Health & Fitness

Born with “half a heart,” four hospitals said he was inoperable. They were wrong

Sarah Lemons cradles her baby, Calvin Taylor, on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. Calvin received life-saving heart surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital by Dr. Redmond P. Burke after being deemed inoperable by four high-risk congenital heart transfer hospitals.
Sarah Lemons cradles her baby, Calvin Taylor, on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. Calvin received life-saving heart surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital by Dr. Redmond P. Burke after being deemed inoperable by four high-risk congenital heart transfer hospitals. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

“I can imagine Calvin telling his kids someday: ‘Your grandma saved my life when I was born. She did it by never giving up on me, and by using an ancient software program called ‘Facebook,’” joked Dr. Redmond P Burke.

Burke, the chief director of cardiovascular surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, operated July 27 on 4-week-old Calvin Taylor, despite the baby being rejected by four high-risk congenital heart transfer hospitals.

At home in Savannah, Missouri, Calvin’s mother, Sarah Lemons, had searched for three weeks before connecting with Nicklaus on Facebook.

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Sarah Lemons cradles her baby, Calvin Taylor, alongside Dr. Redmond P. Burke on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. Calvin received life-saving heart surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital by Burke after being deemed inoperable by four high-risk congenital heart transfer hospitals. PATRICK FARRELL pfarrell@miamiherald.com

“We expected to go to the hospital and get another ‘No’ but they said ‘Yes’ and I went speechless,” Lemons said. “I looked over at my fiance and said ‘Did they just say yes?’ and he’s like ‘Yeah, they did!’ and I started crying. We got here that night.”

Born June 28 at 7 pounds, 2 ounces, Calvin stopped breathing hours after birth. He was rushed to a children’s specialty hospital, then assessed over the next few days.

Besides having hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a birth defect that affects normal blood flow in the heart, Calvin had narrow airways and suffered a minor stroke.

His condition was considered too complex for surgery.

At the family’s urging, four other hospitals were contacted, only to give the same answer.

So, while also planning Calvin’s funeral, Lemons kept researching potential places he could go for help.

Then she came upon a Facebook group of families with kids who also had hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

“All kinds of moms got on there telling me different surgeons all across the U.S.,” Lemons said. “And for some reason Dr. Burke from Miami stood out.”

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Dr. Redmond P. Burke explains the surgery he performed on baby Calvin Taylor as he holds a model he made of Calvin's heart prior to surgery, at a news conference on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. Calvin received life-saving heart surgery by Burke, after being deemed inoperable by four high-risk congenital heart transfer hospitals. PATRICK FARRELL pfarrell@miamiherald.com

In a five-hour operation, Calvin’s heart was “rebuilt”, according to Burke.

While the operation went smoothly, a minor complication arose the day after, to which Burke’s cardiovascular team swiftly responded.

By the fourth day post-surgery, Calvin’s condition normalized. Smiling at his mom and crying when alone, Calvin began to “fly through his hospitalization,” Burke said.

“His mom can’t keep her hands off him,” he said. “I think she was so afraid she was going to lose him, she has to convince herself all the time that he’s still there.”

Lemons’ strong devotion inspired Burke, making the operation’s success all the more meaningful for him.

Calvin will need two more surgeries. They won’t cure the syndrome, but will help restore his heart’s functionality.

The second surgery is scheduled for when he’s 4 to 5 months old, the third when he’s 3 to 4 years old.

For now, Lemons is excited to just “eat a home cooked meal” back home with her family of five.

“You don’t realize how many good people you have in your life until something bad happens and everyone comes together,” Lemons said. “[Calvin’s] definitely going to have a heck of a welcoming coming home.”

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