Welcoming Grayson to the Gator Nation
With a lineage of orange and blue blood running through their veins, University of Florida alumni Samantha and Ryan Padgett knew that their unborn son would one day become part of the Gator nation. But before seeing Albert for the first time or going to his first game, their son would receive life-saving care from UF medical teams.
In July 2011, the Tallahassee couple went in for Samantha’s second-trimester ultrasound. Their obstetrician suggested undergoing optional screenings to rule out any unseen conditions and get a few extra peeks of their baby. Fortunately for the family, physicians noticed an abnormality in the developing baby’s heart structure. Shortly thereafter, the couple was referred to Anthony Gregg, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the maternal-fetal medicine division at the UF College of Medicine, and to a pediatric cardiologist with the fetal cardiac program at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center. Physicians conducted an extensive ultrasound and after analyzing the heart from all angles, they determined that the baby would be born with a transposition of the great arteries, a congenital heart condition where the arteries of the heart are switched.
With no trace of congenital heart disease in their family, the Padgetts started their own research and connected with friends who worked in health care.
"Doctors at UF Health as well as friends of ours told us that this condition could be fixed and our son can have a normal life," Samantha said.
In August, Samantha and Ryan met with Mark Bleiweis, M.D., director and chief of congenital cardiothoracic surgery at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, to discuss a major surgical procedure that would take place a week after birth as well as what to expect leading up to the surgery.
“Dr. Bleiweis is meticulous, detail oriented, and driven,” Samantha said. “He answered all of our questions.”
For the remainder of her pregnancy, Samantha and Ryan traveled monthly to Gainesville to monitor their baby boy’s heart. Physicians also outlined Grayson’s treatment plan and gave the Padgetts an estimated timeline for surgery and recovery. The Padgetts made the decision to move to Gainesville in order to be with Grayson as much as possible after birth. As former graduates of the Fredric G. Levin College of Law at the University of Florida, the Padgetts were familiar with Gainesville and stayed at a family friend’s house.
On Dec. 6, Samantha was induced and, two days later, the Padgetts welcomed their first child, Grayson. After getting a quick kiss from his parents, Grayson was swept away by Curt Fudge, M.D., director of the pediatric interventional cardiology program at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center. Immediately after birth, Fudge’s team of physicians performed an initial surgery known as atrial septostomy, a procedure in which a small hole was created between the upper two chambers of Grayson’s heart to allow more oxygenated blood to enter and then be pumped to the rest of his body.
Initially, doctors hoped to perform a further corrective surgery on Grayson five days after his birth, but surgery had to be postponed due to a fever.
“It was a struggle before the surgery,” Samantha said. “We hadn’t expected him to be in the NICU for so long, but we felt that we got the best care.”
Unfortunately, that meant the couple’s hopes of being home for Christmas with their new baby would not be coming true.
On Dec. 27, 19 days after Grayson’s birth, Bleiweis performed the surgery to repair Grayson’s heart.
“The team functioned like clockwork,” Samantha said. “We felt a lot of confidence that this great team was so qualified and committed to taking care of our child.”
Just after the new year, Samantha and Ryan brought home their baby boy for the first time. Grayson came home with sternal precautions, also known as a set of guidelines for caring for a baby in a way that will not put excessive physical pressure on its sternum, until he was eight weeks old. Fortunately, Grayson improved at lightning speed and, at 12 weeks, he started day care.
At six months old, Grayson underwent a coronary angioplasty to improve his blood flow. Five years later, Grayson continues to grow and learn. He enjoys riding on his two-wheeler, climbing trees and building with Legos. He also has a younger sister, Bradley, whom he adores.
“We joke that Dr. Bleiweis fixed him too good – he runs around like a maniac!” Samantha said.
Each year on Dec. 27, the Padgetts celebrate Happy Heart Day – the anniversary of Grayson’s heart surgery. The Padgetts celebrate this day with a cupcake and a heart-themed toy for Grayson to open.
“That’s the day that Dr. Bleiweis made his heart whole again,” Samantha said.