Luke Sigmon spent the majority of the first year of his life in and out of different hospitals, facing extraordinary medical hurdles.
He is the son of Wesley and Lyndsi Sigmon. The Denver-area family will celebrate his first birthday on Thursday, thanks to three successful operations, including two open-heart surgeries and, finally, a heart transplant.
Wesley, 26, is an attorney in Denver. Lyndsi, 27, was a pre-school teacher, but plans to be a stay-at-home mom to help with their son's medical needs. Both of them were born and raised in Catawba County.
Because of the family's ongoing medical troubles with Luke, their family and community will host a fish fry benefit on Saturday at Bandys High School, 5040 East Bandys Road, Catawba.
The money will be used to help with medical costs and, eventually, the couple will create a scholarship for students in the area in their son's honor.
Community support has helped keep the family strong and faithful.
The family also used a free CaringBridge Web site to keep loved ones informed via journal entries and photos. In return, people provided support and prayers through guestbook messages.
In an online journal entry, the couple wrote, "The showing of support from our family, our friends, our community, and many, many others made the scariest situation of our lives a little more bearable. It is a true blessing that we are loved and thought of by so many in so many different places, and it is truly an honor and privilege to bring our son home to such a caring world."
Wesley reiterated their appreciation in a recent phone interview saying, "It means everything in the world to us. We talk about it all the time how we wish we could thank every person that's said a prayer or thought about us or sent something to us. The community support has just been awesome. It's a testament to our community that they can show so much love, especially in times like these."
During Luke's first two weeks in the world, his parents said he seemed like a normal, healthy boy.
But, they soon discovered that was not the case.
About a week after Luke's birth, he had a temperature of 95 degrees. His parents took him to Catawba Valley Memorial Hospital's emergency room, where doctors eventually determined he had a ventricular septal defect, sometimes called a hole in the heart.
According to the American Heart Association, it is the most common congenital heart defect in newborns. The cause isn't known but genetic factors may play a role. He also had an interrupted aortic arch.
Luke's first procedure took place on Dec. 16, less than two weeks after his birth. The goal of the 17-hour surgery was to correct multiple congenital heart defects.
"It went as well as possible," Wesley said. "We expected a full recovery and that we'd be able to take him home. All of his defects were corrected."
But, by the end of January, Luke wasn't eating properly so doctors put in a feeding tube.
After that, he was set to go home.
Unfortunately, he had a cardiac episode before they could leave the hospital.
Tests would later reveal that Luke had blockage in his left, main coronary artery and doctors decided he would need another surgery to correct it.
The couple chose to have their son operated on at Children's Hospital Boston, one of the top hospitals in the world for pediatric heart conditions.
His second operation was on Feb. 26. The seven-hour open-heart surgery successfully placed a stent (a tiny tube that holds arteries open) inside Luke's left coronary artery. Doctors told the couple their son was the youngest person to have the operation.
After a month-long recovery period, the family left Boston and headed back to their home in Terrell. That would be the first time the family left the hospital environment since Luke was first admitted on Dec. 12.
In June, the family went back to Boston to check on Luke's progress and see how the stent was functioning.
"We learned that the stent was completely blocked again," Wesley said. "And this was after Luke was doing so well at home - jumping in his jumper, growing, developing. The doctors were really surprised; everybody was."
An option on the table included a heart transplant, but the family decided to allow Luke's heart to try to heal on its own because his body compensated for the blockage by creating new avenues for blood-flow to the left side of his heart, Wesley said.
After advice from the couple's cardiologist, Luke's medicine was changed, which helped him to continue to improve.
But, after another check-up in late August, doctors discovered his sodium levels were low, so they corrected that and Luke had to stay at the hospital to be supervised.
Shortly after discussing going home in early September, Luke's heart began beating irregularly. Doctors eventually discovered he had a blockage in one of the collaterals his heart had created.
After about a week-and-a-half of tests, it was decided that Luke needed a heart transplant, which he successfully had on Halloween.
The family left the hospital's I.C.U. and went to its progressive unit last week. Doctors have told the couple that Luke should have a full recovery and lead a relatively normal life, Wesley said.
They will stay in Boston for about two more months and if Luke does not reject his new heart, and there are no further complications, they plan to return home by February.
"Of course, in our journey, we take each day as a new day and go from there," Wesley said. "There's so much more to life than our little worries."