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The heart of the matter

Posted on 16/04/2010 12:00am

Denise Sharkey, Courier-Islander

Seven-year-old Jacob Sankey has undergone three open heart surgeries and is now thriving. The Campbell River branch of the First Open Heart Society is planning its annual Walk for Hearts May 2 to benefit local residents like Jacob.

Published: Friday, April 16, 2010

When you see seven-year-old Jacob Sankey climbing a jungle gym, swinging from the monkey bars and leaping up the steps to the slide in a local playground, it's hard to believe he was in B.C. Children's Hospital just months ago undergoing his third heart surgery.

His mom Gina said watching Jacob run and play like other kids warms her heart. Within hours of his birth, it was discovered that Jacob had serious heart problems and a team from Children's Hospital flew to the Campbell River Hospital to airlift him to Vancouver for immediate treatment. There were so many medical professionals required, there was no room for Jacob's parents on the helicopter. It was the beginning of a long road for Jacob and his family, but the end result is that he is happy, healthy and thriving.

"We could only hope this was the way it was going to turn out," Gina said. "It was exhausting and stressful, but he's doing really well now."

Jacob has something called 'tetralogy of fallot' - which is described as a heart defect involving four abnormalities. Gina said when he was born, Jacob was blue, but at first it was thought he had suffered bruises during the birth.

"It was assumed he was a bruised baby, but he wasn't eating and he couldn't cry," Gina said. "Less than 24 hours later he was in B.C. Children's Hospital."

Jacob was in the hospital in Vancouver for weeks with his mother, his father Michael Kobierski and his two older brothers nearby. Then when he was two months old, while still in hospital, his condition deteriorated and doctors performed emergency open heart surgery. Jacob eventually came home to Campbell River, but couldn't swallow so he needed a feeding tube that went directly into his stomach. It was a hard time for the family because he needed constant care.

"You learn to sleep on alert," Gina said.

At age one, Jacob had open heart surgery again, this time to have a conduit placed in his heart to widen a pulmonary valve. The third surgery took place last November, when that original conduit was replaced with a larger one because he had grown so much in size.

"He was getting bigger and getting really tired," Gina said. "He needed another conduit."

Jacob said he remembers the surgery well.

"I think they opened my heart to change it into a bigger heart," he said.

He said he's feeling great now and his favourite thing to do is play with his three-year-old brother. Gina said dealing with all Jacob's medical needs while looking after her other three sons - three-year-old Eric, 12-year-old Lee and 14-year-old George - made for some tiring days, but without support from the community it would have been next to impossible. She said the family received a lot of help from Cameryn's Cause for Kids, Aboriginal Health, Supported Child Care, Humpty Dumpty Pre-school, neighbour Carol Burgoyne and Sunrise Resources for Early Childhood Development, among others.

"I think we used every service at Sunrise Resources, she recalls. "Before Jacob, I didn't even know they existed, but then when we needed them we found out they are a blessing."

As well, the Campbell River chapter of the First Open Heart Society has been there for the family.

"They helped with the financial aspect and with support," she said. "When I was quite stressed and exhausted it was nice to hear from them. It was nice to know they were thinking about him and that they cared."

The Campbell River Branch of the First Open Heart Society's annual Walk for Hearts is set for Sunday, May 2 starting at the Willow Point Hall. Registration starts at 1 p.m. Money raised helps local heart patients, like Jacob, and their families. Participants can either provide a donation or gather pledges to raise funds. To get a pledge sheet contact Ed Jarvis at 250-287-3096.