ATLANTA – It’s been four years since Chiandria and Khorey Beauford’s first child, Caleigh, was born at Northside Hospital in Atlanta.
“It was really, really cool,” Khorey Beauford remembers. “Overwhelming, I would probably say. Everybody was just excited.”
The Lithia Springs, Georgia, couple got about 10 hours to bond with their baby before nurses started coming in to run the typical newborn screening tests.
“They said, ‘We’re going to take her for testing, very routine, but, if she doesn’t come back, just expect a call from the doctor, but she’ll come back,'” Chiandria Beauford says. “And, I remember them vividly being told ‘But, she’ll come back.'”
Caleigh didn’t come back for hours.
Instead, around midnight, a doctor came in and explained to the Beaufords Caleigh had a hole between the upper chambers of her heart, a congenital heart defect known as an atrial septal defect.
He pulled out a pen and started drawing diagrams for the couple.
“And, in my mind, I’m just like, ‘She has a what?'” Chiandria Beauford recalls. “I remember looking at my husband, who was listening very intently, and I remember thinking, I hope he’s paying attention, because I have no idea what’s going on. It was like a trauma response.”
Dr. Timotheus Watson, who would later become Caleigh’s cardiologist at the Sibley Heart Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, says these holes will sometimes close on their own with time.
“In Caleigh’s case, the size of the hole and the position of the hole in the heart, the only way to fix it and take that extra load of the heart, is to close it with the surgery,” Dr. Watson says.
To give her heart time to grow, they decided to wait until Caleigh was three to schedule the surgery.
Her mother poured over YouTube videos of heart surgeries and read articles on WebMD, trying to understand what lay ahead for Caleigh.
“Almost every time we had a cardiology appointment, I would say, ‘Walk me through it, what’s the overview, how is this going to go, what’s her recuperation time after surgery,” she says.
Dr. Watson says he tries to help families understand what to expect each step of the way.
“When they’re told their child has a heart condition, I think it’s almost human nature to expect the worst,” Watson says. “My job was just to let them know Caleigh is going to go through this, but after her surgery, she’s going to go to school, she’s going to play sports, she’s going to have a family, she’s going to have a regular life.”
And by surgery day, the Beaufords knew the Children’s team, and felt confident.
“They’ve seen this,” Khorey Beauford says. “They’ve seen this multiple times. They know exactly what they’re doing. And, they kept telling us, if this is the heart surgery you’re going to have, this is the one you want.”
Caleigh’s recovery was challenging, as they expected.
Like all heart surgery patients, she spent time in the cardiac ICU, hooked up to lots of tubes and machines.
But, the Beaufords say they were amazed by her resilience.
“She went through it like a hero,” Khorey Beauford says. “I felt like we created, we literally created a superhero, you know?”
A year after her surgery, Caleigh Beauford is thriving.
She recently learned she will be a big sister; her mom is due in late September.
“I think we’re doing good,” Chiandria Beauford says. “I see how well our family coped with it, at the end of the day, and how much we thrived afterwards. I think we are willing to take on anything that comes our way.”