Fighting a battle for life
As gender reveal parties go, Nicola and Bryan Devoe’s fourth was one to remember.
The Sylvan Lake couple had invited friends and family over for a celebration in December 2017; a party they hoped would end with an exciting reveal.
Earlier that day, a 20-week ultrasound had revealed some very exciting news: after three girls, the couple would finally have a boy, Mason.
“We found out that he was a boy – our first boy – it was ecstatic, excitement,” Nicola says of the moment’s emotions. “I think we got half an hour of excitement and then we got a phone call from the doctor’s office saying that they see something wrong with his heart, and they needed to send us to Calgary.”
Returning home, the couple walked in with the gender reveal balloon and Nicola’s emotions quickly took over.
“I came in the door and I was in tears and everybody thought I was having another girl, so they really got a shock when they popped the balloon and it was blue. And then they were like, ‘wait, why are you crying?’”
A specialized ultrasound conducted five days later in Calgary would provide some answers.
It showed that Mason’s umbilical vein bypassed his liver and connected to the right atrium of his heart, a rare anomaly known as Absent Ductus Venosus (ADV).
“His umbilical vein went around his liver, so there was no filter, and all that blood volume was going into the right atrium of his heart,” Nicola explains. “Essentially it caused a large cardiac output, so it was putting a lot of pressure on his heart.”
The condition, the worst of the three main patterns of ADV, put Mason at high risk for heart failure. Further tests would confirm the issue was isolated to his heart.
“It was a positive, but it was still if he could survive up until he could be delivered and make it on the outside,” Nicola says, explaining it was becoming clearer that Mason was not safe inside the womb.
After Mason’s cardiologist noticed a skipped beat in his heart rate during the 29th week, the team at Foothills Hospital began to prepare for his arrival. He was born via emergency C-section at 30 weeks, six days on March 1, 2018.
Mason would spend a total of 34 days in the Foothills NICU, followed by another month in the Red Deer NICU.
For Nicola, it was challenging being far from her husband and children: Mackala, 12, Mackenzie, 9, Marley, 7 in Sylvan Lake, while caring for Mason in Calgary. She stayed with an aunt in Calgary for the duration of his stay at Foothills.
Bryan continued working, while his father flew out to help with the girls’ care. Other family, including Nicola’s mother, her sister-in-law, and friends helped out whenever possible.
“I felt like I had abandoned my kids. I think that was the hardest part – splitting my life into two and not being here for (the girls).”
The challenges didn’t end when Mason finally went home. He was frequently ill and would often vomit violently. Eventually, an MRI would show why – there was an undetected hole in his diaphragm that was allowing his bowel to push against his heart. At the tender age of one, Mason would have surgery to correct the issue.
Donor-funded equipment meant Mason and Nicola spent the last part of his NICU journey closer to home in Red Deer. As an LPN, it also gave Nicola a new appreciation for the work the NICU team does day in and day out. The loneliness that comes with spending 12 hours alone in the NICU was often broken by nurses taking time out of their shifts to check in and chat with her.
“I was really impressed with what they could do here,” she says, reflecting. “The nurses … I really got attached to a lot of them. I still talk to some of them. They became my family.”
Given everything he has been through, Nicola now proudly calls Mason her “warrior.”
“He put us through a lot but I say everything happens for some reason. We were meant to have a boy and he’s meant to do something special because he survived all that, and I feel like he is so strong because of it.”