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With his big, soulful eyes and handsome smile, it's no surprise baby Karter Thistlethwaite has the nurses of B.C. Children's Hospital wrapped around his tiny little finger.
"He's a big flirt," said mom Brandee Brown with a laugh. "He's quite the little ham. He knows how to work the people around here, that's for sure."
Between his belly laughs, it's hard to believe the eight-month-old has spent every moment of his life just fighting to survive. Karter's heart, although capable of giving lots of love to all those around him, is sick.
While in the womb, he developed heart block, a problem with the heart's electrical system. The disease causes a slowing of the signal to the lower chambers that cause the heart muscle to contract.
Brown was given the news after her 20-week ultrasound, when a gut feeling plagued her that something wasn't right. The next day, doctors gave her and husband Erik Thistlethwaite the devastating diagnosis.
After having their now four-year-old daughter Makiya, Brown had two miscarriages, the first of which happened just four days before Christmas, and the couple were determined to save this baby's life.
Realizing Karter would need open-heart surgery soon after being born, doctors recommended that the couple, who live in Kamloops, travel to B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver for the delivery.
In October, eight days after his birth, the fragile newborn had his first surgery to place a pacemaker. After recovering, Karter was doing better and his relieved parents took him home. But after tests at his six-month checkup, their worst fears were realized: Karter was in heart failure.
"They were basically saying that he's lucky to be alive," said Brown as she fought back tears.
Karter was quickly rushed into emergency surgery, where he received a different pacemaker. The procedure seemed to work at first, but after a few days in intensive care, Karter began to deteriorate again.
His only chance of survival, doctors said, would be a new heart.
"If this doesn't work, there's no other option for him," Brown whispered, wiping away a stray tear.
Brown said her son is the only infant waiting for a heart in B.C. When a new heart becomes available, Karter will likely undergo the procedure at Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, Alta., the only referral centre in Western Canada for pediatric heart transplants.
It is difficult to predict how long Karter will wait. In 2011, the median wait time for patients seeking heart transplants was about a month, while in 2010, it was almost four months, according to B.C. Transplant.
However, the statistics paint a scary picture. According to the Canadian Institute of Heath Information, two B.C. children in need of new hearts either withdrew or died while on the waiting list in 2012. The possible deaths are a painful reminder of the chronic shortage of available organs for those in desperate need.
Although Brown desperately wants to see Karter get a new heart, knowing that with it another family will face the heart-wrenching loss of their child is too much to bear, she said.
"It kills me to know what another family has to go through in order for us to keep him," she said.
While the family anxiously wait, Brown said her husband, who works in construction, is putting in extra hours to try to keep up with mortgage payments on their Kamloops home.
Although friends have hosted fundraisers, Brown fears they may lose their house and won't have a place to take Karter home.
For now, Brown said they are taking each day as it comes. Although every moment is terrifying, Brown said her son's cheerfulness always humbles her.
"The days that I decide to break down, I just look him and he's smiling and laughing, and it's like, what am I getting so upset about?" said Brown. "I've learned so much from such a little person."
If you would like to Donate to Karter and his family, please do so by clicking the "donate" button. Donations are collected through paypal accounts for security reasons.
Ps. There is an extreme shortage on organ donors and blood donors. Do your part. Save someone and become a donor today! What's the risk!? You have blood in you to give, and organs to gift! Visit your nearest blood bank, and or click the links below to become an organ donor. You may just save someone's life... Would you think twice if it was you, a friend or a family member that needed it!?
Take a read, click below for a few myths and facts...
Find your donor site, click below :o)
Karter's story in The Province Newspaper
Mak and Daddy will head back to the Loops again on Monday morning. :o(
Pls send (as always) all the positive "oral eating" vibes u can for this lil monkey. Really hoping this works...
We had our consult with GI at noon, and placement looks near impossible for our lil man, as he does not have a whole lot of space to place one. -Of course. This trial Ng pull is our only hope!! Keep our fingers crossed Team K!! Much love!