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From 18 days to 18 years: Colorado Springs boy reaches adulthood this month after surviving open-heart surgery after birth

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Noah Devolve

Noah Devolve, second from left, and members of the Courage Classic bicycling team display a check for more than $67,000 raised for Children’s Hospital Colorado. 

Photo courtesy of Melissa Devolve

This is the fourth in a five-part series highlighting local youth survivors of cancer and other diseases, illnesses and injuries. These children have been patients at Children’s Hospital Colorado, which is opening a hospital in northern Colorado Springs next spring to serve families in the Pikes Peak region and southern Colorado.

Some might say Noah Devolve possesses an unquenchable thirst for living and a “can-do spirit” that can conquer any challenge. That spirit was never put more to the test than when the newborn son of local residents Eric and Melissa Devolve survived a severe heart defect that threatened to claim his life.

Noah’s story isn’t uncommon as children each day are born with defective hearts. However, because of her normal pregnancy and Noah’s acceptable Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity and Respiration scores, Melissa had no idea of her son’s condition prior to his birth at Penrose Community Hospital in October 2000.

Melissa suspected something was wrong with her son within an hour after his birth; his skin had turned an ashen pallor instead of a healthy pink hue, and he was whisked to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for testing.

Doctors discovered Noah’s O2 saturation levels had dropped significantly and attempted to feed him oxygen through a cannula (bodily tube insertion), mask and intubation (endotracheal tube insertion through the mouth and airway). “They transported him to Memorial (Hospital) and a few hours later he was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Colorado,” Melissa said.

By the time Noah arrived at Children’s Hospital Colorado (CHC), his health had deteriorated to where doctors gave him a 10-20 percent survival rate, Melissa said. CHC conducted a femoral cath which is a central venous catheter inserted into the thigh’s femoral vein. Doctors found the veins connecting Noah’s heart to his lungs were connected to the wrong heart chamber, thereby causing a “Closed circuit.”

“Oxygenated blood wasn’t being pumped to his body. The cath lab gave him a temporary fix, which involved puncturing a hole in his heart so oxygenated blood would flow to the proper chamber. They repaired this hole and the plumbing problem during his open-heart surgery,” Melissa said.

While waiting for surgery Noah’s lungs collapsed and his saturation levels plummeted to where he faced disability. Worsening matters is Noah, who was on heart-lung bypass for open-heart surgery, faced brain risk.

“His repair involved a lot of scar tissue, sutures where the four veins were removed, sutures where they were reattached, and sutures at the repair site where the hole was,” Melissa said.

In November, 18-day-old Noah underwent a near four-hour open-heart surgery. Surgeons removed the four veins from the improper location, sutured the holes, reattached them at the proper chamber and sutured the “temporary” hole. The Devolves spent six weeks at a nearby motel during their son’s hospital stay, Melissa said.

“I remember seeing families in the beds near us who had other children and wondering how they balanced it all,” Melissa said.

Noah, who turns 18 Oct. 30, has journeyed far. A strapping young man, he is a straight-A high school senior and martial arts enthusiast who recently passed scuba certification and dreams of becoming a pediatric surgeon. Noah meets with his cardiologist every two years and continues to make progress.

Of the CHC staff Noah said: “They are incredibly understanding of what patients are going through. They don’t just treat an illness or problem, they treat the patient which means every part of their care is coordinated and organized to make sure the patients are happy, supported and understanding of what is going on.”

A new Children’s Hospital is scheduled to open next year at UCHealth’s Memorial Hospital North Campus between Briargate Parkway and North Union Boulevard.

Noah encouraged patients and families experiencing similar situations to trust in the CHC staff and ask questions. “Everyone there is dedicated to providing life-saving care to children, and want to help not only the patients, but also their families,” Noah said. “Patients always receive better care if everyone is on the same page.”

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