In the early morning hours of May 3, Taylor and Scott Ray welcomed baby Liam into the world at a hospital on Andersen Air Force Base in Guam where they were stationed. After Scott noticed Liam looked a little blue and was breathing heavy, doctors took Liam to get a chest X-ray. Expecting a perfectly healthy baby, Taylor and Scott waited; hoping it was nothing serious and they would be able to take him home very soon, as planned. Unfortunately, their plans were about to change.
Taylor will never forget listening in shock as their doctor said, “Your son needs to be transferred to another hospital to have open heart surgery. You have two hours to get ready and decide who can fly with him.”
“It was devastating,” Taylor said. “You hear stories about this happening but you never think it will be you. I thought we’d be going home as a family, and then suddenly I was alone as Scott and Liam were flying across the globe.”
Liam was diagnosed with a serious heart defect called transposition of the great arteries, where his aorta and pulmonary artery were reversed, which prevented his body from getting enough oxygen. Babies born with this condition need surgery as soon as possible to correct the placement of the arteries.
Liam flies back in time to mend his broken heart
Just 24 hours after being born, Liam flew more than 5,600 miles across the ocean on a private military aircraft to Seattle while fighting for his life.
“Our doctors sent him to Seattle Children’s because they said it was the closest hospital that could do the surgery, and it was also one of the best in the country,” said Taylor.
Seattle Children’s performs more than 500 cardiac procedures each year and has some of the best surgical outcomes in the nation. Since Seattle Children’s serves a four-state region, the largest landmass of any children’s hospital in the country, the hospital can receive patients from great distances – like Guam.
This vast reach was evident when the doctors in Guam were coordinating with the Seattle Children’s Heart Center team to prepare for his arrival. The doctors at Seattle Children’s learned he was born May 3, but it was May 2 in Seattle due to the 17-hour time difference. Therefore, Liam had to fly back in time to get a second chance at life.
The 30-hour transfer required complex coordination between doctors at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guam, Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, which was on Liam’s route in case he needed to be stabilized along the journey, and Seattle Children’s. It also instituted common, modern technology where doctors were FaceTiming to plan for his arrival, some while on a plane themselves.
“They say it takes a village to care for a child, but this situation took three highly coordinated villages,” said Dr. Jonathan Chen, who performed Liam’s surgery and is the chief of pediatric cardiovascular surgery, as well as co-director of Seattle Children’s Heart Center. “We all held our breath until he got here because the situation was very high risk.”
Waiting for the call
Once at Seattle Children’s, his parents braced for his surgery, not knowing what to expect since this was all new to them. Still recovering from the delivery, Taylor was in Guam while Scott was with Liam in Seattle.
“It was so hard being apart; we were both a complete mess,” Taylor said. “Here I was stuck on the other side of the world while my baby was in heart surgery. I was terrified and stayed up all night pacing, just waiting for my husband’s call.”
Six hours after Liam went into surgery, Taylor finally got the call she’d been waiting for.
Through tears, Scott said, “Our boy made it. He is going to be ok.”
“We both just lost it,” she said. “It was such a relief to go from having tears of terror to tears of joy.”
Reunited, a new adventure begins
Five days after Liam was born, Taylor was finally able to join her family in Seattle, and truly hold Liam for the first time as she was only able to hold him for a minute in Guam before he was transferred.
“The moment I got to the hospital, I sprinted into the room and grabbed my son,” said Taylor. “I was so emotional as he looked up at me with his big blue eyes like, ‘Where have you been mom?’”
Now out of the hospital and off to his next adventure – starting a new life in Illinois where Taylor and Scott are stationed – Taylor said you’d never know Liam had heart surgery if it wasn’t for the scar on his chest. She said she loves how he smiles all the time and is a very happy baby.
“We’re so thankful we were able to get him to Seattle Children’s,” said Taylor. “We’re incredibly grateful for the doctors and nurses who supported us every step of the way and saved our son’s life. They will forever hold a special place in our hearts because they healed our son’s broken one.”
Chen is also thrilled with how well Liam is doing and said he has a bright future ahead.
“It’s amazing he is doing so well,” Chen said. “It’s the ultimate reward as a doctor to see him come so far, really, in every sense of the word.”
In looking back on the roller-coaster journey, Taylor knows one thing is for sure.
“He is sure going to have a story to tell when he gets older,” she said.