Story of Healing

Claude Michael Smith

St. Landry Parish

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"Now, Claude Michael is a joyful, talkative six-year-old kindergartener who loves old school video games and is always on the move."

In a small town called Savoy, Louisiana, near Eunice in St. Landry Parish, the Smith family was getting ready to welcome their second child, Claude Michael, join their family. Claude Michael’s parents, Amelia and Blake already had a daughter named Olivia who was eager to welcome her baby brother into the world, and on June 1, 2015, she did just that when Claude Michael was born. 

Claude Michael was born a week earlier than his due date, but despite his early entrance into the world, he weighed ten pounds at birth. Shortly after he was born, the baby’s care team noticed his skin was turning blue in his first moments of life. At first, his doctors thought he had fluid building up in his lungs, but after various tests including an echocardiogram and an electrocardiogram, it was discovered Claude Michael was born with a congenital heart defect where the right side of his heart is larger than the left. 

With this diagnosis, Claude Michael was immediately transported to Children’s Hospital New Orleans where he stayed in the NICU for 16 days before undergoing his first open heart surgery. The operation. Performed by Children’s Hospital cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Timothy Pettitt, included the Norwood procedure and the Glenn procedure, which ostensibly created a two-chamber heart within Claude Michael’s body.

Claude Michael and his family stayed at Children’s Hospital for 72 days, while he recovered from his open-heart surgery. Although he had some challenges eating after his surgery, Amelia and Blake were finally able to bring their baby home, and home health providers checked in regularly to provide extra support. 

When Claude Michael was about five months old, his mom noticed that his legs would turn blue when they held him. After testing ordered by his cardiologist in Lafayette, he was transported to Children’s once again. At this time, Claude Michael underwent his second open heart surgery where Dr. Pettitt performed the Glenn procedure to allow blood to pump to the body and into the heart without mixing oxygen-rich blood with oxygen-poor blood. Claude Michael had a smooth recovery from this surgery, and Dr. Michael Brumund became his new cardiologist who follows Claude Michael for regular checkups.

Claude Michael’s mother, Amelia, recalls that when Claude Michael was about a year old, he would get bug bites and become really swollen. Amelia thought this was a sign of his last heart procedure failing, but it was instead a sign of PLE, or protein-losing enteropathy, which is a condition that causes excessive protein loss into the GI tract, leading to very low levels of protein in the blood. Upon being first diagnosed with this, Claude Michael had to receive steroids three times daily for treatment. 

At three years old, Claude Michael had his third and most recent open-heart surgery, performed by Dr. Pettitt where he attached Claude Michael’s liver directly to his heart to increase blood flow to his legs. 

And while he’s had additional procedures, like a stint insertion and a cardiac catheterization, “This was hopefully the last surgery he’ll need,” shared Amelia. “The last one for a while at least!”

Amelia continued, “Children’s is our home away from home. Everyone we’ve encountered has been very friendly and we consider ourselves spoiled as members of the Children’s Hospital family. We truly love the staff and all of Claude Michael’s doctors who have cared for him.”

Now, Claude Michael is a joyful, talkative six-year-old kindergartener who loves old school video games and is always on the move. 

“They always told us, having a child with a heart condition, you’ll always know when they get tired or may need to see the doctor because they’ll be playing and then just fall asleep right there on the floor or become lethargic very quickly,” said Amelia, with a chuckle. “But Claude Michael is not like that at all, he is always moving and wants to play 24/7, around the clock.”

Click here to learn more about the Heart Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans.