It was after a camping trip in July when Tracy and Chris Pusey first realized something wasn’t right with their three and a half month old son Carter.
The baby boy wasn’t sleeping or eating well and when they would lay him down he would start to cry. When his breathing became rapid they took him into the Sundre Hospital, where the doctor did a chest X-ray.
Carter’s heart was enlarged and by the next day he was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, which is a condition where the ventricles of the heart enlarge but aren’t able to pump enough blood for the body’s needs, causing heart failure.
It was the same condition that took many lives on his father Chris’s side of the family.
The couple had even checked for it during Tracy’s pregnancy, but it had never shown up on tests.
Over the next few months, Carter was taken back and forth between hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton as doctors assessed his condition and attempted to find some way to keep his heart functioning. But finally on Sept. 17 he was put on the heart transplant list.
“It was really hard because when I found out he was listed I remember saying to my dad that I’ve never ever had such a difficult time with a prayer, because in asking that our son receive a heart another family is losing their child,” Tracy said.
“My dad told me ‘It’s in God’s hands and He chooses and just because it’s my prayer I can not take the blame if another family loses a child.’”
So at that point she changed her prayer a bit.
“I just asked that there be a family out there that loves their child as much as we do and that they do the right thing and let a piece of their child carry on by donating their organs,” Tracy said.
It normally takes many months, if at all, before a transplant heart is found.
But in this case, less than a week later on Sept. 23 the Pusey family received a call.
A donor heart from a 22 kg child, likely between age four to five, from Sacramento, California was available for transplant. As a result of Carter’s enlarged heart expanding his chest cavity, there would be room to transplant the donor heart.
Tracy had been told that sometimes a heart may not be able to be used, so she and other family members anxiously waited to see if this would be their miracle.
Carter was prepped for surgery at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 24 in Edmonton and four hours later he had a new healthy heart beating in his little chest.
“They took my little sick man away and brought me back an amazing healthy baby boy,” said Tracy, choking up as she remembers her relief.
A week later he was ready to move out of intensive care and soon was in outpatient care, returning home a month earlier than expected from the hospital on Nov. 25.
“They call him the superstar,” said Tracy, about how the doctors refer to her youngest child.
Carter has to take anti-rejection drugs for his heart and he will go on check-ups every few months over the next year, but to anyone who didn’t know the difference he would look like any other bubbly eight-month old, making mama, dada sounds and crawling backwards through the Pusey home in Sundre.
It has been a special Christmas for the family, which includes mom Tracy, dad Chris and children Jack, 12, Alyssa, 12, Olivia, 2 1/2, and Carter, eight months.
“I could have gotten carrots and coal and I still would have had an awesome Christmas,” his father Chris said. “It’s hard to describe. You’ve got to see (Carter’s) face and see him smile and see him laugh and it blows your world.”
Tracy and Chris are thankful for all of the help and support they’ve received from their families and the Town of Sundre as a whole.
“He is not only our gift,” Tracy said. “He is the whole town’s gift.”
Chris has a lot of hope for his son’s future. He works with someone whose 21-year-old brother received a heart transplant when he was younger and now competes in sports at a high level, giving Chris hope Carter can live a normal life in the future.
Tracy spoke about the importance of people signing their organ donor cards.
“I often say with my son’s heart beats two lives,” Tracy said. She said although another family lost their child their generous gift means a part of their child lives on in her son.