Most parents would think by kid no. four, there wouldn’t be a lot of unexpected curveballs, but that wasn’t the case for the Graham family.
“We had a really crazy beginning,” Allyson Graham said, referring to her pregnancy with her fourth child, Rocky. “It was just a nightmare. Every visit there was something.”
During the very first ultrasound, Allyson was told she’s not pregnant. Two weeks later, they told her she was pregnant with twins. Another couple of weeks later, the doctors finally decided she was having just one baby, who at the time they believed to be healthy.
It was only when Allyson was around four months pregnant that they told her and her husband Mason that something didn’t look quite right with Rocky’s heart.
“She was able to see it in the ultrasound… it’s kind of pixelated and almost like cartoon mode,” Mason said, adding, “but there (was) blood mixing in his heart and red and blue blood places it shouldn’t be … because he had holes in the different walls of his heart.”
The Grahams were then sent to a cardiologist team, who sat them down and explained the severity of it. “That’s when it kind of kicked in how real it was,” Mason added.
They were told then that Rocky has a congenital heart disease and would need to have a three-part surgery to essentially redesign his heart’s anatomy to bypass the defects.
It’s been a long, hard road, but now, 3 years old Rocky’s preparing for the third and final of that open-heart surgery series in April and is in search of blood donors.
Though the doctors swore Allyson’s water wouldn’t break, it did just that the day before her labor was set to be induced.
“My head about blew off — I wasn’t ready,” Mason added, chuckling. “We went in horrified and expecting the worst.”
And though he was blue when he was born, Rocky did a lot better than his parents had expected after he was born, and was even smiling.
“Everything they didn’t expect him to do, he did,” Mason said, including ripping out his feeding tube and switching to a bottle right away. “Just the force of life of these kids wanting to like live and thrive, you can’t speak to it.”
The Grahams basically lived at the hospital for the first month, and two weeks into Rocky’s short life, he had his first open-heart surgery.
They were able to take him home after a few weeks, until the Grahams had to call 911 one day when Rocky wasn’t breathing.
“Actually, that’s what prompted the second surgery so quickly,” Allyson said.
So, at three months, Rocky had his first major bypass surgery.
“It was real tough — it’s just so much trauma on the body, so it was a long recovery,” Mason said. “The most important thing for us was living one day at a time… (but) it was like six months until me and I’ll Allyson could kind of take a breath.”
While they were learning a lot from other heart parents, the worst part was not knowing whether he was just crying or was in pain.
“It makes you crazy,” Allyson said. “When he said you can come back in four months we didn’t even know what to do with ourselves.”
It took about a year for Rocky to make a full recovery, but since then, he’s had virtually no restrictions, allowing the Grahams to almost forget.
“Life went back to normal,” Mason said.
Still, the family made adjustments, spending less time outside and becoming homebodies.
“In my opinion, this is our safe zone,” Allyson said, referring to their Canyon Country home. “We’re huge germ freaks.”
Though they’re a blended family, every child has made sacrifices for Rocky.
“We all had to adjust,” Mason said, adding that Emily Gonzalez, 20, and Derek Gonzalez, 16, certainly had to hold down the house while Rocky was in the hospital and help with their little sister Aubrey, 6.
“(Rocky) definitely has won over his siblings though — that’s for sure … because they know what he has to go through,” Allyson added.
Derek even says Rocky is part of his drive playing varsity football. “He wants to do good for Rocky,” Mason said. “He talks about it with his football team. They’re really taking it to heart.”
And while Rocky may seem like a healthy, happy 3-year-old, his heart still has to work harder the way it’s currently routed.
“It’s kind of like he’s jogging all day,” Mason said. “Right now, he only gets like 75% oxygen saturation with every breath, so the goal is after his next surgery, he should be in the 90s, which I think is gonna feel amazing to him.”
The surgery won’t be easy though, as Rocky’s body will need to adapt and accept the changes being made, and this time will be different, as Rocky’s old enough to understand.
“We’ve kind of been dreading it,” Mason said. “And now we’re not leaving his side because he’s a big boy — he talks (and) he tells you what hurts.”
Nearly 1-in-100 children born each year in the United States, or about 40,000 babies annually, will have a heart defect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since Rocky’s diagnosis, the Grahams have strived to continue raising awareness for the disease.
“February is huge for us,” Allyson said, referring to American Heart Month. “We’re just trying to spread the love through the world so people know that this is (a problem).”
Each year, Mason has decided to do 28 push-ups a day for the month to raise awareness.
“I thought, ‘Let’s do something to get our butts up off the couch and show some energy for these little guys,’ and that’s all it was,” he said.
Since then, Rocky has become famous, and has a following across the country. Yet, they never imagined in a million years strangers would be so supportive, Allyson added.
How to help
“Since Children’s Hospital is in such a shortage of blood, we arranged a mobile blood drive,” Allyson said.
While all blood types are welcome, any that matches Rocky’s blood type will be used for him.
“We are really appreciative that people want to donate blood to save him, and they’ll be forever in our lives because there’s a part of them in my child,” Allyson added.
The next opportunity for those wanting to donate is scheduled for March 2 at Grace Baptist Church, located at 22833 Copper Hill Drive.