A baby’s heart|Surgery a success for Alderman’s granddaughter

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 14, 2010

On a day when hearts of paper, bags of candy and boxes of chocolate are being exchanged by the box full, Sid Beauman and his family are giving thanks for one tiny heart that continues to beat in an intensive care unit 1,200 miles away.

Beauman’s 8-month-old granddaughter, Avery Bell, underwent her second open-heart surgery on Wednesday at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City — the same hospital former President Bill Clinton was checked into Thursday for placement of heart stents.

Beauman and his wife, Laura, were on the trip with their daughter, Megan Bell, and her husband, Jake, all week leading up to the surgery. The Beaumans were scheduled to return to Vicksburg today, but the Bells will remain in New York for anywhere from three to four weeks while their daughter recovers.

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“She’s doing great right now. The surgery was a big success,” Beauman said. “You wouldn’t know she’s sick to look at her.”

Avery is the Bell’s only child. She was born with Turner Syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality that manifests itself in a wide variety of physical ailments in about one in every 2,500 girls. For Avery, the condition resulted in a damaged left ventricle and heart valves while she was still in the womb.

When Avery was a week old, she weighed just 4 pounds and her heart was the size of a walnut, Avery underwent her first open-heart surgery in Jackson. That surgery went as planned, Beauman said, and the doctors had hoped she would not have to have a standard follow-up surgery until she was about 1 year old.

“And then two weeks ago we got a call saying they have to perform the surgery now,” said Beauman, who has been Vicksburg’s South Ward Alderman since 2001 and was the city’s parks and recreation director for eight years before being elected.

The surgery Avery underwent Thursday is called a Ross Procedure, and it involved replacing Avery’s damaged aortic valve with a pulmonary valve from her lungs. The pulmonary valve was then replaced with a cadaver valve.

“It got pretty intense in the waiting room,” Beauman said. “We were originally told it would take about three hours. It ended up taking six hours, and during that time they weren’t giving us any updates. They said afterward that we were very fortunate because her condition was probably worse than we even knew.”

Avery remained in an intensive care unit as of Friday, