TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The sound of laughter filling their living room is music to Lynzie and Rhett Reynolds' ears.
"He looks like a normal baby," Lynzie says as she gazes at their five-month-old son, Liam.
What people can't see is the hole in Liam's heart.
"He really is a miracle," Rhett said.
A series of sonograms at 22 weeks revealed Liam had a heart defect. Lynzie had gone to the appointment alone, and called Rhett to meet in a parking lot near his workplace.
"I was devastated," Rhett said of learning the news.
Stormont Vail referred the couple to Children's Mercy, where they were followed closely. Liam arrived September 11th, at 37 weeks. He weighed three pounds, 13 ounces.
Lynzie says she's grateful the early diagnosis gave doctors a good idea of what to expect when Liam arrived, and study available options.
He had a congenital heart defect known as tetralogy of fallot, which includes a hole between the heart's lower chambers, and narrowing of his pulmonary artery.
"The amount of blood flow to their lungs is restricted and if blood flow to the lungs is restricted, they tend to be blue. They tend to have lower oxygen saturations," explained Dr. John Plowden, a pediatric cardiologist with Children's Mercy who is based at Topeka's Cotton O'Neil Heart Center.
Dr. Plowden says the first job for babies like Liam is to grow.
"Obviously, the smaller they are, the more difficult," Dr. Plowden said. "We've come a long, long way in being able to treat those babies, but we can't do the same sort of things in a 1500 gram baby that we can do in a five-year-old child."
Without treatment, children with a condition like Liam's may not survive. However, Dr. Plowden said the past several decades have brought advances that give reason for optimism.
"The progress we've made in treating these babies in my career has been remarkable," he said. "Things we kinda threw in the towel early in my career - now, we do a good job with those babies."
Turn of events
Liam went home at three weeks, gaining strength for a surgery they believed would be several months away. But within a couple weeks, they grew concerned
"He was getting really fussy," Lynzie said.
On a hunch, during a visit to Stormont's breast feeding clinic, she asked the nurses to check Liam's oxygen level. It had dropped. By the time they got to Children's Mercy, it was worse.
"We weren't supposed to be having surgery for four more months and he was super tiny still, so there was just a lot of what ifs," Lynzie said.
At two months old, their little was boy was rushed to the operating room.
"I didn't know if he was going to make it," Lynzie said.
Recovery and moving forward
Seeing Liam after surgery was both a relief - and a concern.
"There was probably five or six different machines in his room that he was in. He had cords all over his head, and he had tubes in his mouth. It was very overwhelming," Rhett said. "I've never prayed so hard for anything. But God answers prayers, and he is an answer to prayer.
Liam came through like a champ. He did need a minimally invasive procedure in January to insert a stent, to hold the artery open more, and he'll likely mark his first birthday with another surgery to complete the repairs. But the Reynolds feel blessed by how far he's come.
"If they weren't doing research, I highly doubt he would be here," Rhett said.
Their dreams for the future are simple.
"Get in the dirt, play in the mud," Rhett says.
"A normal life," Lynzie agreed.