Amber Noggle was 20 weeks pregnant when she went in for what she expected to be a routine ultrasound.
Once the scan was complete, Amber got nervous as several more medical staff entered the room. The next words she and her husband, Dustin, heard changed everything immediately.
“We need to talk. It’s about your baby boy’s heart.”
Suddenly, Amber learned that the baby she was carrying had a rare, complex heart defect called tetralogy of fallot with pulmonary atresia. Babies with this defect have five abnormalities: completely obstructed blood flow from the heart to the lungs; a hole between the heart’s lower chambers; an overriding aorta; a thickened right ventricle; and abnormal pulmonary arteries. Major surgery is typically performed not long after the baby’s birth.
While trying to come to terms with the jolting news she just heard, Amber couldn’t help but find incredible irony in the situation.
As a popular news anchor on Madison’s WKOW-TV 27 and active board member of the American Heart Association – Wisconsin Chapter, Amber has reported on several other babies from south-central Wisconsin who underwent open heart surgery.
Now, Amber and Dustin were about to experience their own emotional rollercoaster.
“Things happen for a reason,” says Amber, “Telling the stories of other families helped prepare us for what was to come, although it affects you differently when it’s your own child.”
“It’s a huge shock,” says Sara Babcock, clinical nurse specialist at the UnityPoint Health – Meriter – Center for Perinatal Care. “We do our best not only to provide families like Amber’s with information, but to help them deal with the emotional turmoil that often follows.”
They took care of Daxton like he was their own and surrounded him with love. We really could not have asked for anything more.
Four more months filled with ultrasounds, echocardiograms, and other tests would slowly pass, involving multiple UW Health experts in maternal fetal medicine, neonatology, pediatric cardiology, pediatric heart surgery and pediatric critical care.
Despite a planned induction, Amber’s baby emerged on his own timetable. On July 16, 2018, at 37 weeks’ gestation, baby Daxton entered the world at UnityPoint Health – Meriter. Due to Daxton’s heart condition, Amber had only a minute to meet her new baby before he went to the Level III NICU for stabilization.
Amber and Daxton stayed at UnityPoint Health – Meriter for two days before Daxton was transferred via CHETA ambulance to American Family Children’s Hospital to prepare for open heart surgery.
“I was so grateful Daxton and I could be together those first couple of days,” says Amber. “In some cases, the baby has to be taken to surgery before the mom even recovers from delivery.”
After overcoming several unexpected hurdles, Daxton was taken to the operating room on his 11th day, where pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon Petros Anagnostopoulos, MD, known as “Dr. A.”, performed the 9-hour surgical repair.
The surgery was a great success,” says Amber. “Dr. A and his team worked a miracle on Daxton’s tiny heart.”
After spending 11 more days in the hospital recovering, Daxton came home. Now three months old, Daxton is doing very well.
“He eats like crazy and is growing very fast,” says Amber. “He smiles and giggles a lot, which is so great to see given all he has been through.”
Daxton’s pediatric cardiologist, J. Carter Ralphe, MD, says that while Daxton will require lifelong cardiac care, he should have few, if any, limitations.
“We’re very pleased with Daxton’s progress,” says Dr. Ralphe. “He should grow like a normal child and do very well.”
Despite many worrisome days and nights, Amber and Dustin are incredibly grateful that their son is alive and healthy.
“We owe so much to everyone at UnityPoint Health – Meriter and American Family Children’s Hospital,” Amber says. “They took care of Daxton like he was their own and surrounded him with love. We really could not have asked for anything more.”