On Valentine's Day a year ago, Tina and Todd Herron of north Brainerd were anxiously awaiting the birth of their fifth child, Dawson.
The little red-headed boy was born Feb. 21 at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in good health -- or so everyone thought at the time -- despite the likelihood that he and his mother might not have been able to survive the high-risk pregnancy.
Doctors performed a delicate and risky surgery on Tina when she was six-and-a-half months pregnant with Dawson. Two weeks before the surgery, she had developed a strep infection that attacked her aortic heart valve, causing the valve to leak so profusely that it needed to be replaced immediately. It was the only way to save her and her son's life.
Dr. Vib Kshettry, a heart surgeon with the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott, performed the open heart surgery on Tina, stopping her heart for about two hours and 15 minutes during the five-hour surgery. It was the first successful human heart valve transplant performed on a pregnant woman in the country.
The Herrons named their son Dawson Kshettry, after the heart surgeon who saved their lives.
But the story doesn't end there.
While tests on Dawson taken at birth found he seemed to be in perfect health, three months later Tina felt something was wrong. His feet started to point straight out to his sides. He screamed and cried all the time. Doctors found both sides of his hips were dislocated and placed him in a brace. At four months, Dawson underwent a hernia operation.
On Dec. 3, he underwent hip surgery, which involved attaching metal plates on top of his femurs with four screws so his legs would stay in place, facing forward. The plates will be removed in six months. So far, he has worn three body casts and underwent three different surgeries His most recent body cast was taken off last week.
The family has to be careful with him because his bones are brittle from being in a body cast for so long. They fear that his hip could be dislocated again, even by a small action like taking his sock off his foot.
At 3 months, doctors also discovered Dawson has cerebral palsy, likely the result of a lack of oxygen when Tina was sick before the heart surgery. He has difficulty lifting his head and stiffens up when he's stressed. Four physical therapists visit their house each week to work with Dawson. The Herrons will know by the time he's 2 how much his fine motor skills are affected by the cerebral palsy. He has made a lot of progress in recent months, said Tina.
"It's been hard, especially when you think you're in the clear because he passed all of those tests," said Tina. "And then they kept finding more and more problems."
The Herrons last week began having a personal care attendant in their home to help with Dawson. The couple has four older children, Blake, 11; Miryah, 10; Cheyenne, 8; and Kolt, who is almost 3.
"I went through a depression, feeling like it was my fault," said Tina. "I know I didn't have the choice because without the surgery I wouldn't have lived."
Dawson now weighs 14 pounds, 3 ounces. When he was born he weighed 7 pounds, 3 ounces. He's a tiny and fragile baby, but the older children, particularly their eldest daughter Miryah, are protective of him.
Tina's health is still fragile as well. Right now she has the cold virus that caused the strep infection to settle on her heart valve. A recent echocardiogram revealed her heart valve has a slight murmur. Doctors are keeping an eye on it.
On today, Valentine's Day, the Herrons are thankful that despite Dawson's physical problems, both Tina's and Dawson's hearts are still beating, separate, but together.
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