Like any parents, Stephen and Amanda Lowe are delighted to be having their first child together in October. But their baby boy has a long road ahead, starting with open-heart surgery within days of his birth.
Still in the womb, baby Coleton was diagnosed with transposition of the great arteries (TGA), in which his largest arteries are incorrectly attached to the chambers of the heart.
“She’s actually having, like, the perfect pregnancy, and the baby’s fine as long as he’s in the womb, because he’s getting his oxygen from her,” Stephen Lowe said. “The problem starts the second he’s born.”
Cpl. Stephen Lowe has worked for the Fenwick Island Police Department for two years, and in Delaware law enforcement since 2004. Amanda Lowe is studying nursing through the Post 9/11 G.I Bill. Both have served their country, Stephen in the Air Force and Amanda in the Navy.
They met through a friend and were married July 25. They discovered in January that she was pregnant.
“We thought everything was perfect,” Lowe said, until relatively late in the pregnancy, when doctors said, “‘Your baby has transposition of the great arteries of the heart.’ It was just like getting hit by a Mack truck,” Lowe said.
In the human heart, the pulmonary artery pumps un-oxygenated blood to the lungs, where it replenishes its oxygen. Then the aorta pumps oxygenated blood to the body.
In Coleton’s case, the pulmonary artery and aorta grew in each other’s places, and doctors can’t say why.
“It’s just one of these freak things that happens,” Lowe said.
Besides that, his aorta has a slight kink, like a “sausage link,” which must be straightened out. Doctors must cut and fix a coronary artery, and one of the ventricles is only 70 percent as big as it should be. There’s no repairing that, but doctors believe it’s just big enough to still work.
But those factors also complicate the surgery and the boy’s future growth spurts.
“The second he’s delivered … they start doing stuff to fix it,” Lowe said. “They give him this medicine. It mixes all the blood in your heart, so it’s all oxygenated.”
After giving the baby’s lungs 24 to 48 hours to build strength, doctors will begin surgery.
“It’s like a piece of carpentry, because it’s not a like a disease,” Lowe said. “It’s a defect. It’s repairable. But there are kids who don’t make it though the surgery.”
Luckily, the nearby Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is one of the few hospitals that treat TGA.
While Lowe’s health insurance has significantly decreased their medical costs, seeing six specialists in one day isn’t cheap. The family is still trying to raise $10,000 for the procedure.
They also need to pay for food, gas and parking with every medical appointment. And, after the surgery, the couple will stay in Philadelphia for more than a month, to be near the hospital. That’s a month of lodging expenses.
They’re also heading to Philadelphia two weeks before the baby’s due date, so they’re near a doctor in case she goes into early labor.
“There was no way to prepare for what we have to go through in three weeks,” Lowe said.
While there is lodging for families, such as the Ronald McDonald House, those spots are first-come, first-served, and people travel worldwide to stay there. The Lowes would rather have an extended-stay facility, where they can cook their own meals.
“There’s no way we would be able to afford it,” said Lowe, who also has two other children.
Led by Chief William Boyden, the Fenwick Island Police Department is spreading the word for their coworker, who Boyden said “has served the public faithfully.” They’ve gotten support from neighbors, the local Lions Club and law enforcement statewide.
“We’re a small agency, and I try to run a police department that’s more than just an employment place. We try to be a like family,” said Boyden, noting that he’s been amazed at people’s generosity. “It really does affect all of us. … The whole town in general does what they can to support an employee.”
Lowe expressed huge gratitude for the police department and the community, which in just a week has already raised thousands of dollars.
“It’s awesome. It means the world to us. There’s some really good people out there, I’ll tell you,” Lowe said. “We want to go and shake their hand and hug ’em, every single person. We don’t have $10,000 laying around to pay for a place for a month.”
He said there aren’t enough thank-yous in the world.
“It’s more than just money, it’s helping us mentally, giving us peace of mind,” Lowe said. “It’s taken a mountain off our shoulders so we can be there for him and each other.”
Expenses won’t stop the day Coleton is born. He’ll be closely monitored by a cardiologist for years, with regular visits to Philadelphia.
“When you find out you’ve got a baby with a heart defect like this, that’s something you can never prepare for. … She’s so happy we’re having a baby,” Lowe said of his wife. “But then, not knowing — he has a high percentage of not making it, or not living ’til he’s 5 years old — it wears on you.”
Donations can be made online at www.gofundme.com/babylowe. They can also be delivered or mailed to PNC Bank; 1107 Coastal Hwy.; Fenwick Island, DE 19944, or at any PNC branch, to the “Baby Lowe Account.”