Meet Austin Minges. He’s pretty much your typical 4-year-old. The towheaded, energetic little boy with the impish grin is fascinated by dinosaurs and loves to run around with the other preschoolers in his gymnastics class. But Austin’s start in life was anything but typical. Born with serious heart defects, Austin was quickly transferred to Cincinnati Children’s for specialized care.
Amber and Nathan Minges welcomed their first child, Austin, into the world the day before Valentine’s Day, 2006. For several hours after Austin’s birth, the family rested and basked in the joy of their new son’s arrival.
Everything seemed to be fine until a nurse came to take Austin’s pulse in his legs – and couldn’t find a heart beat. She and other hospital staff quickly discovered that Austin’s blood pressure was low in his legs but high in his arms. Alarmed, they immediately called for transport to take the newborn to Cincinnati Children’s.
“They called the ambulance before we even knew what was going on,” remembers Amber. “It happened so fast, and it was a shock.”
Fiercely determined to be with her newborn son, Amber decided that staying behind while Austin was taken to Cincinnati Children’s was not an option. Even though she had just given birth a few hours before and was in a lot of pain, she and Nathan followed Austin’s ambulance to the medical center.
“It was so scary not to be with him,” says Amber.
Austin was taken straight to the Regional Center for Newborn Intensive Care (RCNIC) at Cincinnati Children’s. Their expert team quickly stabilized Austin and diagnosed him with coarctation of the aorta and aortic stenosis.
Coarctation of the aorta is a narrowing of the aorta, the main blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle – the heart’s main pumping chamber – to all of the organs of the body. Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the opening of the aortic valve, which causes a blockage between the left ventricle and the aorta. Because of these abnormalities, the left ventricle of Austin’s heart had to work harder to pump blood to the lower part of his body.
Austin’s care team in the RCNIC carefully monitored his condition and determined he was well enough to go home.
However, heart abnormalities such as Austin’s can change quickly in babies, so he was scheduled for frequent check-ups to monitor his condition.
Just before Austin was due to come back for his six-week check-up, his condition started to deteriorate, and he became lethargic.
“He wasn’t eating – he just wasn’t acting right,” Amber says.
When Austin’s parents brought him in for his check-up, his care team performed an evaluation using echocardiogram (echo) and EKG, and that’s when it became clear that he had become very ill in a very short time.
“Austin’s condition had become more severe,” says Robert Spicer, MD, medical director of cardiac transplantation and director of the fellowship training program at Cincinnati Children’s. “As a result, his left pumping chamber was having to work harder and harder to get blood past the blockages and it had started to get weaker and tired out.”
Austin was immediately admitted to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at Cincinnati Children’s and underwent surgery the very next day to have the blockage removed.
“Austin did great after the operation, but his left heart pumper function didn’t look like it had recuperated – his left heart still looked quite sick,” Dr. Spicer says.
One week after his first surgery, Austin was taken to the cardiac catheterization lab where surgeons inserted a balloon into his aortic valve to open it up. Although the procedure was a success, there was still cause for deep concern.
Austin’s heart still wasn’t working as it should. “If the heart muscle is damaged or dysfunctional to the point where it doesn’t recover its normal squeezing action, that’s a very serious situation, one you can’t take care of other than with a heart transplantation,” Dr. Spicer explains.
While Austin recovered in the RCNIC after that second surgery, his parents never left his side, anxiously watching their fragile little baby for signs that he was getting better.
“We stayed in the hospital so that we could be near him,” Amber says. “Nathan slept in the hospital’s room for families in the RCNIC, and I slept in the rocking chair next to his bed.”
Road to Recovery
With the expert care of the cardiac team, Austin’s heart did get better. After 10 days in the RCNIC, Austin again went home with his family. He was placed on medications to support his heart function and came in for regular checkups with Dr. Spicer. After about a year, his heart had gotten much stronger and well enough that Austin could be taken off all of his medications.
“Austin’s heart has looked normal for a couple of years now,” says Dr. Spicer. “His echoes have been very, very good. His follow-up physical exams and echoes have shown that we’ve done a very good job of fixing his valve and blockage.”
Dr. Spicer will continue keeping watch on Austin’s heart with yearly checkups. “He’s really doing great, and we expect him to continue to do great,” Dr. Spicer says. “He has no limitations – it’s pretty remarkable.”
Amber and Nathan are grateful for the skilled and compassionate care that Austin has received at Cincinnati Children’s.
“We love Dr. Spicer. He takes good care of Austin,” Amber says. Nathan agrees.
“We’ve been lucky to have Dr. Spicer,” Nathan says. “He explains everything in a way you can understand. We think he’s great – you feel like you can trust him.”
Nathan also attributes some of Austin’s recovery to his little boy’s tenacity.
“He’s very stubborn. I think that’s helped carry him through the tough health problems he’s had,” Nathan says with a laugh.
And while Austin’s parents are thankful that Dr. Spicer and the rest of the heart team were here to provide life-saving care to their little boy, Dr. Spicer says he gets back a lot in return, too. He says he appreciates being able to share in all the miraculous moments as Austin, and children like him, get better.
“It was so fun to share in the excitement when Austin’s heart had improved and normalized,” Dr. Spicer says. “We all celebrated together in the examining room the recovery of his left pumper. That’s what I remember the most.” And Dr. Spicer marvels at how Austin has grown.
“That’s one of the best things about what we do here – seeing how great kids are doing when they were once so sick,” Dr. Spicer says. “It’s so amazing to see kids who are in grade school come in and tell me about what they’re doing in class, and I can remember holding them on my lap when they were tiny babies. It’s pretty incredible.”
Share Your Story
If you have had an experience with Cincinnati Children's, we invite you to share your story.
Back to main patient stories page.