Two-year-old Grayson Ballard is, undeniably, a fighter. His journey has been nothing short of a battle. Diagnosed with a rare congenital heart defect, critical aortic stenosis with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), Grayson has endured four heart surgeries— the first, while still in his mother’s womb. And yet, the ferocity of this little boy’s strength continues to grow with every challenge he faces.
At the beginning of her third trimester, Gray’s mother, Hanna Stuart, confronted a difficult reality: Grayson needed surgical intervention, now. Without it, he would not survive more than 15 minutes past birth. Twenty-nine weeks into the pregnancy, doctors at Mott’s Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor performed heart surgery on Grayson. A fetal heart specialist placed a stent into Grayson’s aortic valve, which was narrowed and causing an obstruction of blood flow to his tiny, 2.5-pound body.
“I was prepared, mentally. I knew it was my choice to either terminate the pregnancy or fight a long battle, so I took the time to prepare myself and my family for the worst. God thought I was strong enough for a broken heart, so I took on the challenge,” Stuart recalls.
He was born on October 19, 2015, three hours after his birth, Grayson was taken for open-heart surgery. Doctors placed bands on his pulmonary arteries, helping his heart deliver blood to his body. “I was able to see him for about 20 minutes before the surgery, and directly after the surgery it was tough, but I knew I made the right choice and he was given to me for a reason,” Stuart says.
Grayson persevered. “He was in the ICU for two weeks, and the night before he was scheduled to move over to general care he coded due to a high heart rate. It took them 30 minutes to get him back. I was there watching the whole time, and he came back fighting.”
An Uphill Battle
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HLHS is a birth defect in which the left side of the heart does not form correctly, affecting normal blood flow. To rebuild his heart and facilitate proper blood flow to his lungs, Grayson would need three more open-heart surgeries. The first two stages of surgery were successfully performed at 4 months and 10 months of age. After the second surgery, and just shy of 1 year old, Grayson was at last healthy enough to go out in public. “He finally got to go to the store and see the park for the first time,” Stuart shares. “He started school a little after he turned 1.”
Stuart admits each hospital stay is hard on Grayson. “He is very aware of everything that goes on. He’s deathly afraid of nurses and doctors and won’t let them touch him. He knows everyone who comes in with blue scrubs is going to do something with him.”
Still, Stuart credits Grayson’s nurses with keeping her sane, acknowledging the incredible support system they provide. “I take it a day at a time. I have to be there for him. If he wasn’t as strong as he is I would probably lose it.”
Life of the Party
Despite it all, Grayson is a boy that loves life. “He is hands down the funniest kid I’ve ever met in my life. He’s the life of the party everywhere he goes. You wouldn’t know he was sick unless you saw his scars. He loves to play outside with his bikes and cars. His favorite thing to do with his brother is wrestle; they are silly together,” Stuart says, adding that 4-year-old Liam is Grayson’s No. 1 supporter. “Liam is crazy about him. He tells his friends at school that his brother has a broken heart. He is so proud of Grayson.”
You Got This, Grayson
Grayson will undergo one last phase of surgeries to reduce the work being done by the right side of his heart and allow his lungs to develop properly.
The procedure was postponed after Grayson contracted a cold at the hospital. Doctors decided to put off the surgery until the spring to allow him time to heal.
For Stuart, Grayson’s journey has been an impetus to advocate public awareness of Congenital Heart Disease, the leading cause of infant death. In December, Grayson and his brother Liam will be taking a much-anticipated trip to Disneyland with their mother. From all of us at Toledo Parent, have a magical time! We are all rooting for you, Grayson.