A hole in the heart of the Bennett family

Austin M.
Austin M. Davis
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Rare heart defect has kept Michael in hospital since birth

Tamara Bennett was alone when she found out about her newborn son’s complications.

“I was in the hospital and there was nobody with me,” Tamara said. “That was the worst of it.”

After 34 weeks of pregnancy, Michael was born on Nov. 21 in Regina. He weighed 7.7 pounds and was 20.5 inches long.

Besides having an extra thumb on his right hand, Tamara and her husband James were under the impression they had a healthy baby boy.

A couple of days later, Tamara was by herself visiting Michael in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

James and Laura Marchessault, Tamara’s mom, were going to drive from Moose Jaw to Regina later in the day.

“I went back to my room and I called James and my mom and let them know what was going on,” Tamara said. “It sucked.”

Michael started having trouble with his oxygen level. After tests, doctors concluded he had Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect that changes the normal flow of blood through the heart. It’s comprised of four heart defects.

Tamara said the heart defect is usually picked up during an ultrasound.

According to the American National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Tetralogy of Fallot occurs in about five out of 10,000 babies.

“All of a sudden it was ‘well, if he has a heart defect, let’s look at everything else,’” Tamara said. “They realized he had fused kidneys and that he has a T4 half rib and he’s got kidney reflux.

“Every day something else came up.”

Michael was Tamara and James’ third child, but the first delivered by Caesarean section.

There were complications with their son Alex, 3, and 19-month-old daughter Mariah.

“They won’t deliver me in Moose Jaw,” Tamara said.

Tamara said that’s because she’s considered high-risk. Mariah was born one day after 35 weeks and there was shoulder dystocia during Alex’s birth.

Having two other kids makes it hard for Tamara to get to Regina daily to hold and feed the youngest Bennett child.

“I guess, as a family unit, you kick into survival mode,” Tamara said.

“It’s stressful on everything,” James said. “The kids don’t get all the attention they need anymore.”

They’ve had support from Tamara’s mom and grandmother with transportation and babysitting in the three weeks Michael’s been in NICU.

“It’s a matter of getting back to normalcy. You want your routine back. This isn’t routine,” Tamara said.

Getting Michael to the Bennett’s home in Moose Jaw for the first time is the short-term goal.

Tamara and James want Michael home before Christmas but they don’t know the odds.

A lot has to happen. And quickly.

Tamara said it’s been frustrating trying to set up a schedule because everything is centered around when Michael is healthy enough to leave the hospital and travel. Nobody can tell her when that will be.

When Michael’s released, he’ll go to a cardiologist in Saskatoon. Then a heart surgery date will be set up in Edmonton. He’ll be travelling to Regina daily for cardiology clinics while doing follow-ups in Saskatoon and seeing his kidney doctor to set a date for that surgery too.

Then, finally, Michael will go to Edmonton for his surgery.

“All before he’s four months old,” Tamara said.

Tamara and James are unsure what the final tally of expenses will be.

Tamara’s mom called one night and told her she “figured it out.” They were going to have a fundraiser.

“We couldn’t just sit back and do nothing,” said Dustin Mercer, Tamara’s brother. “We had to do something. So we decided to organize something that could be beneficial.”

A dinner fundraiser is set for Friday at Champs Sportsbar. At $12 a ticket, plus a silent auction, the event will raise some money to help the Bennetts get Michael where he needs to be.

“There’s probably not enough words to thank them for showing all of their support,” James said.

After learning of Michael’s conditions without any of her family with her, Tamara said the community’s support in helping to bring their baby home is incredible.

“It’s not a forever thing,” Tamara said. “He has to eventually be here.”

Follow Austin M. Davis on Twitter @theaustinx.

Organizations: Lung and Blood Institute

Geographic location: Regina, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon Edmonton

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  • Janet Hogemann
    December 13, 2013 - 12:47

    James & Tamara live right across the street from us and they are fantastic people. It breaks our hearts to see and hear that they are having to go through this. We wish we could do something to help them and little Michael. Maybe Tele-Miracle could help them and Baby Michael. Perhaps even the Knight's Of Columbus. There has to be other ways of helping this wonderful couple and their Family out. I have been praying for them and Michael and will try to help them as much as possible as soon as we can. All our very best and all of our love to them all.