On June 21, 1996, we became the proud parents of a 7 lb 10 oz baby boy. When we got home our Ricky Jr. was a good baby. He was a big eater- drinking 3 ounces every two hours. Two weeks passed when suddenly on our way home from my parent’s house, our Ricky Jr. began to cry, and I couldn’t seem to comfort him. I told my husband to turn the car around and return to my parent’s house. Being a first time Mom, I was scared and didn’t know what to do.
When we arrived at my parent’s, Ricky Jr. had fallen asleep. My mom was surprised to see me back, so I explained the sudden outburst of crying. She asked me to spend the night and told me she would help me since Ricky Jr. might have colic. I just had a rare feeling that something wasn’t right.
The next morning, I was up early calling the pediatrician. They could not see him that day and told me to keep my afternoon appointment. I decided to get ready and go early to my OB/GYN follow-up and let my doctor check Ricky Jr. even though he appeared to be okay.
Ricky Jr. slept on the way to the doctor’s office, but as soon as my husband stopped the car in front of the doctor’s office. Ricky Jr. began to cry. I ran ahead and signed in for my appointment. I asked the receptionist if I could get seen as soon as possible because something was wrong with my son. She said she would try to get me in as soon as she could. They were taking long, so I walked to the back of the doctor’s office with Ricky Jr. in my arms. A nurse walked out of a room and I asked her to check Ricky Jr. She told me to hand her my baby and as she reached for him his lips started turning purple and started to turn blue. I was yelling and crying, and the doctors ran out of the patients’ rooms. The receptionist was calling 911 while the doctors stabilized our son. An ambulance arrived within minutes and transported us to the Children’s Hospital emergency room. After three hours of waiting, the ER director told me and my husband that the chest x-rays showed an enlarged heart and a cardiologist was on his way.
The cardiologist examined Ricky Jr. and told us that our son had a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. The doctor explained our son’s critical condition and told us he might not survive the night. We called our family and our church priest came to the hospital to baptize our Ricky Jr. After a month in ICU, he was finally transported to a regular room. I learned how to give him his medications, check his blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. We finally got to take him home as long as we returned to the cardiology clinic on a weekly basis.
We lived with my parents because I never wanted to be alone in case Ricky Jr needed immediate medical attention. For the following three months Ricky Jr. was in and out of the hospital about seven different times. The longest time we had him at home at one time was two weeks. On the final admission we requested our cardiologist send us somewhere my son would have more help.
Ricky Jr. was sent home with a visit scheduled to see a cardiologist in Houston, Texas. The visit was fast and short. The doctors in Houston said they could tell Ricky Jr. needed to be placed on the transplant list just by observing him in my arms. We were given paperwork to read and take home. The hospital would call us, and we would let them know what we decided about transplant. Both me and my husband told them we had nothing to think about, if our son needed a transplant then we were ready. We had already decided we were going to do everything possible to save our baby. Then they told us to wait for their call and be ready to relocate to Houston.
We headed home with some hope. A week later we received a call from our medical insurance company letting us know they were having problems because the hospital in Houston was not in their network. I was very upset and told them we needed help. We could not be waiting while our son was fighting to stay alive. We were then told a hospital in San Antonio, Texas was within their network. They scheduled an appointment for us two weeks later. After a week, Ricky Jr had another episode where he stopped breathing. We were back in the hospital and he had severe heart failure. The Corpus Christi cardiologist contacted the San Antonio cardiologist and Ricky Jr was flown to the hospital.
On the first day we arrived Ricky Jr was placed first on the national transplant list. We were finally listed and waiting for our miracle. On January 15, 1997 we got the call we had been praying for. The surgeon was going to fly to Minnesota and bring back the heart for our son. We were very happy but also very scared. We knew our son needed the transplant and we also knew he could die during the procedure. We called our family, and everyone headed to the hospital. Ricky Jr was taken to the surgical floor about 5 a.m. and we were still awake in a nervous state. We kissed our son as the technicians rolled his bed into the operation room. Each hour we were given updates from the surgical room. Everything was going just as planned. The heart worked perfect for our Ricky Jr. When we saw him for the first time after his transplant, Ricky Jr looked beautiful. He had IV’s everywhere and a breathing tube, but his skin had color to it. He was amazing; he looked like a normal six-month-old baby.
