Living beyond congenital heart disease: A story of care and motherhood

Living beyond congenital heart disease: A story of care and motherhood

Melissa Faucher had her first open heart surgery when she was twenty-eight days old. Her second at just four years old. By thirty-two, she had undergone a total of eight heart surgeries. Melissa’s story is an example of the strength humans possess to overcome complex life-changing challenges. Her story is not one of unhappiness. It’s a story of bravery and how a woman fought for her life to have the chance to create a family.

At only 15, Melissa got a bitter taste of reality. Her first heart doctor at the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, Hrair Garabedian, told her that having kids was a very small possibility. Time would tell if her heart would be strong enough to get her through pregnancy. For years, Melissa didn’t believe that having children would be an option for her, but she never gave up hope.

Living with congenital heart disease

Melissa was born with congenital heart disease (CHD), a birth defect that affects how blood flows through the heart and the body. CHD is a complex condition that generally is discovered during childhood or early adulthood and often impacts patients throughout their adult lives. While manageable, CHD usually requires a lifetime of various treatments and, occasionally,  surgeries or procedures.

“CHD can impact a person’s life in unexpected ways, especially if one does not stay in consistent heart care from childhood into adulthood,” says Dr. Jeremy Nicolarsen, MD, FACC, Director of the Providence Adult and Teen Congenital Heart Program (PATCH) in Spokane, WA. 

“If you have CHD or remember being told that you have a heart surgery or procedure as a child, you should connect with a program like PATCH.”  

With a pacemaker and mechanical heart valve, and with careful monitoring by the PATCH program, Melissa lives a happy life with a deep awareness of the value of now and gratitude for every profound moment—even the scary ones. 

She finds herself lucky to have been born in Spokane, Washington where Sacred Heart Medical Center has become a premier medical center featuring some of the best heart surgeons, cardiologists, caregivers, nurses and programs in the country, such as the PATCH program.

Melissa lived with the thought that she may never have kids. At twenty-two, she completed her third valve intervention and her doctor gave her the green light to try to have children. Melissa had always wanted to be a mom. And she always believed deep down that she was going to do all she could to have kids while living with Adult Congenital Heart Disease.

And her belief became reality.

Congenital heart disease and becoming a mother

Melissa gave birth to a daughter, and then a son, just one year apart. Soon after that, she and her husband, Joey, had twin girls making a family of four healthy and thriving siblings. She and Joey, a caregiver at Sacred Heart’s histology lab, don’t take anything for granted. They relish every precious moment.

In this interview, Melissa shares with us what her heart has gone through, both physically and emotionally.

Q: What’s the one message you would want to share with people in Spokane about your journey and the care you have received?

No matter how scary the situation was, I always felt confident that we are all going to cross the finish line. I knew that we were in uncharted territory after getting pregnant with the twins. My doctor – Dr. Jeremy Nicolarsen – who had taken care of me since my first doctor had retired, told me that he and his Providence team would do everything in their power to ensure I stay healthy and deliver our twins.

I was nervous. Pregnancy in any scenario is a little scary. So this was really heavy for us.

Q: Please tell us about the Providence care team and the expertise that is right here in Spokane.      

We feel so lucky to be here in this town. I’m blessed to be born here, in this little corner of the world, with the best heart care anywhere, as far as I am concerned.

I have always had great experiences with everyone on my care team. I have always received phenomenal care just from start to finish. Down to the caregivers in the cafeteria. Every single person at Providence has been fantastic to me.

Q: What do you want to say to your doctors, nurses and all caregivers who have been part of your journey?

Thank you. Thank you so much for taking such a great care of all of us. If it wasn’t for your intensity to make sure that we are healthy every step of the way, who knows where we would be.

My obstetrician and Dr. Nicolarsen were in constant communication. I felt like I was their number one patient. I remember my doctors always reminded me to call them, even if I needed them in the middle of the night.  

Q: What is your message to other people with congenital heart disease?

Go to the doctor and listen to what he or she says. It’s our responsibility as the patient to stay on track. Be your own advocate. There is no reason to be afraid to go. You’re in the absolute best hands.

Q: Your mom mentioned in a news story that you were her miracle baby. How does that message translate to you as a mom?

It’s incredible. First, my mom is a wonderful nurse and she knew when I wasn’t feeling well even as an infant. She got me the care I needed back then. Now, I have four miracle babies, and they wouldn’t be here without my care team. It’s cool to see a new generation come into this world thanks to their dedication.

If it wasn’t for the Providence team, none of us would be here. We would not walk on this earth if it wasn’t for them.

It’s deep, and it’s heavy, but it’s the truth. In the process you also become so resilient. I take care of me to take care of them.

Q: Thinking about your children, what message will you share with them about life’s important lessons? What do you want them to know about you?

I want them to know that we wanted to have them so badly. Not having kids was never an option for me, in my soul, and I was going to figure out what I needed to do to get my physical health in gear so we could have them.

Beyond the visible

Besides her bubbly outlook on life, her positivity and courage, Melissa shares that she relied on prayers and her family every day. Especially when she was pregnant and battling her fear that her children may also have heart problems.

“These emotions have been terrifying. With every ultrasound it was always so reassuring that everything was ok. Seeing the babies on the little screen and bouncing around with their little hearts pounding away was the biggest joy,” Melissa remembers.

Melissa’s experience is not a story of unhappiness, but a story of bravery and deep unconditional love. These stories teach us to embrace our challenges, celebrate the lessons learned and be thankful that life gives us tears and fears, joys and laughter.

Learn more

What is congenital heart disease and why you should care 

Check out this podcast with Dr. Nicolarsen and Melissa Faucher as they share insights on what kind of care is needed for CHD patients and their journey of overcoming challenges.

  • If you have been diagnosed with CHD or have concerns about your heart health or overall well-being, have your primary care provider refer you to a heart specialist. 
  • Living with CHD? Check out some healthy living tips from the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA). PATCH
  • If you are a woman with CHD and have questions about pregnancy, consider learning more about your condition and how to find appropriate pregnancy care. 
  • For more information or to seek out care from PATCH, call 509-474-6707 or visit their website.
  • Learn more about the data around CHD from the CDC.

Find a doctor

If you have been diagnosed with CHD or have concerns about your heart health or overall well-being, you can find a Providence specialist here.  Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services. 

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