The Vanderzwaag Family: Part 2

For Dave Vanderzwaag, Father’s Day 2013 was spent praying for a miracle for his infant son, Maverick, born with nine undiagnosed heart defects. Every day was a fight for one more day. As an aerospace engineer, Dave was used to fixing highly technical issues; he desperately wished he could fix his baby boy’s heart.

As Maverick’s fight continued, Dave’s work life relocated to Maverick’s bedside. In addition to conference calls, emails, and projects, Dave also stayed on top of every facet of Maverick’s medical journey. This allowed his wife, Rachel, to focus on Maverick.

After arriving at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, there was a never-ending stream of tests as doctors tried to determine the variety and extent of Maverick’s heart defects. Rachel remembers singing to him a lot that week; it seemed to bring comfort to them both.

The first of Maverick’s many surgeries was scheduled for June 14, 2013. It was to be a full repair, and the family was told that if Maverick survived this surgery, he will live a full and happy life with his brothers. The stress was on the “if”. It was hard to believe that something so small could have so many things that needed to be fixed.

Before surgery, Dave and Rachel spent the entire night awake and at Maverick’s bedside. The risk of losing him was very high and very real. They had faith. They believed that God could fix their baby, and clung to the hope that there would be a miracle for Maverick.

The wait as Maverick was in surgery was exhausting. The surgeons came out of the OR near the end of surgery to give a few updates. Maverick had coded while in surgery. The surgeons had finished and closed but had to go back in quickly to put him back on bypass. There was also some damage to his vocal chords during the surgery. It would be a year until they would know if the damage was temporary or permanent.

Finally the OR doors opened and a team transferred Maverick to the Pediatric Cardiology Intensive Care Unit. He had made it.

Maverick was placed on infant life support called ECMO, which worked in place of his heart and lungs. He fought through two more surgeries while on ECMO until surgeons replaced the ECMO unit with another device. Having suffered massive organ failure after being on ECMO for longer than expected, Maverick’s lungs, heart and kidneys had to be controlled by a machine. His situation was so critical that two medical personnel were required at his bedside 24/7.

Dave and Rachel told Maverick many stories of his big brothers. They would tell him that Colten and Brody needed him to get better so that he could come home and run, jump and play with them. In June, Dave and Rachel decided that it was time that Colten and Brody met their brother; they felt the boys needed to connect with Maverick, to see him and to know that the brother they had only heard stories of actually existed.

When Maverick’s big brothers first met him, he had 13 tubes attached to him and all of his major organs were controlled by machines. Brody’s first words to the parents and medical personnel were, “That’s my baby! He’s getting his heart fixed!” There was not a dry eye in the room.

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