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Hunter’s Story

Jessica and Brandon faced a tough situation with their 11 year old son. The storm of seeing your son face open heart surgery is more than any of us ever wants to face.


Hunter was born on April 5, 2002.  In September of 2003 he had a high fever and ear ache.  We took him in to our pediatrician and he said he detected a heart murmur.  He had noticed it at our last visit and had made a note in his chart to keep an eye on it.  He said when we first heard it. it wasn’t very bad, but with the high fever it sounded horrible.  He referred us to a cardiologist.

We visited with her two weeks later.  Hunter was 1 1/2 years old when he was diagnosed with Aortic Valve Stenosis.  She recommended surgery.

In August of ’05 she decided that we were ready for surgery.  She had told us that at some point his aortic valve would have to be replaced but she wanted to do a balloon valvuloplasty.  They would go in through his groin and snake up to his heart and inflate the balloon.  She said that doing this would open up his aortic valve and would buy us time.  She didn’t want to replace the valve until he was older and stronger. The surgery was a success, and Hunter did well.

This year (2013) during VBS we had studied Ephesians 6:11, the Armor of God.  Hunter had been very excited about VBS this year.  He was excited about the theme and that it was going to be a fun lesson to learn.  As soon as we walked into church on Tuesday night Hunter started not feeling well.  He ended up throwing up all night in one of the youth rooms.  I really felt like we were going through some spiritual warfare.  We would get home and he would be fine, as soon as we got to church the next night, he was sick again.  It was insane.  On Thursday morning I remember praying for protection during VBS and that we must be getting some where if all of this was going on.  And then I said to Satan, Bring it on!  You can’t shake us.  We are stronger than you and we can handle anything.  In the very near future I would wonder what can of worms those words opened up.

We had noticed Hunter becoming tired easily and he had had a few instances of his feet and legs falling asleep to the point where he had fallen trying to get out of my lap.  This was concerning.  He had trouble breathing.  These were all things that we were told to keep an eye out for.  I scheduled his six month check up for June 11th because I always felt better about sending him to Kids Kamp knowing everything was working well.  When we did his EKG and ECHO, the doctor came in and said that number we had been watching was now at 84, which was a pretty big increase from his appointment in December.  She felt like it was time to do the Ross procedure.

When we left, I was so scared.  Hunter told me not to worry because he has God on his side!  He told me at lunch that day that he didn’t want to talk about it or hear anyone else talking about it.  This was very difficult because now all of our phone calls and conversations had to take place outside or in a room with the door shut.

That night I prayed like I had never prayed before.  I was up all night talking with God and trying to convince him that it was time to rapture His church. As I cried and prayed, I realized Hunter is not mine.  He is a child of God and if it’s his time to go, He will take him.  This is probably the biggest giant I have ever faced.  I never tried to make any deals with God on how I would change if he let me have Hunter for a little longer.  I told him that I get it, Hunter is his and is only mine for a short time.  I said if He took him, I was fine with it because I know where he’s going.  I also told Him that Hunter has a very blind faith in Him and would be a great witness for Him.  He could let Hunter survive this and I know that he will continue to be a good witness for Him.  I had to let go.  That was the hardest thing I have ever done.  I had to be ok with losing my son.

On the way home from church the day before surgery, Brandon said that a couple of people had slipped money in his hand when they were shaking hands.  He also said someone he didn’t know came up and told him that their son had a similar operation done and they understood our fears and he said it felt so good to be understood.    I was thinking someone probably slipped him a $20 or something along those lines.  We got home and he pulled the money out, counted it, and burst into tears.  We had two different people give us $100 each.  I was so blown away because this felt like a direct answer to prayers we had.  Again, we are so overwhelmed and humbled by the love and care from our church family!  They are the best and we would be lost without them.

Hunter went into the OR around 7:00 Monday morning (July 8). Every hour we would get updates. Things seemed to be progressing nicely. Around 5:00 the surgeon came in and told us that they were finished and were prepping him for PICU.  He said he made a mistake and when he attached one of the valves he accidentally sewed the cusp up to the side wall of the valve.  He didn’t catch it.  It was caught when the second cardiologist looked everything over.  Hunter had started to bleed out and they had to put him back on the bypass to repair it. They got it repaired and when they pulled him off bypass the second time they had to do CPR on him.  This was very scary to hear.  This, of course, would set our recovery back a little bit.  He said he’s fine now and you can see him in a few minutes.  Our surgery that was supposed to last 4 to 6 hours had taken about 10 hours!

By Wednesday the doctors became more and more concerned about Hunter’s mental activity.  He still wasn’t coming around and he didn’t know any of us.  The doctor said that with him having such a hard time in the OR and then with the high fever the day before he was concerned about possible brain damage and they scheduled an MRI for the next morning.  Immediately Brandon started texting the church.  We knew services were going on at this time and we wanted and needed prayers immediately.  My phone started blowing up.  I was getting texts from all sorts of people telling me they were specifically raising Hunter up in prayer.  That night I told Brandon that we really needed to pray because who knew what kind of news we would get on Thursday.

Those three days were so hard and such a roller coaster of emotion.  We had had a tough year.  My mom was in ICU, in a coma, for 17 days in October and to this day we still don’t know why.   We lost Brandon’s dad on May 2nd to cancer and now all of this with Hunter.  It was just too much and I felt defeated.  The verse that kept running through my mind was Proverbs 3:5 ~ With all your heart you must trust the Lord and not your own judgment.

Nobody stayed the night with us on Wednesday.  It was just Hunter and I.  They were supposed to come and do the MRI between 8 and 9 Thursday morning.  I was sitting in the rocking chair next to Hunter’s bed, holding his hand and dozing off and on.  He opened his eyes and looked at me and said, “Hey.  I love you so much!”  It was the first real sentence he had spoken since before surgery and it was music to my ears!  He knew who I was!  After that everything started going great.  He had a good day.  He was eating and talking and acting a little like Hunter.  He was a little sassy but we were ok with that.

This experience has done nothing but strengthen the faith of my whole family!  I feel like being ok with losing him and coming to the realization that he is God’s child and not mine, was definitely what I needed to do to get through this.  We are humbled to the core by what God has done for us.  I feel God has bigger plans for Hunter and I can’t wait to see what He does with him.

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