Like most 4-year-olds, Ayden Duryea can hardly take his attention away from his favorite video game long enough to look at the camera! Having a normal, happy, little boy is all Aydenâs parents, Erin and Adam Duryea of Merna, have ever hoped for.
MERNA - - Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. It is an alarming statistic - but we are often inundated with alarming statistics and can tend to become complacent. That all changes when you put a face to the statistic - especially when the face is a sweet 4-year-old boy.
We began following the journey of little Ayden Duryea three years ago this month - January 2009 - when he had just returned home from his second heart surgery. In July 2012, Ayden underwent his third - and hopefully final - surgery. And his parents, Erin and Adam Duryea, want to emphasize that without a supply of donated blood, there son would not be here today.
The couple first became aware that their son had a health condition just 17 weeks into the pregnancy, when they were told their baby suffered from a condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The condition was discovered when a radiologist in North Platte noticed some fluid around the baby's head in an ultrasound.
Aydenâs parents were not allowed to hold him for the first three or four days of his life, and when he was just seven days old he went through his first heart surgery. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is a serious congenital malformation of the heart.The left side of the heart is too small to pump the blood carrying oxygen, red blood, to the vital organs of the body. The condition, therefore, is virtually always fatal, usually within days, without treatment.
The cause of the condition is unknown, although doctors assured Adam and Erin it was not a result of something they did or did not do.
"The doctors know more about what doesn't cause it than what does," says Adam.
Ayden spent eight weeks in the hospital after he was born, and returned to Omaha for surgery number two just a few months later, in October 2008. All went well, until four or five days after the surgery when Aydenâs condition suddenly plummeted. It was discovered he had acquired a severe staph infection. The little boy spent a month on a ventilator, and nearly two full months in the hospital. He came home in early December, in time for his first Christmas with his parents.
July 25, 2012, Ayden was back in Omaha for his third surgery - known as the Fontan Procedure. Unfortunately, Adam and Erin knew the routine all too well. But nothing could have prepared them for what they were about to endure.
Shortly after the surgery began, it was discovered that Aydenâs aorta had grown into his breast bone as a result of the staph infection after the second surgery. As the surgeon carefully attempted to separate the aorta from the bone, it tore slightly. He kept going. It tore again. The doctors and nurses soon found themselves in the middle of a full-blown crisis, and a desperate attempt to save the life of 4-year-old Ayden.
Because of the trauma, the team had to go through Aydenâs leg rather than his chest to place him on the bypass machine for the heart surgery. He had lost so much blood from the torn aorta, the team took drastic measures and put him into hypothermic circulatory arrest - a method of cooling the body and slowing down the blood flow so the aorta could be repaired.
Once the tears in the aorta were repaired, the surgical team could finally begin the heart procedure. Hours had passed, and a terrified couple waited nervously for news.
âWe were told that we would be updated once they had him on the bypass,â says Erin. âBut no word came.â
Adam says a nurse came in after about two or three hours and told them there were complications, but did not elaborate. That was the only update they received throughout the 12-hour surgery.
âIt was pure hell,â says Erin.
The couple has nothing but the utmost respect for Aydenâs surgeon, and Adam says when he was finally able to come and talk to the couple he broke down and cried with them. The surgeon was very concerned that the procedure to cool the body may have resulted in brain damage, and was also concerned about Aydenâs other major organs shutting down - the bodyâs way of protecting the heart.
Erin says she doesnât even know for sure how many units of blood Ayden required in the operating room, and in the hours and days following surgery, but it was a lot!
Ayden remained on a ventilator for a few days following surgery, and the couple says it was about a week before they knew for sure he didnât have any brain damage. Needless to say, the news came as a huge relief to everyone.
While it is possible that Ayden may require some maintenance surgery on his heart in the future, this should be his last major surgery. His dad says he could see a difference in his son the moment he walked into his hospital room after the surgery.
âWhen we walked into his room we could see an instant change,â Adam recalls. âHe wasnât blue anymore! He has more energy now than he ever has!.â
Ayden shares that as part of his physical therapy he got to ride his bike around the hospital. He showed me a block structure depicting the hospital that he took to school, and can quickly recall the first names of two of the cafeteria ladies he became friends with during his stay.
Prior to this surgery Aydenâs oxygen level averaged between 75 and 78. Now it remains in the 90s. Erin says her son will never be able to participate in contact sports, but that is one of his very few limitations.
Since his first two surgeries, a little brother - Trevor, now 2 - has been added to the family. And he keeps Ayden on his toes!
âBefore he went into surgery, I told him the doctor was going to fix his heart,â Adam recalls. âAyden just looked up at me and said, âI just want to be able to run fast like Trevor...â And now he does.â
GIVE THE GIFT OF LIFE
We all have an opportunity to help someone in need of blood - and perhaps save a life like Aydens. Since their ordeal, Erin and Adam say the entire Duryea family donates blood every opportunity they get.
January is National Blood Donor Month, a time when the American Red Cross recognizes and thanks the millions of dedicated blood donors across the country for helping ensure a stable blood supply for patients in need.
Since 1970, National Blood Donor Month has been celebrated in an effort to educate Americans about the importance of regular blood donation and the impact it can have. Every day, around 44,000 pints of blood are needed in hospitals to help treat trauma victims, surgery patients, organ transplant recipients, premature babies, cancer patients and more.
January can be an especially challenging month to collect blood donations because of inclement weather and seasonal illnesses. Throughout the month, the Red Cross is honoring the contributions of those who roll up their sleeves to help save lives, one donation at a time.
Opportunities to give blood locally include:
Arcadia - Jan. 17 at the Arcadia Public School from 8 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Stapleton - Jan. 21 at the Village Hall on Main Street from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Ord - Jan. 22 at the Veteranâs Club on South 15th from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Sargent - Jan. 28 at the Community Center on Main Street from 10:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Dunning - Jan. 30 from Noon - 6 p.m. at Sandhills High School.
All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients. A blood donor card or driverâs license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals 17 years of age (16 with parental consent in some states), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood.
For more information see redcross.org