Heart Transplant Recipient, Baby Dean, Doing Well

By: Rebecca Miller

A few months ago, on September 15, 2020, we published a story about a little 7 month old baby who needed a heart transplant.  Wonderfully, the very date that the article came out in the paper, Dean David Zehr Bair was given a new heart!  The Williams Center family, made up of Dean, his mother Crystal Zehr and his father Norman Bair, were beyond joyful for themselves, but so sad for the family who lost a child, making it possible for Baby Dean to have a new heart.

As Crystal had stated before, “We know that in order for our little boy to have a life, someone else has lost their child. We feel so badly for the donor family, whoever they are, as I have lost a child and understand how they are feeling.”  Zehr also said that they plan to do the best they can to make their loss not only count for him, but for them.

Two months later, we touched base with Dean’s mom to find out how things are going.

“It has been hard, especially since Covid has kept us from having family and friends actually come and physically help us,” Crystal shared, “but we are so thrilled to have our precious baby boy with us. He looks wonderful! So healthy and happy!”

They have been pretty much home bound as they do not want to chance getting sick with the virus, and have spent the time when they are not caring for Dean getting their home in order. “We are feeling good about life,” she said, “except for how tiring it is.”  They have a team that helps them with things like how to set up and use equipment needed for Dean as he still has to receive all his nutrition via a feeding tube.

Dean has a new crib and his room is all set up. He just wants Daddy at bedtime, which is fine with her as she can get to bed after she takes her meds. “Dean is clingy, because there were weeks at a time when he didn’t get to see him much,” Crystal said, adding, “Norman is amazing. I am so blessed to have someone loving our son like he does.  He is 100% on it despite the fact he works 10 hour days.

The heart is doing great!  His scans are showing that the heart  is doing well. His stomach is upset, but his heart is doing better. The meds are harsh on his stomach.  We are doing whatever it takes.  What a world we live in, when they can take a heart from a child who can no longer use it and put it in another child and save their life.  2020 may be awful, but this is the year our Dean was born, had a heart transplant, and is still with us!  It is stressful and hard, but with a routine and strong supportive partner we are going to make it.  This is the best year ever!  I get to keep Dean around. I didn’t know if he would make it and already he is doing amazing just two months out of transplant.

We are blessed to be able to FaceTime with family and it is good because of isolating due to Covid.”  She is nervous about getting it and bringing it home to Dean, when she goes shopping. They are trying to come up with some fun plans for things to do together over the winter.  “The trauma of spending 8 months away from home in a hospital was unreal. Norman’s mom has been a huge support.

She bought an ECHO for us that helps us remember when his feedings are due. She has been allowed to hold Dean once and Norman’s grandma has also.  We are working on setting up two other grandparent visits and then we will settle in for the winter. They have worn masks and they took showers before coming and wore clean clothes so they could come and see him.” So, they have been going with a “Pretty much NO visitors” rule, making days long and busy.

The two months have involved some runs back to the hospital as well as some short stays, with it all feeling like “a whirlwind.”  Now Dean is chubby and healthy, smiles a lot and loves to roll around in his playpen.  He has to be fed by a feeding pump, with a very strict schedule which means sometimes she has to break the unspoken rule “When a baby is sleeping, let them sleep!”

Crystal says the team has been really helpful, but with her struggle with PTSD, she does need a lot of help and she feels they are “putting up with her” pretty well. They have dry erase boards with everything in his schedule on there. She does five feeds and Norman does two of them. She does the morning meds and Dad does the night meds. He is on ten medications, all liquid so he takes one by mouth and the rest go in by the feeding tube.

Baby Dean goes to speech therapy to learn to eat and swallow.  He cries when he sees a bottle as he is afraid of choking.  “Right now there is too much fear of aspiration so he is not eating anything by mouth.  The speech therapist is amazing and Dean loves her. They work on getting his mouth muscles to work, for sucking and swallowing and eating with a spoon.” They have to drive to Michigan as that is the nearest one for a heart transplant baby in the region.

Besides all that is required in the care of their sweet little boy, Crystal has had to deal with her car not working properly and breaking down a few times. Norman’s job at North American Stamping Group in Bryan, where he has worked for the past 15 years, took up a fund raiser and helped with that.  The house has some black mold issues so they are tearing out cabinets and had to repair the floors, all things that cost money, so needless to say, this has been an interesting time for them all.

For anyone whose heart goes out to them, and finds yourself saying, “How can we help?”  There are a few ways…

  • Have a meal delivered to them from a restaurant. (contact Crystal Zehr on FB for address)
  • Some people have been sending money to her Vinmo on FaceBook so that is still open and  is @Crystal-Zehr.
  • They have been adopted for Christmas, as a family, “which is a huge blessing.  This is his first Christmas and we want it to be special, even though he won’t remember it.”  Williams County JFS sent them some paperwork, and Crystal let them know that someone else has already adopted them.  Help Me Grow is still going to do something for them for Christmas.
  • he is in 12 and 18 month clothing at 9 months!  “Big boy!  He packed it on for a while,” but they cut out his one night feeding, so the 18 and 24 months clothes will last for a while she said.

When asked about the donor family, Crystal explained that you have to wait a year before you can contact the organization who then contacts the donor family, giving them a little time to begin healing.

Crystal and Norman are happy that others want to know how they are doing and want everyone who has prayed for them and Baby Dean to know how grateful they are.


 

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