Diagnosed with a serious heart condition in the womb, Tate has beaten the odds

Cheri Lewis was pregnant with her fourth child when she and her husband Duane learned their preborn son, Tate, had a life-threatening heart issue deemed “incompatible with life” without corrective surgeries. Lewis was in her second trimester, and they were given three options: treat their child, not treat their child, or end their child’s life through an abortion.

Getting a diagnosis

Lewis’ pregnancy was very healthy with no complications when her OB/GYN in Paris, Texas, noticed Tate’s heart concern. After a follow-up scan four weeks later, they were referred to a specialist when Lewis was six months pregnant. It was then that the Lewis family learned that Seth had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition in which the left side of the heart does not develop correctly. It was also then that the Lewis family met the Rippentrop family, who received the same diagnosis for their preborn son Seth. The two families develop a lasting friendship as they deal with the boys’ diagnoses.

With only a 40% survival rate for Tate, his parents stepped forward knowing they would do everything they could to help him.

Tate in the hospital. Photo courtesy of the Lewis Family. Do not reprint.

“We were told we had options and those options were going home from the hospital with comfortable care and of course, we were told we could choose to abort the baby. But our cardiologist was like, ‘You don’t want to do that.’ She had to show up for an abortion but said we don’t want to do it,” Lewis told Live Action News. “The third option is to have a series of operations. For us, it doesn’t matter if we do something or not but give him a chance in life. We felt that as long as we give Tate the best chance to live, then we’re putting him in God’s hands and what’s meant to be will be.”

Tate’s birth and surgery

Tate was only five days old when he underwent the first of the three-phase heart surgeries he needed.

The first step is known as the Norwood method. Babies with HLHS have a left ventricle and aorta that are too small to pump blood around the body. The Norwood procedure allows the right ventricle – which normally pumps blood only to the lungs – to also pump blood to the body. Tate was in the hospital for nine weeks after the surgery and nearly died at four and a half weeks old. His family never left his side.

“He went septic and his oxygen went down to 40 and they fought all night to save his life. We went all night on his oxygen at 40 and we stood over him and cried and prayed and after some time it was like a switch was flipped and he got better,” Lewis said.

At a few months old, Tate underwent the second stage of surgery, the Glenn procedure. During this operation, the surgeon disconnects the superior vena cava from the heart and connects it to the pulmonary artery so that blood from the upper body flows into the pulmonary artery, which carries blood to the lungs. Tate set a record for her recovery from Glenn’s procedure. In less than 48 hours he was released from the hospital.

At age three and a half, Tate underwent the final stage of surgery, the Fontan procedure, which aims to improve blood flow from the lower body to the lungs, reducing the workload on single ventricle, and improving oxygen levels. After this procedure, Tate suffered a stroke, which paralyzed the vocal cords and led to the use of a pacemaker.

“Tate is a walking miracle,” Lewis said.

growing up

Lewis gives much of the credit for Tate’s “normal” life to his three older siblings. “His siblings were always very protective but also challenged him not to make excuses for his situation and to be the best he could be,” she said. “Having three active, intelligent siblings helped him become who he is. They were a big part of his journey and they are his best friends even today. They taught him not to give up on himself and to do it in all his dreams.

Now, two of them are physicians and one is studying to become a physician’s assistant. They want to give back to the medical community that saved their brother’s life.

Tate following surgery. Photo courtesy of the Lewis Family. Do not reprint.

Tate is now a 21-year-old college student. He told Live Action News that his life has had its challenges but the support of his family and his time at Camp Moss, a camp for children with congenital heart issues, have helped him. Being around older kids with heart conditions who live, drive, and finish served as motivation, he said.

Tate plays on the golf team at the University of Texas at Dallas and has received All American Scholar Athlete honors. Her goal is to work to help other people with heart conditions find careers. His college roommate was his lifelong friend and fellow HLHS fighter Seth Rippentrop.

“One of the things I learned from Dr. Josh at Camp Moss was, ‘Find out you have a heart defect. Live like you don’t. Take care of your body, take your medications, and show up to your appointments, but don’t let it affect your day-to-day life,’” Tate said. “There’s no reason to let it affect your life because it’s out of your control. There is nothing we can do to change it. You may not let it affect you. Keep pushing yourself to do more.”

Tate brings her positive attitude to speaking events and also counsels children with HLHS online who are referred to her by cardiologists. “You realize that you’re not normal, unfortunately, you start to realize at that point that you’ve drawn an unlikely straw and you start to realize that there’s going to be more operations and you’re overthinking. I’m talking [the kids] about how there are other ways to look at it other than ‘I’m unlucky.’ You start looking at it like, ‘Yeah it’s not the best, but I was chosen for it for a reason. I am strong and I can handle it. I was chosen because I was strong. And I have the motivation to live purposefully with this flaw,’” she explains.

Photo courtesy of the Lewis Family. Do not reprint.

Tate hopes that people can read her story and feel hope and be encouraged not to give up because no one, not even a doctor, can tell what will happen in a person’s life or how long a person will live. He wants children with HLHS to continue to strive to make their lives what they want.

Cheri wants parents of children with HLHS or other conditions to remember to always be their child’s advocate.

“You have to do your gut and realize that there are going to be bumps in the road, but usually they’re temporary and that’s all it is: a bump in the road. But Tate always says he’s not going to let anything get him down ,” he said. “We’re praying that God and technology will allow Tate to continue to run the race. The future is really bright. I think Tate — he’s got a girlfriend now — and I think technology is improving each day and more and more they know they’re going to stay on top of it. We’re excited for him and to see what blessings He has in store for him.”

The DOJ jailed a pro-life grandmother this Christmas for protesting the killing of preborn children. Please take 30 seconds to TELL CONGRESS: STOP DOJ FROM TARGETING PRO-LIFE AMERICANS.

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