Baby Aria, our heart warrior

Randee and Eric Koenig were expecting their second child to arrive in February of 2017. They felt they were blessed with a healthy pregnancy and a beautiful baby girl on the way. They welcomed their 8 pound little girl, Aria, on February 15, 2017 at Winneshiek Medical Center (WMC). Aria was doing very well the first 36 hours of life, so Randee decided to put her in the care of the obstetric nurses on staff while she took some time to rest.

Stephanie Farley, WMC Obstetric RN, began to notice the color change in Aria’s skin. “She began to turn a gray color, which alerted me to check her oxygen levels, and immediately call the patients primary physician,” says Farley. Soon after the arrival of the family physician, it was discovered baby Aria had a heart murmur— she was instantly airlifted to the intensive care unit (ICU) at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. “At times like these we all feel so much concern,” says Farley. “But as the helicopter took off I saw a shooting star pass through the sky and I just felt everything was going to be okay because they were headed to Mayo Clinic, where they’d get the best care possible.”

“When we arrived at the ICU, it was such a revolving environment. We were so blessed our little miracle was coming in at a strong 8 pounds, but we were also concerned once we found out that she had five heart defects, and our only answer was open heart surgery,” says Koenig. With the expert care at Mayo Clinic, they discovered one of Aria’s heart defects was Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), meaning the left side of her heart did not develop as strong as the right during pregnancy. Therefore, at four days young, baby Aria underwent an 11 hour surgery to have a single ventricle heart.

“We were fortunate to have the fast reaction from the Mayo team upon arrival, and the surgery went so well,” says Koenig. After 18 days the family was discharged for home, but shortly thereafter had to return to Mayo Clinic, as Aria’s heart was functioning at only 25 percent. A normal heart releases approximately 65 percent of the total amount of blood in each pump. Therefore, Aria was struggling with heart failure again, and was admitted to have her second open heart surgery at one month old.

Unfortunately, she suffered from cardiac arrest the following day and stopped eating, which lead to getting a feeding tube to help keep her as healthy as possible. “Aria was put on heart failure meds for a short time to assist with the blood flow this time,” says Koenig. “Aria is such a fighter, and we are so glad to have access to such remarkable care in times of great need.”

In August of 2017 (6 months old), Aria’s heart function dropped and the family was back to Mayo Clinic for her third open heart surgery. This time her heart was repaired to be a biventricular heart; functioning with both the right and left ventricle. “This last surgery was quite amazing,” said Koenig. “We were able to head for home on no meds for Aria, and her oxygen level was performing at 99 percent. I will never forget the surgeon looking at us saying ‘Wasn’t it fun proving everybody wrong.’”

February 7 – 14th is Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) awareness week, and Aria will be turning one year old on February 15. CHD impacts one in one hundred babies, and unfortunately one in three babies pass before the defects are detected. “Here at WMC we take pride in the trust our patients place in us,” says Connie Klimesh, WMC OB nurse unit supervisor, “having a baby is an exciting, yet anxious time in a mother’s life. We are grateful for the opportunity and connections we share to swiftly transfer mom and baby to a larger facility, if needed.”

Today Aria is making strides by having her routine checkups two months apart, and according to mom, can’t seem to get enough food when sitting down to eat. To follow Aria’s story and keep up to date on her progress and success through life visit her Facebook page, Baby Aria- Our Heart Warrior.