in the worst tornado disaster in the nation’s history.
“We lost everything. All of our wedding gifts. The car, house, everything in it,” says Joe.
They may have lost their lives had they not decided to leave home earlier that evening.
“We decided to go to church – the best decision I made in my life!” says Joe.
“I remember turning my hazard lights on… white-knuckled on the steering wheel… everything was turning black.”
Even though they lost their home, along with much of their home town, their story has a happy twist. The newlyweds had been living in Michelle’s house, but Joe had not yet sold his.
“We were pretty blessed to have had that second house,” says Joe.
Joe and Michelle feel blessed to have overcome their hardships – first after losing their home, then learning their son’s scary diagnosis had a surgical cure.
“Faith has been a very big part for us,” says Michelle. “These are just milestones for us. We know everything is going to get better.”
Baby Logan is getting ready to return to St. Louis Children’s Hospital for the corrective surgery that will put him on a healthy track. His parents may be excited to return to a life without hospitals, but they are thankful for the Fetal Care Center.
“We’ve been totally impressed with this place. We’d have night nurses calling in during the day to see how he’s doing and vice versa,” says Joe. “The care here is unbelievable.”
Dr. Lee says Logan’s prognosis is excellent, and that he should be able to do any normal childhood activity–like play soccer.
“Given all they’ve gone through, I was very impressed with the way they handled their situation with hope and optimism,” says Dr. Lee. “Everyone was impressed with how they literally weathered the storm around them.”