January 21, 2005 Features & Images » Feature Story

Saving Grace 

After five heart operations in the first 18 weeks of her life Grace Henderson is still giving ’em hell

For a split second she thought about just keeping Grace’s warm body next to hers.

She could feel her wriggle and push her foot persistently to escape her blanket like a newborn chick flailing to escape its shell.

But there was no escaping the gowned figure waiting for the baby.

Before she knew it Grace was enveloped in surgery greens and disappearing down the hall behind closed doors.

The date had been looming for weeks on the calendar: January 4, 2005. That was the day 18-week-old Grace’s bird-like chest was opened up so her heart could be operated on to repair a life-threatening hole between the two ventricles.

You would think giving up Grace would have been easier this time. After all the January surgery was the fifth major operation the infant has had on her heart since she was born.

"It wasn’t," said Kathy Henderson simply as she sat in the windowless Intensive Care Unit waiting room at B.C. Children’s Hospital earlier this month.

"It was harder to hand her to the nurses who were bringing her to the operating room and it is harder to see her hooked up to the machines now.

"This time we had a chance to bring her home and bond with her and get to know her personality. So this time to bring her down, and know it was a very complicated procedure she was coming for, it made it much harder."

Grace’s life and death battle began just two days after she was born by emergency cesarean at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver on Aug. 21, 2004.

Both Stephen and Kathy began to notice she was having difficulty breathing and within hours she was whisked to B.C. Children’s as her heart began to fail.

Burly ambulance attendants and harried nurses rushed to ready the newborn for transport, her condition recognized as so serious that all stopped in their tracks as a pastoral minister offered a prayer at Grace’s bedside.

Within hours she was being operated on to repair a narrowing of the aorta, which was preventing blood from flowing through her body. Her body was dying organ by organ.

But Grace’s miniscule artery just didn’t hold up to the surgical repairs and the clammy, dying baby had to be prepped for a second similar surgery less than three hours after the first.

"The only thing to do was to go back into surgery and explore," said Dr. Jacques LeBlanc, head of cardiac surgery at Children’s.

Just before Grace went back into the operating room Kathy bent close to her ear and told the infant "to give ’em hell." It’s a mantra the mom has since adopted before every one of Grace’s surgical procedures.

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