Reid van Rossum

To any other passenger on the ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver that June day, the blond toddler running through the aisles might have seemed cute, but otherwise unremarkable. Energetic kids are a common sight on the popular passage, after all. 

To Brad and Andrea van Rossum, though, the sight was marvellous. During his first three years, their little boy could barely climb stairs or run with his big sister Alexa without running out of breath, needing to rest or asking to be held.

But this summer, after his Fontan surgery, his third and final procedure at BC Children’s Hospital to maximize his heart function as he lives with congenital heart disease, Andrea and Brad witnessed a burgeoning sense of independence, energy and vitality in their son. 

“He was this wild child running around the ferry,” says Andrea. “We were just so happy, because he's never done that before. He would walk a bit, then he'd want to be carried, because he'd be tired.”

Reid was born in February 2013, with a congenital heart defect called pulmonary atresia with intact ventricular septum, in which a valve orifice fails to develop and obstructs the connection between the right and left ventricles of the heart. Baby Reid would have to endure a three-stage procedure over the following three years, ending in a Fontan procedure, a complex surgery that would ultimately supply blood to the lungs.

The van Rossums learned of Reid’s heart condition during Andrea’s pregnancy, so it wasn’t a shock when he was born. They felt comfortable relying on BC Children’s caregivers, who eased their anxieties. “We trusted the care here so much, we didn't feel fear,” says Andrea.

The van Rossums adapted patiently to his first days.

“A normal feed for him would be for any other baby like running a marathon. It was tiring for him, so he had to take short bursts.”

Otherwise, the family enjoyed close-to-normal post-baby life, all the while preparing for the first step in the remedial process, known as the “Fontan path.”

Reid’s first surgery involved a Blalock-Taussig shunt, or a BT shunt, to compensate for the right ventricle’s compromised ability to route blood to the left ventricle.

His second, the Glenn procedure, further redirected blood flow, allowing blood to be routed directly to the lungs, allowing the ventricle that is able to bring blood to the lungs for oxygen.

Between surgeries, Reid managed to resume life as normal as possible. His family learned to help him strike a balance between freedom and self-regulation.

“He didn't have the energy of his sister, and he wouldn't do a fraction of what she was doing. He'd sit out because he'd be exhausted. After activities, he’d be huffing and puffing,” says Andrea.

“[We learned] not to hold him back, but to help him understand his limits.”

The Glenn prepared Reid for the ultimate Fontan surgery, or “Fontan completion,” which allows the blue blood that doesn’t contain oxygen to flow passively into the lungs, without being pushed by the heart.

Today, Reid has recovered, and is more energetic than ever. Reid is treated by Dr. Andrew Campbell and his cardiology team, which includes Dr. Brian Sinclair, who sees Reid at clinics in Victoria and Nanaimo. The ability to attend follow-up appointments on the Island, thanks in large part to Child Health BC, came as a huge relief to the family.

“What once took a full day with travel time, now takes an hour,” says Brad.

Three years after they first set out on the Fontan path, the experience has made the van Rossum family all the wiser. 

Andrea has some words of comfort to other families of children with congenital heart defects: deal calmly with the cardiac condition, but don’t lose sight of the fact that your family is about to welcome a beautiful new addition.

“I would say, don't miss the miracle of having a baby. Rely on all the resources you can and find your other heart people. Find your tribe.