Parents of boy with congenital heart defect share their reality with haunting images

Elliott and his parents, Mariah and Andy Johnston.
Elliott and his parents, Mariah and Andy Johnston. Photo credit: Hearts for Elliott / Facebook

The parents of a child with congenital heart defect (CHD) have shared a series of pictures showcasing their child's battle with the condition.

Oklahoma mum Mariah Johnston shared the images to the family's public Facebook page, Hearts for Elliott, on February 8. Their platform documents Elliott's story, who underwent his first surgery four days after being born.

The candid post, titled 'This is CHD', voices the reality of parenting a child with the condition, which is diagnosed in 12 New Zealand babies each week.

"This is the number one birth defect. This is what the world needs to know," Johnston wrote.

"It's getting to hold your baby for one short minute, or maybe even not at all, after their birth before they're rushed away for medical intervention.

"It's learning to drop NG [nasogastric] tubes, give meds, and work medical equipment while other parents get to just focus on being a new parent.

"It's opening medical bill after medical bill wondering how you'll pay for it all and how anybody could ever put a price on your child's life.

"It's calling the hospital your home, the nurses and doctors your friends, and some of them your family."

Johnston's message accompanied 12 haunting pictures depicting Elliot's two-year battle, including his many surgeries and vast collection of colourful beads.

Mariah and Elliott.
Mariah and Elliott. Photo credit: Go Fund Me

The post has been well-received on social media, amassing more than 3300 reactions, 500 comments and 4200 shares.

The upload inspired a number of other parents of children with CHD to tell their own stories in the comments, as well as others with the condition. 

"Thank you to everyone that is sharing and helping us raise awareness of CHDs! The fact is that more children die from congenital heart defects than cancer. So many are unaware of the harsh reality that affects [one] in 100 people. We're fighting to change that," Johnston wrote in the comments.

"I have lived some of these dreadful moments when my oldest daughter was born," one woman shared. "Even though she by God's grace is now a grown woman I still worry... Will this be the last time I can hug or kiss her or see her smile[?] Until you have spent time with a newborn just like this you will never understand how serious a congenital heart condition can be."

According to the family's Go Fund Me, Elliott was diagnosed with "a double outlet right ventricle with non-committed VSD and malposed vessels with aortic hypoplasia" as a foetus. He underwent routine heart surgery, but was placed on life support due to complications. 

New Zealand charity Heart Kids NZ shared the post on Wednesday as a belated marker of Little Heart Day on February 14, saying: "The reality for our heart parents is ongoing."

The family's Go Fund Me has raised more than US$23,400 since 2017 to keep Elliot's parents financially stable as they take time off work and continue to pay medical bills.

Although Elliott is currently stable, Johnston made it clear her son's journey is far from over.

"Elliott will require more surgeries in the future and could need a heart transplant at some point. As long as he is still here with us his story and struggles continue, just like every other heart warrior."

Read Johnston's full message here