After a week we were sent home. We decided to stay in San Antonio to be close to the doctors who could care for our Ricky Jr. Life was getting to be normal. Of course, we had to get use to our medication routine and doctor visits, but we were glad to be living a stable life away from the hospital. Ricky Jr continued to grow and get strong. He got sick every once in awhile but usually with viruses or normal toddler issues. When he turned five, we got to take him to school to start kinder. He also started playing t-ball. He loved playing with his team and hitting the ball. We loved seeing our baby enjoying life.
At the age of seven, I noticed Ricky Jr. was needing to take naps after school. One of his teachers had also mentioned that he would fall asleep during class. I got worried when I noticed he was having a hard time breathing when we had walked a short distance. At one of our follow up appointments, I told our cardiologist about our concerns. He decided to order a stress test and wait for the results. The results did not show any issues, but the doctor decided to perform a heart cath.
The day of the heart cath we got the bad news that our Ricky Jr. had transplant coronary artery disease. There was not cure and the only thing that could be done was to be re-evaluated and re-listed for another heart transplant. I remember walking into the bathroom at the hospital and getting on my knees to ask for prayers and strength. We did not know what laid ahead, but we knew that we were determined to do whatever we had to do to help our son.
In June 2004 we were sent to Houston, Texas for re-evaluation for a second heart transplant. We went for an appointment at Texas Childrens Hospital. The day of the appointment Ricky Jr was already in a wheelchair because he couldn’t walk very far without his lips getting purple. The doctors told us that Ricky Jr had to be admitted into the hospital and stay inpatient as he waited for his second heart.
Ricky Jr’s eighth birthday came around and we celebrated in the hospital with everyone on the floor. He was on IV medications to help pump his heart and could walk around the floor. He was taking one day at a time and we were enjoying our son to the fullest every day. We were able to have the priest come over and give Ricky classes for his first communion. He was able to complete all his requirements and we were able to celebrate his first communion at the Chapel in the hospital. We had a big celebration after the communion with the whole hospital floor.
On November 8, 2004, Dr. Dreyer asked to speak to me outside Ricky Jr. room. I was so scared and worried because I thought he was going to tell me that Ricky Jr. was coming off the transplant waiting list. Patients get removed from the waiting list when they have fevers and he had not been feeling well a few days before. To my surprise Dr. Dreyer tells me that they got a call for a possible heart for Ricky Jr. I was so excited but didn’t know how to react. Dr. Dreyer explained to me that several tests had to be done before we could tell Ricky Jr because we had to make sure it was the perfect match. I called my husband, so he could join us at the hospital. While we waited to make sure it was the correct heart for Ricky Jr, I packed up his hospital room. Ricky Jr. kept asking me why I was packing up his toys. I couldn’t tell him, so I said I was just trying to make sure we wouldn’t lose his things. A couple of hours later, Dr. Dreyer came back and told us the heart was coming soon and we could tell Ricky Jr. now. Dr. Dreyer had the honor of telling Ricky Jr. his heart was on his way. I’ll never forget the expression on his face. He was so happy he raised his arm with a fist and said “Yes”. The surgery started that evening and went through the night. Our families were with us in the waiting room and every hour we were updated as the surgery progressed. We were blessed with a successful surgery. Our Ricky Jr. did well and was moved to a regular floor fast. We decided to relocate to Houston, Texas after Ricky Jr.’s transplant so we could be closer to the hospital for all his follow-ups. Once again, we created our home and created our own normal life. Our Ricky Jr. started school, my husband transferred from his San Antonio job to Houston, and I went back to college. Ricky Jr. had too many heart cath’s that we lost count. He had good biopsy scores and some scary ones, but he was healthy. After three years in Houston, Texas, we made the hard decision of moving back to San Antonio, Texas.
During one of his follow up visits in 2013, Dr. Dreyer mentioned he was part of Hunt with Heart and thought Ricky Jr. might enjoy going to camp. We were sent all the information and got him ready. He was able to attend the Spring Camp of 2013 with my husband. I remember being worried because I couldn’t reach him or my husband. When they finally called me, they were having such a great time they didn’t want to come home. Ricky Jr. couldn’t stop talking about camp. He enjoyed shooting the guns, hunting, and eating all the good food at Beaver Creek Ranch. I had never seen him so happy. Hunt with Heart has been such an important part of his life. He’s been able to enjoy outdoor living. We would have never known how much he loves hunting. He’s made some friends and enjoys seeing everyone every year at the Clay Shooting event and Christmas party. Thank you everyone at Hunt with Heart for helping Ricky Jr. enjoy Life and step away from all the medical issues he’s had to live with all his life.
We appreciate all you do,
The Rivera Family