Alivia arrives, pink and feisty

March 30, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Given that one side of her heart never developed property, doctors expected Alivia May Koontz to be a little blue at birth, and perhaps a little sluggish. And so when she arrived, pink as could be and kicking and squirming, it was just the latest surprise for her parents, Jimmy and Angela (Uzelac) Koontz.

I first interviewed the Hagerstown couple in late January, two years after 26-year-old Angela's first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. During her second pregnancy, a sonogram detected a growth called a cystic hygroma, which often signifies the presence of a chromosomal defect which would likely mean a short life for the baby.

Further tests ruled that out but did turn up "hypoplastic left heart syndrome," which in essence means the left side of the heart is underdeveloped.

To survive, Angela's baby would have to be flown to Nemours Cardiac Center of the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware for corrective surgery.


Angela's due date was April 2, but during an exam in Harrisburg, Pa., on March 18, doctors determined the baby's heart was working harder than it should have been. They decided to induce labor earlier on March 22.

It was a long process. Alivia May was born in Harrisburg on Thursday, March 25. She weighed 5 pounds, 13.8 ounces.

Then came another surprise. According to Jenny Belliotti, a member of the Koontzes' church, doctors in Harrisburg decided that Alivia had only one functioning lung, surprising considering the fact that she was not a "blue baby."

"I don't know where they get the strength," Belliotti said of the latest bit of bad news.

But when the baby was flown to Delaware where she will have surgery, doctors there discovered that there is a lung, although it did not appear to be fully inflated.

Tammy Frey, the baby's great aunt, said last week that the doctors in Harrisburg just didn't have the technology to see the tiny lung.

"Alivia is, as the nurses say, feisty. She is putting up quite a fuss because they haven't fed her yet. They haven't given her anything by mouth," she said.

"She didn't have any of the bluish color they were anticipating. She's breathing on her own and they're going to do some more testing today," Frey said.

Angela's trip to Delaware was delayed by a slight fever and by the fact that she almost fainted a few times, Frey said.

On Monday, Frey said that the baby is doing fine, so well in fact that the surgery doctors expected to do Monday has been delayed because of other, more critical cases.

According to Belliotti, doctors have told the Koontzes that the one lung is not functioning properly because the baby's diaphragm is not properly attached. But they told the Koontzes not to worry, Belliotti said, because that could be repaired during heart surgery.

Angela told me earlier that after the surgery, the baby will likely stay in Delaware for about 10 days, barring any complications. Alivia should be able to have a fairly normal life, she said, although for the first year the infant might be more susceptible to germs.

The couple has been holding up well, Angela said. With ski season winding down, Jimmy has been putting in fewer hours at Ski Liberty, which means he hasn't had to miss work to take her to her weekly doctor's visits in Harrisburg.

Asked how she's bearing up, Angela said that "I just try to keep a smile on my face. But every time we go to the doctor's, we don't know whether it's going to be a good appointment or a bad appointment."

Friends and the members of Shiloh United Methodist Church have been raising money to help with their expenses, because it wasn't clear what their insurance would cover.

If you can help, consider sending a check to Shiloh United Methodist, 19731 Shiloh Church Road, Hagerstown, MD 21742.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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