© Diane Crocker
Caden Monteith and his dad Geoff Monteith are seen just after the four-and-a-half-year-old’s Saturday cross-country skiing lesson at Blow Me Down Trails.
CORNER BROOK — Making sure your child stays active can be tough, but when his health depends on it, doing so can be even harder.
That’s the challenge Todie Winter and her husband Geoff Monteith face every day.
Their four-and-half-year-old son, Caden Monteith, may look perfectly healthy as he glides across the snow on cross-country skis at Blow Me Down Trails, but without 90 minutes of exercise a day that could change.
Caden was born with tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect that is characterized as having four heart malformations that present together. The four malformations include pulmonary stenosis, ventricular septal defect, overriding aorta and right ventricular hypertrophy.
Winter was 20 weeks into her pregnancy when an ultrasound performed in St. John’s confirmed her fears that something wasn’t right.
“It was my first child, so I was as stressed out as anybody could be,” she said of the news. What was worse was that doctors weren’t exactly sure what was wrong with the baby.
Winter’s pregnancy was then closely followed and once a month for the first while she travelled from Corner Brook to St. John’s for appointments.
At about 30 weeks came the exact diagnosis and Winter and Monteith learned their child would require surgery not long after birth. It was at this point that she had to stay in St. John’s.
“They weren’t sure if he was going to be able to be born at the Health Sciences or if I’d have to go to a hospital in Toronto to have him. They weren’t sure how bad it was going to be.”
As she got closer to her due date Winter found out Caden could be born in Newfoundland.
On March 18, 2009 Caden came into the world a couple days before his mom’s due date. Winter said she was induced in order to allow a full team of medical professionals to be present.
“They wanted control over when he came,” she explained.
Caden spent a week in the intensive care unit before he could leave the hospital, but his parents couldn’t bring him home right away because he needed to be close to the Janeway. So Winter stayed with her parents who live just outside St. John’s for two and one-half months.
Caden was on beta blockers to slow his heart rate down and his blood oxygen levels were constantly monitored.
“Every week it just dropped more and more. And they told me once it dropped down to 80 then we had to go.
“So, it was just waiting,” said Winter, who checked her son’s heart rate faithfully every eight hours.
Looking at her son, Winter said “he was great, he was perfect,” there was no sign anything was wrong. “The only thing was we couldn’t let him cry, because we couldn’t let his heart start racing.”
On June 5, 2009 at two and one-half months old, Caden underwent surgery at the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto after being airlifted from St. John’s.
That surgery was a success.
“Everything went perfectly as planned,” said Winter.
But his parents know he’ll have to face another surgery 10 to 15 years from now.
Until then Caden needs to stay healthy and to help with that must complete a prescribed 90 minutes of exercise a day to keep his right ventrical toned and valve leaking less.
In addition to skiing, he’s also in swimming, skating, soccer and taekwondo.
Winter laughs when she says it’s a lot, but she’s not taking any chances.
Every year the family celebrates Caden’s healthy heart on the anniversary of his surgery.
This year they’ll also start doing something on Valentine’s Day, that’s because the day all about love, is also Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day.
With that day getting closer, Winter encourages other parents to just be aware of their children’s heart health.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she said.
“Even in the middle of all of this terrible mess I still sometimes was afraid to ask questions,” she said.
“We just have to be the best advocate for our kids as we can.”