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A Community That Cares

A Community That Cares

by Tina Bell

After two heart surgeries, LifeNet prepares emergency teams to respond to baby Kutter Harman

“Cool as a box fan” are the four words Justin Harman uses as he describes how his 10-month-old son, Kutter, is doing after undergoing two heart surgeries since he was born last August with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). 

Like any first time parents, Justin and his wife, Wendy Harman, were elated to learn they were expecting their first child, but nothing could have prepared them for the emotional roller coaster that was coming just a few short months later when they found out through a level two ultrasound that their baby boy would be born with heart problems.  “In a matter of seconds, we went from laughing to crying,” Wendy said, as she recalled the moment they were told the news. “We would not have found the heart condition without the level two ultrasound. Justin put his hand on my shoulder, and the tears started falling.”

HLHS is a birth defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart. As the baby develops during pregnancy, the left side of the heart does not form correctly. One out of every 4,344 babies born in the United States each year is born with HLHS.

Less than 24 hours after birth, Justin had to sign consent papers for his son’s first open heart surgery.
“I went with him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where they weighed and measured him.  Then we went to the Congenital Heart Surgical Unit (CHSU).  They told me to come back in the morning.  They were preparing him for surgery at 5 a.m.. and when we saw him again after surgery, he was hooked up to everything imaginable,” said Justin.

“And his chest was open,” Wendy added. “You could physically see his heart beating.”

Before coming home from Medical City Children’s Hospital in Dallas, Texas, for the first time, the Harmans had to undergo supervision as parents to ensure they understood all of Kutter’s medical needs.  “We were locked in a room for 24 hours to take care of him.  He had 20 something lines.  He had 9 or 10 meds in the morning, 7 or 8 meds in the evening, and some in-between.  We had to check his pulse ox and other stats,” Wendy explained.

The family spent four days in a Dallas hotel near the hospital before returning to their home in Genoa, Arkansas.  “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that Texarkana wasn’t ready for us,” Wendy said. “LifeNet had a special class for all the area EMTs when we were discharged on what to do in case they were called out to us.”

The class was facilitated by LifeNet Paramedic James Pappas and LifeNet Flight Nurse James Smith, who both also teach classes and lead refresher training twice a year at Texarkana College for area EMTs and Paramedics.  “Justin and Wendy lived at the hospital and were educated daily by those people. They saw what was available in the event of an emergency there.  Now, they were severing those ties and coming to a place where people had heard of cardiac abnormalities, but they didn’t deal with them,” said Pappas. “To try and help give them peace and comfort, we had a Paramedic/EMT refresher course at the college. We had the Harmans come out and talk about their son. There were certain ‘normal’ things that if people were to do, they would not be normal for Kutter.  For example, giving too much oxygen could be detrimental to Kutter.”

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In addition to the Harmans sharing their story, their primary contact from Medical City Children’s Hospital, Leslie Lewis, FNP, was invited to come and give an in-depth medical review of the case.  “We went out and sought the fire departments and first responders in their home area that would respond to that call to also attend the class.  Wendy and Justin gave their presentation, and then Leslie got up and spoke the rest of the night on Kutter’s case.  That was really a unique situation,” said Pappas.

For other parents who may face the same diagnosis one day, the Harmans have great advice.  “Don’t give up. You think your world has come to an end, but your world is not over. It’s just going to be rough for a bit,” said Justin.

“There’s a place where these babies survive and thrive,” added Wendy. “The people and staff at Medical City are so engulfed that there’s nothing else that exists in their world except congenital heart defects.  You owe it to that baby to be as picky as you can.”

To follow Kutter’s story, visit: www.facebook.com/kutterlane.

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