LDS Church News

Medical miracle: Prayers answered in life-saving operation for LDS couple's son

By Ryan Morgenegg

LDS Church News

Published: Saturday, June 14 2014 12:05 a.m. MDT

Jake and Natalie Peterson pose with their 20-mont-old son, Garrett, at their home in Layton, Utah, Thursday, May 29, 2014. Garrett has medical challenges and was born with an underdeveloped trachia.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

At 24 weeks into her first pregnancy in 2012, Natalie Peterson was excited to be a mother. She went to see her doctor for a routine ultrasound, but something wasn’t right. A doctor explained that the ultrasound indicated her baby had a serious heart defect. Sister Peterson’s heart sank. She was scared, but in the same moment, she felt peace. Her and her husband’s lives were about to change dramatically.

Jake and Natalie Peterson were married in the Salt Lake Temple in 2009. Brother Peterson finished school at Weber State University in 2011 and was accepted to attend optometry school at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee. At the same time, Sister Peterson announced she was pregnant. They would soon be moving away to pursue their dreams and start a family together.

But that wasn’t to be. An ultrasound revealed heart problems, and further tests confirmed a rare congenital defect called Tetralogy of Fallot with Absent Pulmonary Valve. Doctors explained that it was a rare anomaly (1 in 2,000) and affected the proper development of heart tissue and heart function. To correct the problem, the baby would need surgery after birth. Also, their baby would have trouble with breathing. To what extent, they would need to wait and see.

Sister Peterson said, “Normally, a pregnancy is very exciting because you are anticipating the arrival of a child, but it was hard to be excited. Overall, though, I felt peace.”

Brother Peterson said, “Even after his diagnosis, Natalie and I felt peace. We felt that everything was going to work out.”

With the diagnosis, the doctors told the Petersons they could fix the heart problems but not the airways. The Petersons discussed their options and resolved that they would do everything they could to help their son. There would be some tough decisions to make.

“We decided to contact the Southern College of Optometry and let them know we would be unable to attend,” said Brother Peterson. The school went against its policy and refunded all of their money.

On Sept. 4, 2012, at 11:18 in the morning, Garrett Peterson was born at the University of Utah medical center. The delivery was rough, and his heart rate kept dropping. He was immediately whisked away by doctors and passed through the newborn intensive care unit’s window. The room was silent.

After several hours, the Petersons were allowed to see Garrett for about 30 seconds before he was taken to Primary Children’s Hospital and put on a special ventilator.

“Garrett looked gray and was completely sedated,” said Sister Peterson. “He needed a better ventilator.”

A normal child’s air pathways are firm but flexible. Garrett’s were similar to a wet noodle. Any kind of pressure or stress and the pathways would collapse, suffocating him. He had to be watched constantly. If he started to turn blue, he wasn’t breathing, and he would need help.

With experienced medical staff at Primary Children’s NICU, Garrett was stabilized and able to undergo the heart surgery doctors recommended. With only a 30 percent chance of survival, Garrett pulled through with flying colors. “It was a miracle,” said Brother Peterson.

After surgery, Garrett had good and bad days. He was still having blue spells and a hard time breathing, so the doctors suggested performing a tracheotomy. The Petersons felt good about it, but Garrett struggled for months afterward. However, it turned out it to be the right decision in the long run. The need for inspiration was constant.