Our story from January, 2016. Torrington assistant football coach Andrew Therriault fights a different battle off the field with his son, Parker.
TORRINGTON: As he made his way around the Elks Club banquet hall on Sunday night during the Torrington football team’s end of year celebration, young Parker Therriault didn’t have a care in the world.
That’s the beauty of being 26 months old. Your biggest worry is how fast you can make your way from your parents table to that wide open space nearby that doubles as a dance floor. That and playing with any other little kid who was willing. In Parker’s case, that was head coach Gaitan Rodriguez’s son, Gaitan, who was more than receptive about hanging out with his friend.
It’s his parents, Raider assistant football coach Andrew Therriault and his wife Cheryl, who get the job of worrying about the fact that their precious and energetic young man has a condition that scares them almost every moment of every day.
From the outside, Parker looks and acts just like every other child his age but inside, there are things that can’t be seen with the naked eye, just through visits to the doctor.
Two days after he was born on November 7, 2013, Parker was rushed to Connecticut Children’s Hospital and diagnosed with Shones Complex, which is a rare congestive heart defect that effects about one in 10,000 births.
“During a heart defect screening,” Therriault said, “something that had only become mandatory six months before he was born, it was determined that something was not right with our son. Every parent’s worst nightmare had just become a reality. No parent should ever have to see their child the way my wife and I did that night and over the 10 hellacious days that followed.”
Young Parker had some help making sure the issue was spotted from a couple of Guardian Angels, Therriault believes.
“My wife’s parents, Raymond and Carol Grenier had passed away,” Therriault said. “But I am convinced that they had been watching over us the entire time. The test had only been in place for those six months while Cheryl was carrying Parker and it was caught just in time before his heart became fully independent. If that had happened, it would have been too late to catch this and he would have been in big trouble.”
Shone’s Complex affects several areas of the left side of young Parker’s heart, which is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood to his body.
“At five days old,” Therriault said, “Parker had his first heart surgery, a procedure known as a Coarctation of the Aorta. They used his left artery to widen his Aorta and therefore allowing oxygenated blood to travel efficiently to his body. We were able to bring our son home 12 days after he was born. It was the best Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. We had a lot to be thankful for.”
Parker was out of the woods for the moment but there would be additional hurdles to overcome.
“Parker has regular Cardiology visits and routine Echocardiograms,” Therriault said. “We are monitoring his mitral and aortic valves. We tried a non-invasive procedure when he was six months old known as a cardiac catheterization to widen his aortic valve. It was met with mild success. More recently his frequency of doctor’s visits has been increased and the possibility of heart surgery sooner rather than later has become a reality.”
The Raiders assistant coach is not just terrific with the football side of things, he now knows more about his child’s heart then he ever thought he would be.
Parker and his family, now even stronger with the addition of Liam two months ago, had a positive visit just Tuesday.
“It was a ‘no news is good news’ visit,” Therriault said. “He’s kind of treading water right now. We go back in three months to have him seen again. The doctors were very pleased with his energy level and how things look on the outside.”
Therriault has nothing but praise for the folks at CCH in Hartford, a place that helps families in ways they never even knew they needed.
“They are truly amazing,” Therriault said. “What they have done for us is hard to describe in words.”
Think about it. You’re about to have your first child. The excitement, the build-up to the big day and soon after it comes, you get a massive punch to gut when the doctors tell you your son is not well and has a very serious condition.
Congenital heart defects are America’s number one birth defects, affecting about one percent of the births or 40,000 per year.
CHD’s are the leading causes of all infant deaths in the United States. Each year over one million babies are born worldwide with a congenital heart defect. 100,000 will not live to see their first birthday while thousands more will not reach adulthood.
This past fall as the Torrington football team started training camp, there was young Parker on the turf at the Robert H. Frost, running and playing without a worry.
His presence was good for the team and different members of the squad took turns rolling the ball to him or running with him, understanding that they are the fortunate ones, the ones who get to play a sport they love.
Young Parker won’t be able to follow in his father’s footsteps at Torrington on the gridiron, something that humbles the big hearted assistant coach who has a heart big enough to fill the stands at the Robert H. Frost Complex.
More challenges lie ahead for Parker and the family. This is not one of those conditions that goes away after simply a good doctor’s visit.
Keeping the oxygenated blood flowing is the key and additional procedures may be needed to insure that.
For now the family will get up every day and celebrate both Parker and Liam and how much joy they bring them and to those fortunate enough to know them.
---For more information about Parker’s condition and how you can help, reach out to Little Hearts at www.littlehearts.org
Little Hearts is an organization based in Cromwell, CT that helps families from all over the country deal with the effects of having a loved one with CHD.