Thanks to a unique collaboration, Niko’s family didn’t wait to see a specialist after an echo revealed congenital heart disease
Mike and Claudia Eatmon brought their newborn Niko home from the hospital not knowing he had a hole in his heart.
The symptoms were subtle at first. Their baby boy’s breathing was rapid and heavy and as he grew, milestones, like rolling over, seemed to come late, and tummy time upset him immensely.
But with every month, Niko was failing to thrive. No matter how much he ate, he couldn’t gain enough weight.
After detecting a heart murmur, the family’s primary care doctor sent Niko to Trinity Health Oakland Hospital for an echocardiogram. Because of a collaboration between Trinity Health Oakland and University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, the echo was immediately reviewed by a Mott congenital heart team that sees patients in the community.
On the same day of the echo, the family had a diagnosis: Niko had congenital heart disease.
“We were devastated,” Mike Eatmon said. “We were first-time parents and had no idea his symptoms could be related to a heart problem. I was also underweight when I was born and we just thought he was a small baby.
"We were shocked and terrified but also grateful that we got answers so fast and could talk to a cardiologist right away. We’re glad we didn’t have to wait weeks to see a specialist to give us that information. That would have been even more stressful.”
Just a couple of hours after the echo, the family was able to meet with Mott pediatric cardiologist Clint Cochran, M.D. Cochran explained that Niko had a condition called ventricular septal defect and that a dime-sized hole in his heart was forcing his heart to work harder and burn so much energy that he was struggling to gain weight.
“They had come in for just an imaging test, but after I read the echo that day, we converted his visit to a cardiology appointment so we could give the family a full consultation and take steps to get Niko treated as soon as possible,” Cochran said.
“It was critical that we caught it when we did. For some kids, the hole can be small enough that it won’t require surgical intervention. In his case, his body was working so hard that he was stuck in this undersized state, falling off the growth curve and unable to catch up.”
They had come in for just an imaging test, but after I read the echo that day, we converted his visit to a cardiology appointment so we could give the family a full consultation and take steps to get Niko treated as soon as possible."
- Clinton Daniel Cochran, M.D.
Having Mott cardiology services located at Trinity Health Oakland improved the efficiency and speed in getting Niko the care he needed. Previously, a family may have had to wait a week or longer for a diagnosis and to see a pediatric cardiologist, delaying treatment.
From zero to 60
Cochran immediately put Niko on a medication plan to help compensate for all the extra fluid his heart was pumping to help his growth. And in August 2022, about a month after his diagnosis, the one year old was at Mott undergoing surgery to repair the defect with pediatric heart surgeon Vikram Sood, M.D.
“Everything went incredibly well and within three days of surgery he was walking in the hallways, smiling, in good spirits and talking to the nurses. He healed up so fast,” Mike Eatmon recalled.
“We were all just amazed by how quickly he bounced back. The first thing we noticed was his breathing was instantly calmer. He started putting weight on, his leg muscles got stronger and it didn’t take long for him to catch up to everybody in growth," said Mike Eatmon.
Cochran was also pleased by Niko’s progress at his follow up visits.
“He went from zero to 60,” Cochran said. “When we first saw him, he wasn’t even on the growth chart, far below the lowest percentile and nearly eight pounds below where he should’ve been. Just a month after surgery he’d made such leaps and bounds, gaining several pounds.”
Cochran adds that he expects Niko to live a completely normal life without any limitations in participating in sports or other activities.
“Confident that we were at the right place”
The Eatmons, who live in Clarkston, were also thankful for the convenience of seeing Cochran in Pontiac for follow up appointments instead of traveling to Ann Arbor. This was especially helpful because Claudia was pregnant with their daughter, Ira, now four months old.
“I was feeling so sick and we were working around naptimes and schedules. It made a huge difference that so many of our appointments were closer,” Claudia Eatmon said.
Mike Eatmon says the consistently high level of care from the moment of the diagnosis through surgery and recovery also reassured the family Niko was in the best hands.
“Hours after meeting Dr. Cochran, he was already reaching out to make sure we were OK, asking us if we needed anything and if we knew where all our appointments were. He was so supportive, and it was clear how much he cared,” he said.
“We continued to see how much everyone cared through this process. This team and how they treated us during such a stressful time renewed my faith in humanity and gave us hope. We were confident that we were at the right place," Mike Eatmon explained.
Now two, Niko is described as “super funny,” lighting up when he makes people laugh and repeating anything that does. The red-haired, brown-eyed toddler is “sweet with his little sister,” and enjoys running errands with his parents, doing puzzles and just playing, his mom says.
“Here we thought he was just a tad behind on some things and a little skinny but the whole time his heart wasn’t working the right way and nobody knew it,” Claudia Eatmon says. “He’s such a little fighter."
"You can just tell he has more energy and certain things are easier," she added. "He jumps all over the couches now without getting out of breath like none of it ever happened. I’m so grateful.”
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