‘Focus on thriving, rather than surviving’: New program encourages pediatric patients to grow through life

SPOKANE, Wa. — Each month, we highlight the world-class care Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital offers to our community (for those near and far) through our Miracle Monday series. As we get closer to climbing out of the pandemic, we’re taking a look at a new program that is just not getting a chance to grow.

Jackson Shell has hypoplastic left heart syndrome and since birth, this 4-year-old has had four open-heart surgeries to normalize the circulation in his heart. Now that he’s made it this far, and he’s healthy, his doctor says it’s time to focus on thriving, rather than surviving.

“He likes to run around and be wild and silly. He keeps up with his brothers and sister. He just loves to play and there was a time when we never could have imagined it,” said Jackson’s mom Audrey Shell.

At first, Audrey had no idea there was so much hope for her little boy.

“It started when he was in my belly and we found out the left side of his heart didn’t form,” she said.

“We’ve evolved from having them survive their newborn surgeries and palliations, now to have them thrive and become a good productive child,” Dr. Carl Garabedian, a Pediatric Cardiologist explained.

Dr. Garabedian has been taking care of Jackson since birth. Now, he’s looking out for his future.

“The more that they normalize their lives and the more they act normal, the better they’ll do,” Garabedian said.

For this exact reason, the “THRIVE” program was created for kids just like Jackson.

“The THRIVE program is to shift that focus from really not let’s focus on survive, we’ve done all that, let’s thrive!” said Jackson’s doctor.

The THRIVE program started a year ago, and it’s been tough getting it off the ground through the pandemic. Now, they’re ready to hit the ground running. Dr. Garabedian says these surviving kids need a chance to truly be kids.

“Don’t let them walk too much, they’re going to get tired. Let them get tired! Let them move harder!” Dr. Garabedian said.

He understands the fear parents feel for their kids, who were so vulnerable at one time.

Audrey said her little guy has never had so much energy as he did after his fourth heart surgery.

“It really is just a miracle he’s here today and living his best 4-year-old life,” she said.

She’s ready to let him thrive.

“I would just like other people to know, who are facing the same thing, that there is so much hope.”

The THRIVE program was developed specifically to support children with forms of single ventricle heart disease. Once the child survives the two to three operations needed by age 3, the THRIVE program steps in to support patients through growth, development, nutrition and exercise.

If you’d like to support programs just like this one, consider donating to the Children’s Miracle Network. You can donate right here.

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