Baby Autumn Receives New Heart, Second Chance
The 4-month-old daughter of Alan and Lindsay Markos of Greenfield underwent heart transplant surgery Sunday, three months after being placed on the transplant list.
It was 1:42 a.m. Sunday morning.
After nearly four months of waiting, the pagers Alan and Lindsay Markos had been carrying with them religiously finally went off.
A donor heart was available for Autumn, the Greenfield couple’s infant girl.
“All of a sudden we heard a noise and we sprung up out of bed,” Alan said.
“Alan kept saying, ‘Thank you God. Thank you God,’’ added Lindsay.
By Sunday afternoon, the 4-month-old Autumn, who has spent her entire young life at Children’s Hospital, had a healthy heart thumping in her tiny chest, nearly three months after being placed on a heart transplant list.
Both Alan and Lindsay said the day of the transplant went by fast — the surgery to sew in the new heart took just 45 minutes — especially compared to the days, weeks and months leading up to Sunday.
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Autumn was born with two congenital heart defects that required a half-dozen open-heart surgeries, all within about 6 weeks of being born Oct. 1.
Autumn had the most severe type of Ebstein’s Anomaly, a heart defect where the right side of the heart does not function properly, so not enough blood is pumped into the lungs. Autumn also had a sealed pulmonary valve, which usually allows blood to flow from the heart to the lungs.
Autumn spent her first few days in Children’s Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit before being transferred to the cardiac intensive care unit, where she remains today. Doctors performed their first open-heart surgery on Autumn when she was just 7 days old. At one point, Autumn had an open chest for five weeks.
It wasn’t until Jan. 8, more than three months after Autumn was born, that her parents were able to hold her.
“That was amazing,” Lindsay said. “It was the best feeling ever.”
Healthy and waiting
Autumn was placed on the heart transplant list Nov. 5, but for several weeks was not healthy enough to accept a new heart had one become available. She battled infections for a month and a half before finally taking her last antibiotic the day after Christmas.
She got healthier and healthier. In fact, she was almost too healthy. Just days before Autumn received her donated heart, doctors considered bumping her down the transplant list. Had they done so, there’s no telling how long Autumn would have remained in the hospital.
“We couldn’t have gone home,” Alan said. “We could have been sitting here for who knows how long, maybe even a year, until (a heart) came.”
But an adverse reaction to a medication change kept doctors from de-classifying her as a high-priority transplant candidate. It was a blessing in disguise.
“We’d never want to take a heart away from a kid that absolutely needed it,” Lindsay said. “But Autumn clearly needed one, too.”
With a donated heart, Autumn will need medication for the rest of her life to make sure her body doesn’t reject it, and down the road, she’ll need to schedule doctor visits every three months. There’s a chance she could develop kidney deficiencies later in life, and the possibility exists Autumn could need another new heart decades from now.
Autumn’s immediate obstacle is learning how to feed from a bottle, something she hasn’t done since she was 6 days old. If all goes well, the Markoses hope to have her home within a month.
“Bringing her home will be amazing,” Lindsay said. “We’ve heard from other parents who have been through this, you’re waiting and waiting and there’s so many ups and downs, but once you get that heart, you think, ‘It’s done with. This is the next step, and we get to bring her home.’”
Alan said waiting for a new heart took a much bigger toll on him emotionally, mentally and physically than expected, but said he and Lindsay have renewed energy since Sunday’s surgery.
The young couple said they’d like to someday find out who donated the heart (“If they hadn’t made that decision, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Alan said), and thanked the community and their church, St. Alphonsus in Greendale, for helping them through tough times.
“Even just having people call or text or tell us they’re praying for us, or that they lit a candle for Autumn and that they’re thinking for us,” Lindsay said. “It’s helped us and pushed us to be better people. Just to know that and have that has given us a lot of strength.”
More about Baby Autumn: Autumn has been beating the odds since Day 1.