2012-06-08 / People

After heart transplant, baby’s health looks good

By Jack Flagler Staff Writer


Hudson Gay’s father Ryan says his son has “never really lacked for personality.” (Courtesy photo) Hudson Gay’s father Ryan says his son has “never really lacked for personality.” (Courtesy photo) “We are so screwed when he’s a teenager,” said Sarah Gay, referring to her 4-month-old son, Hudson.

She is at her home on Anthoine Street in South Portland, showing off a picture in which Hudson glares at the camera – a look Sarah said sometimes make strangers uncomfortable when he locks eyes with them. It’s a look that Sarah joked she may see more of once he hits his teenage years.

But if Hudson is a tough teenager, it’s safe to say his parents won’t be too upset. Their son has fought his way through two major heart surgeries in his young life, although Hudson’s father, Ryan Gay, said “fighting” may not be the right way to put it.

“If I had all that stuff hooked up to me I’d be a mess,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t look like he’s fighting to be a normal kid, he just doesn’t know any different. He’s not losing any ground in his development through everything.”


Sarah Gay enjoys a moment while holding her son Hudson in the hospital. (Courtesy photo) Sarah Gay enjoys a moment while holding her son Hudson in the hospital. (Courtesy photo) Hudson’s parents said he recently has started to roll over onto his stomach, bite any fingers (his or not) that come near his mouth, and even develop an affection for the TV show “SpongeBob Squarepants.”

Hudson’s grandmother, Doreen Gay of South Portland, said after everything Hudson has been through, these small actions are hugely significant to his parents.

“To anybody else, these are milestones anyway. But for them, it’s like off the charts,” she said.

Ryan and Sarah found out something was wrong about 20 weeks into Sarah’s pregnancy, when they couldn’t wait any longer to find out their baby’s gender. When they went in for an ultrasound, Sarah said doctors and nurses took an unusually long time to deliver news to the parents.

When a doctor did come out to speak with them, the prognosis was not good. Hudson had a serious heart defect that could require an operation. It could even be fatal. Ryan and Sarah received the news on a Friday afternoon and had to wait until Monday to meet with a cardiologist.

“That little gap of time is often just about the worst,” Sarah said. “You have no idea what’s happening. We pretty much just sat on the couch thinking, ‘OK, this isn’t going to happen.’”

The cardiologist told Ryan and Sarah their baby had a condition called tricuspid atresia. One valve of his heart wasn’t forming correctly, which meant his heart couldn’t adequately pump blood to his lungs or the rest of his body. The condition would require three surgeries. The first, almost immediately after birth, would place a small tube made out of Gore-Tex into his heart that would keep his arteries pumping blood where it needed to go. There would then be two more procedures to follow, one at 6 months, the other between 18 months and 3 years old.

Hudson’s birth on Jan. 26 at Maine Medical Center in Portland was relatively easy, though his color was slightly pale. Sarah was able to hold Hudson for the first time for about 15 minutes before his first surgery. He was 4 days old.

After the procedure, Hudson’s surgeon came out to tell his parents that the operation went smoothly. Hospital staff just needed a few minutes to settle him in.

After about two hours, Hudson’s parents checked on him to see how he was doing.

“We’re not ready yet, we’ll come get you,” Sarah was told.

Later, they found out Hudson’s vitals had crashed twice. Twice, doctors had to give him compressions and emergency medication. But he was stable, and after a month and a half of recovery, Hudson was sent home.

After three weeks of relative normalcy, Hudson’s parents noticed his breathing was a little off and his appetite had slowed down. Their cardiologist was between offices, so he offered to meet them in the emergency room at Maine Medical Center. Sarah and Ryan guessed Hudson might be dehydrated, or that he might need a tweak of his medication schedule. They hoped to be in the hospital for a couple days.

The second they walked in the door, Sarah said, a triage nurse told them something didn’t look right. Hudson wasn’t breathing well. He had fluid in his system. A dozen people mobilized to find out what was wrong and took Hudson into the Intensive Care Unit.

Three hours later, Sarah and Ryan were dealt devastating news. Hudson’s heart wasn’t functioning correctly. The only remaining option was a heart transplant at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“We were told you have two choices. We either get you guys down to Boston tomorrow or the next day and he’ll be evaluated for transplant, or we extubate him, take him off all the drugs, make him comfortable and send you home to wait, for, you know, the inevitable,” Sarah said.

They were in Boston before 1 a.m. the next morning on April 2. Hudson was placed on the heart transplant list, with no timetable for finding a match. Exactly four weeks later, a matching donor was found.

“I will tell you, if nothing else, part of what needs to come across is how grateful the family is to whomever must have donated,” Doreen said. “I don’t know if it’s divine intervention. There are people in my church who just feel that there is somebody looking after him, because there are a number of times that that child could have been gone by now. A number. It’s unreal that he’s made it. He’s been extremely strong.”

Hudson’s heart transplant took place on May 9. His turnaround, Sarah said, was “absolutely ridiculous.” Days later his color went from pale to pink. Three weeks later, he was released from the hospital. On June 4, he came back to Maine.

Sarah has now returned to her job as a middle school humanities teacher in Bath while Ryan stays home with Hudson. Ryan said being home still “hasn’t quite sunk in,” and Sarah agreed that normal activities like going to the grocery store are “weird” for her after living inside the hospital bubble for so long. Hudson will still have regular checkups in Boston, but for now he is healthy and happy.

Doreen and a friend, Brenda Petit, have organized a run for Hudson to support his ongoing care and raise awareness for the need of organ donation. The run will take place on June 23. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. at Bug Light Park in South Portland. For more information, and to find out how to donate, visit hudsonsheart.com.

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