Charles’ story: My son is not just surviving, but thriving after open-heart surgery

For Kakendra Logwood, her 2-month-old son, Charles Braden, is the apple of her eye. Her newborn loves to eat – he never misses a meal – and most of all, he enjoys listening to music and hearing people sing.

“If there is singing on the TV, it’s an instant attention-getter for him,” said Kakendra. “Charles is the best gift I could have ever asked for. My son has taught me to never give up when circumstances get tough.”

When Kakendra was pregnant with Charles, all signs showed her baby was healthy. Every week, she’d visit her OB-GYN, Dr. Angela Akonye, to ensure everything was progressing well. Her pregnancy was smooth, there were no complications, and everything on Charles’ anatomy scans were right on track.

“My son’s heartbeat was strong,” said Kakendra. “So, as far as I knew, I was having a healthy baby.”

Something wasn’t right

Kakendra was all set for a delivery day of August 18. Three weeks prior, she felt a sudden tinge of pain.

“After running errands, my back was hurting me,” said Kakendra. “I thought maybe if I took a shower and relaxed, I would be fine. Then, my belly started to hurt. When I leaned over the sink, my water broke.”

By the time Kakendra was admitted to CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital – Westover Hills, she was around five centimeters dilated and things quickly progressed from there. While in labor, Kakendra’s blood pressure climbed sharply, and she was prescribed medication to stabilize her high blood pressure.

“About 8:30 the next morning, I was 9.5 centimeters,” said Kakendra. “That’s when Dr. Akunye came in and told me it’s time to push. I did not have the energy or strength to push Charles out, and a C-section was not in my birth plan. I don’t know where I got my strength from, but I was able to push him out.”

Charles was born on August 1, 2022, at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital – Westover Hills. He weighed 6 pounds, and 13 ounces. But soon after he was born, Charles began to breathe rapidly.

“When I fed him his first bottle, he was fine,” said Kakendra. “When we gave him his second bottle, his nurses and I noticed he wasn’t taking it well. He was breathing really fast. The doctors couldn’t get his breathing to slow down. So, my baby went to the NICU so they could monitor his breathing overnight.”

The neonatal intensive care (NICU) team was having trouble stabilizing Charles’ breathing. After eight days at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital – Westover Hills, Charles was transferred to the NICU at CHRISTUS Children's, where Dr. Maria Pierce, medical director of the NICU, would take over his care.

The NICU at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio has board-certified neonatologists and nursing staff specializing in the care of premature infants and newborns who need extra medical care. The hospital’s Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit team cares for a wide range of babies who are born prematurely, have low birth weights, and with multiple medical problems. At every hour, any day of the week, the staff provides the highest level of specialized care for premature and critically ill infants.

Charles’ diagnosis

After several heart evaluations including an echocardiogram, Charles’ rapid and labored breathing was the result of a myriad of interrelated congenital heart conditions. Dr. Victor Bautista-Hernandez, a cardiothoracic surgeon at CHRISTUS Children's, noticed the left-sided structures of Charles’ heart, especially at the level of the aortic valve – the heart valve that connects the left side of the heart to the aorta – were underdeveloped.

Charles was diagnosed with critical aortic stenosis (narrowing of aorta) with coarctation of the aorta, a birth defect in which a part of the aorta, the tube that carries oxygen-rich blood to the body, is narrower than usual. The defect occurs when a baby’s aorta does not form correctly as the baby develops during pregnancy. The narrowing, or coarctation, blocks normal blood flow to the body. This can back up flow into the left ventricle of the heart, making the muscles in this ventricle work harder to get blood out of the heart.

“My heart dropped to the floor when I heard Charles needed surgery,” said Kakendra. “When they took a 3-D image of his heart, the doctors told me he had narrow arteries. The medication they gave him to open up his artery worked, and his heart surgery was pushed back to August 15. At that point, my biggest concern was my baby is a newborn. So, I kept thinking, could he make it through this surgery?”

Kakendra knew surgery was the only viable option for Charles. Dr. Bautista-Hernandez drew a diagram and explained everything he would do to repair Charles’ heart, including the potential risks involved.

“As he explained things to me, I felt more reassured about it,” said Kakendra. “My family and I prayed. Charles’ dad’s family prayed about it. My church family prayed.  We were hopeful for a good outcome.”

A life-saving surgery

On August 15, 2022, 2-week-old Charles underwent the Norwood procedure.

Since the left side of his heart was underdeveloped – and his left ventricle and aorta were too small to pump blood to his body – the objective of the surgery was to create normal blood flow in and out of the heart by letting the right ventricle pump blood to the body (usually it only pumps blood to the lungs).

“In the Norwood procedure, we connected the aortic and pulmonary valves to provide the patient with an unobstructed outflow tract from the heart,” said Dr. Bautista-Hernandez. “In addition, we placed a 5-millimeter RV-PA conduit or Sano shunt as the source of blood flow to the lungs. A Sano shunt moves blood from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery. From the pulmonary artery, the blood flows into the lungs.”

After his eight-hour heart procedure, Charles spent a few days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Then he was transferred back to the NICU to continue his recovery and gain his strength. His breathing improved significantly.

“He did everything his doctors expected him to do,” said Kakendra. “The NICU team was phenomenal in the way they cared for my baby. The nurses explained everything they were about to do to Charles, so I was in the know. His doctors and nurses included me in daily rounds to discuss my son’s case, which I appreciated very much. Dr. Pierce was amazing. She and her team kept me updated on everything and prepped me on what I needed to do once my baby was discharged. They wanted to make sure I was comfortable with everything before I took Charles home. I am grateful to Dr. Bautista and the heart surgery team for performing the operation that saved my baby’s life. I am forever thankful to them.”

After 38 days in the NICU, Charles was discharged on September 8, 2022. Since his surgery, he is doing amazingly well. He sees his pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Monesha Gupta, for follow-up visits at CHRISTUS Children's.

“My son is not just surviving, but thriving after his open-heart surgery,” said Kakendra. “While this was a difficult journey, I believe the support from my mom, my family, and our faith helped me stay strong and hopeful. Prayer kept me grounded. Charles is definitely a miracle baby who overcame the odds.”

To learn more about the Heart Center at CHRISTUS Children's, visit this website: