Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength and loving someone deeply gives you courage. -Lao Tzu
It’s no coincidence the English words “heart” and “courage” both come from the Latin root cor. People who display bravery, usually do so when they discover intense feelings about something more important than themselves. Or, as John Wayne put it, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway. Alysha (Wenck) and Dylan Christensen know exactly what he means.
The Christensens have had a bit of a rough ride since October 21. That might not sound unusual when you learn the couple will soon become parents for the first time.
They, like many expectant parents, have already selected a name for their baby..
They plan to call him Hudson, and they already know he will be the most beautiful baby on the planet. Alysha hopes he will grow to be like his dad — “tall, dark, and handsome, with the most beautiful eyes”. They also know Hudson has a rare heart condition.
“Dylan and I were at a routine 20-week ultrasound appointment,” Alysha says, “when the ultrasound tech just kept circling back and saying she couldn’t get all the images of the heart she needed.” Alysha thought the appointment was lasting longer than usual, but she didn’t feel uneasy.
Then, while they waited for the doctor to come in, Dylan mentioned how long that also seemed to be taking. “Finally,” Alysha says,” the doctor walked in and announced, ‘I’m going to be honest. I’m going to be real blunt. We found something wrong with your baby’s heart development. We don’t know what it is, but there’s definitely something wrong.'”
Alysha says she instantly felt sick to her stomach. “When the doctor walked out, I just started sobbing. Dylan tried to reassure me. He kept saying it would be ok”.
The doctor returned and urged them to go to Sioux Falls to have a special ultrasound performed. They went immediately, and the physicians in Sioux Falls diagnosed their baby with transposition of the great arteries or TGA.
Alysha explains, “Usually, when you look at a heart, the arteries cross like you are crossing your fingers. Hudson’s are in a V-shape.”
According to medical professionals, transposition of the great arteries (TGA) is a rare congenital heart defect that occurs when a baby’s heart develops incorrectly in the womb. This condition is marked by the reversal of the heart’s two most important blood vessels, the aorta and the pulmonary artery.
In a healthy heart, the aorta pumps oxygen-rich blood to the body and the pulmonary artery sends blood to the lungs. This is where the blood absorbs oxygen so that the oxygen-rich blood can then be pumped to the body. With transposition of the great arteries, however, not enough oxygen-rich blood circulates from the lungs to the body.
During TGA surgery, the pulmonary artery and aorta are switched back to their normal positions and the coronary arteries and large blood vessels are switched, too. Any holes in the heart are also repaired. It’s an amazing feat when you consider that a newborn’s heart is the size of a walnut in its shell.
After the diagnosis, the Christensens met with a cardiologist to determine their best course of action. There are only three hospitals in the US equipped to perform this surgery and the Christensens chose the Colorado Children’s Hospital in Aurora.
The specialists in Aurora decided Alysha and Dylan would need to be near the hospital a month before the baby is expected. Traveling could likely be detrimental in the late stage of Alysha’s pregnancy. But, driving the 13 hours was deemed to be the best mode of travel for both Alysha and the baby. And so, the couple packed up and left for Colorado last weekend. Today, the Christensens are in Aurora, and their itinerary included meeting with the entire birthing and surgical team.
Near the due date, the doctors plan to induce labor in order to ensure everything will be properly prepared and the surgeon will be available. They believe the surgery must be performed in the first few days after Hudson is born. Although they caution everyone to remain flexible, as, in some cases, the surgery must be performed immediately.
Alysha says, “The doctors advised us we will probably need to stay at the hospital for another month after Hudson is born.” The good news is that after surgery, most children with transposition of the great arteries go on to live normal, healthy lives,
Hudson’s parents met in 2012 during the first week of classes at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown. Alysha, a 2012 graduate of Wilmot High School, is the daughter of Lori Schuler and the late Harold Wenck. Dylan is a 2011 graduate of Elkton High. His parents are Mona and Tom Christensen Alysha studied early childhood and special ed, and, after they married and remodeled their house, she opened an in-home daycare in Elkton. Dylan is employed at Elkton Electric.
What was the spark that started this love story? Dylan says he was initially attracted to Alysha because of her personality and well, everything about her. “She’s a very caring person and wears her heart on her sleeve!”
Alysha says, “I liked the challenge of getting Dylan to open up and talk to me! Everyone knows him as very shy and quiet. His favorite activities include softball, fishing, and waterfowl hunting. He loves our black lab, Dakota, more than me most days,” she says good-naturedly, But she’s quick to add, “Dylan is one of the most genuine guys you’ll ever meet!”
Today marks their ninth Valentine’s Day together. Meeting with medical personnel and staying at the Ronald McDonald House near the hospital was probably not anything they imagined doing nine years ago. Alysha says, “On Valentine’s Day, we usually end up going out for supper at a nice restaurant, and Dylan always gets me a card with flowers and my favorite snacks. I’m a Dove chocolate and salty chips girl. And I love flowers! But my very favorite thing is cards. I save all my cards and read them over and over.”
They say they are equally romantic and Dylan says, “Even spending Valentine’s Day in a hospital doesn’t change that. As long as we’re together, it’s a reason to celebrate.”
And there is no better celebration of love than a baby. Every baby is a gift from God.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence they decided to call him Hudson. The name Hudson is widely thought to be a pet form of the Old Saxon name Hugh which comes from the Germanic word for “hug” and means heart, mind, and spirit. Somehow it manages to sound strong and gentle at the same time. Much like the heart – the strongest muscle in the body and the softest place in the world. It seems like a fitting start.
And while his family eagerly awaits his arrival, hundreds of experts are bandying about words like echocardiogram and septostomy, and presenting a stack of statistics as tall as the Rocky Mountains, Dylan says, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. No question is stupid.” And Alysha says, “This situation is very scary, and the more people you have to help you calm down the better, but most importantly, lean on God.”
Sounds like they are going to make pretty amazing parents!
Would you like to make a donation to help Alysha and Dylan and their baby, Hudson? The funds will go to defray some of the costs the family will incur during their time away from home and work.
Drop off your check or send it to any First Bank and Trust location. Checks can be made out to Alysha Wenck or Dylan Christensen. Please include Christensen Benefit on the memo line.
Questions? Call Chely Wellnitz at the MIlbank branch of FBT. Alysha says, “Every branch has been so great about helping! “We thank everyone for their prayers and support. We will definitely need them in the months ahead. It’s going to be a long haul.”