Cooper is one of the cardiac patients who has passed through the operating theatres since the installation of the philanthropically funded monitoring equipment and he doesn’t remember a thing about it.
He recalls being ‘so starving’ before his surgery but, when it comes to the operating theatre equipment, no comment. So, all was exactly as it should be for an anaesthetised patient undergoing a six-hour operation to repair a bicuspid aortic valve.
The ten year old is a dynamic example of the RCH’s great cardiac care, bouncing around some months later and running off down avenues of zany word play.
While he’s making a gradual transition back to school, attending only half days, mum Amanda has to put the brakes on his desire to scooter and trampoline. It’s an indication of how much better he’s feeling.
“I remember I was so tired before the operation and I had to take a lot of medicine that tasted disgusting,” said Cooper who, Mum thinks, might be on his way to a career in chemistry to make all medication taste good.
Certainly the medication-go-round remains a fresh memory: take pain medication which makes you drowsy and gives you a cough; medication for a cough makes you itchy; medication for itchiness gives you nausea; medication for nausea leads to constipation.
Cooper has been monitored every three months since birth with his heart condition picked up when Amanda was just 20 weeks pregnant.
While some people with a bicuspid aortic valve can get to adulthood without having valve problems, cardiologists recognised in 2017 that intervention was required to overcome the blockage to Cooper’s aortic valve and repair the stretched aorta above his narrowed valve. During surgery it was determined that a repair could be undertaken rather than a complex valve replacement, so a reconstruction of his aortic valve using his own tissues was performed.
The aortic valve joins the lower left heart chamber to the aorta which is the main artery leading to the body. A bicuspid aortic valve may prevent the heart’s aortic valve from fully opening and therefore reduces or even blocks blood flow from the heart to the body.
From a playground perspective, Amanda noticed that Cooper was struggling to keep up with his friends and get through a full school day. It was time.
Cooper was in the RCH for eight days.
“There was no use telling him it was going to be easy,” said Amanda. “There’s a lot of poking and prodding in hospital but if he got anxious we’d get a wet paper towel and rub his forehead.
“We told him the mask would go on in the operating theatre and he wouldn’t wake up during surgery. And we told him that each day he’d get a little better.”
To their great relief, the head surgeon rang Amanda and dad Kristian straight after the operation to report that it had gone well. They saw and spoke to their heavily medicated son the next morning and, by the end of that first full day of recovery, Cooper was out of bed and sitting up. By the seventh day he was in a wheelchair playing PlayStation in the Starlight Room.
“I actually think children handle hospital better than adults do,” continued Amanda. “One day Cooper saw me crying and said, ‘You can’t cry, Mum, because I have enough to deal with’.”
Amanda was most grateful for the personal touches on the ward.
“The ward doctor kept calling in at the end of each shift just to check on Cooper and one of the nurses kept coming past to do the same,” she said. “You could really feel their care and concern.”
And the best thing about being in hospital from Cooper’s perspective?
“Spending time with my mum, and my dad getting me McDonald’s.”
While the surgical repair is expected to last Cooper at least five to seven years, this sophisticated surgery might actually last him for more than two decades.