Little Lennox Undergoes Five Surgeries in Four Years
When three-year-old Lennox Carroll arrived at Starship hospital for his fifth heart surgery, the confusingly familiar corridor and associated sounds spiked something in his memory. Oblivious to what was before him, Lennox’s cheeky expression lit up the ward and familiar faces flocked towards him, fussing over how much he’d grown. Although he’d been here numerous times before, and had the scars to prove it, his parent’s Cory and Nicky knew, that this time his was going to be different.
“Dealing with the reality your child needs life-saving heart surgery, leaves you stunned like a slap in the face, but leading up to this one we knew it was going to be even harder” mum Nicky explains. “Lennox’s previous surgeries were all major heart surgeries, but he was a baby then and didn’t have a grasp on what was happening. How do you explain to a tough little three year old, that he was going to have open-heart surgery?”
Nicky has filled seven heart journals detailing every procedure this brave little boy has endured. When he gets older, she thought they would be helpful to explain his scars and help him understand the rough start he had and massive journey he overcame in his first few years. In the coming years, it’s likely Nicky will have a few more journals to fill.
Lennox was born with Tricuspid Atresia, which is a type of heart disease where one of the four chambers of the heart doesn’t develop. In addition to this a lot of the ‘plumbing’ of the heart is abnormal and results in blocking the blood flow around the heart and to the rest of the body. Lennox’s first surgery came at just three weeks old with a mad rush to Auckland from Wellington in the Life Flight Plane.
“It was one of the scariest moments of our life, sitting on this plane with tubes and machines all attached to our little baby inside an incubator. We are organised people and like to be in control, so we felt completely helpless. There was absolutely nothing we could do but hope that these amazing medical professionals could save our son’s life. Upon arriving at Auckland hospital, we had no idea we wouldn’t be home again for three months.”
Normally babies need to be substantially bigger than Lennox was for his first surgery, but surgeons couldn’t delay. Just four days after that first surgery little Lennox was back in the operating theatre again. There was too much blood-flow going to his lungs which meant doctors had to go back in and put a band around his pulmonary artery to reduce the blood-flow. At ten weeks old, Lennox was on surgery number three, to tighten the PA band they put in. Surgery number four, the Bi-Directional Glenn, came in March 2015.
For the Carroll family, things are a lot different now. While it’s always challenging and scary heading back to hospital, Nicky’s survivor-mode auto-pilot kicks in. They’re able to pack in a flash and they’re always prepared.
Despite all the surgeries, Lennox has come a long way. From being tube-fed at home and needing 12 syringes of medication a day, to now only being on one medication of warfarin daily, Lennox lives a pretty normal life. Nicky does blood tests on Lennox every 3-4 days to test, measure and adjust his warfarin to keep his blood from clotting. “He has to be careful, which is difficult to explain to a full-of-beans four-year-old who wants to keep up with his older brother and sister. But he can’t afford to get a serious knock because he’s at high risk for internal bleeding.”
In order to keep him safe there are a few things that Lennox simply can’t do, like play-fighting with his siblings, no rides on fun-parks and never playing any contact sport. But Lennox constantly surprises his family with his determination and never letting anything hold him back. “We don’t want to tell him he can’t do something and force him to live in a bubble, instead we try and work around it...we can’t keep him off his pedal-bike, we just insist he always wears his helmet and he loves the trampoline, we just make sure there’s only one person on at a time.”
In March, Lennox had the Fontan surgery, his fifth and hopefully last surgery for a while. Nicky says he was so much more aware of the seriousness of what was going on, he was confused about what was happening to him and didn’t understand why he was sore.
“We’ve told him from a young age that he has a broken heart and that the doctors have been working hard to fix it, but this is still too much for him to comprehend. We packed for a month but fortunately were only there for 2 weeks. After coming home, he was more timid and kept touching his chest, with sad little eyes and saying “Sore, sore.” It took him a week to want to go outside again at kindy.”
The Fontan was Lennox’s last planned surgery. He continues to have regular check-ups at the hospital and potential future surgeries will be based on how his heart is functioning. Cory and Nicky hope that in time, the scary memories will fade. They say with utmost certainty that this journey has changed their outlook on life and made their family even stronger. Heart Kids will continue to be there for Lennox and his family through life. “Heart Kids have been such an incredible support to us over the past four years, from Lennox’s first surgery, through to his last. You just don’t realise how difficult life is when you have a heart baby, but the kindness and emotional support from this charity has made our journey so much easier to deal with.”