Real Life

Our little boy’s heart and sole

It was a huge shock for parents Renee and Wayne Andrew when doctors discovered that a sore lump on their toddler Campbell’s foot wasn’t an insect bite as fi rst suspected – it was a piece of his broken heart. Last month, the cute three-year-old suddenly became unwell and Renee (32), of Christchurch, took him to a GP for a check-up, assuming she would be told Campbell had an ear infection. “But the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong and sent us home,” she explains.

However, the mum-of-three became increasingly concerned when, back home, Campbell’s foot and knee became painful, and she noticed red spots near his ankle, plus some strange swelling in his big toe. “It looked like there was a spider bite on top of his foot,” she says. The symptoms worsened and Renee noticed that her son wasn’t his usual bubbly self.

Finally, after another trip to the doctor, Campbell was sent to hospital with a suspected bone infection. But still, no clear diagnosis had been made. It wasn’t until one of the medical staff doing a routine check noticed Campbell had a heart murmur that the pieces of his puzzling illness began to fall into place.

After undergoing more tests it was discovered that Campbell had a rare condition called endocarditis – an infection in one of his heart valves. But what made his illness even more unusual was that small pieces of infected heart tissue had broken off and travelled along

blood vessels to his leg and foot. Although Renee and her husband Wayne (36) were relieved to know what was causing such pain to their precious little boy, they knew that Campbell was  far from being out of the woods. The couple flew to Auckland, where Campbell was admitted to Starship Children’s Hospital. It was a double first for the family – they had never been on a plane or visited Auckland before.

But there was no time to enjoy the experience – their little boy needed urgent open heart surgery. “We felt as if our lives had been turned upside down. The past few weeks have been complete chaos,” says preschool teacher Renee, who also recently found out that her toddler daughter is deaf.

“When Campbell was fi rst complaining of his sore leg we were thinking of all the things it could be – we even considered cancer, arthritis, those sorts of things,” she says. “We never imagined that his heart could be responsible for the problems, or that some of his heart could break away and end up in his leg and toe.” The Andrew family were also told that if the little piece of heart tissue had travelled to Campbell’s brain instead of his leg, then he would have suffered a stroke and could even have died.

Thankfully, new technology meant Campbell’s condition could be treated promptly. Real estate company Barfoot & Thompson recently donated a transesophageal echocardiography machine, which gives clear ultrasound images of the heart, to the hospital. This allowed doctors to quickly diagnose the problem, then fix the hole in Campbell’s heart.

Just days after the operation, Campbell was on the road to recovery and back to his usual active self. He stayed in hospital for several weeks so medical staff could monitor his progress and administer special drugs to dissolve the remaining pieces of heart in his leg and foot. “Campbell is getting better and stronger all the time and it’s seems incredible that we had so much ahead of us just a few months ago,” says a relieved Renee. “He has come through just fi ne, although he has a long scar down his tummy from the operation.”

The trauma of the past month has seen the family temporarily separated – Renee has stayed in Auckland to be by Campbell’s side during his recovery, while Wayne has remained in Christchurch to look after the couple’s other two children, who are aged fi ve years and 21 months. But the overall outcome is fantastic for this relieved family. Campbell will continue to need regular check-ups in the future but doctors say he will lead a normal and active life.

Renee is glad that she was persistent in asking doctors to keep on checking her son until a diagnosis was made. “Parents know their own children best. If there’s ever a problem, it doesn’t matter how many times you go to the doctor. Keep going back. Keep pushing it.”

Aroha Awarau

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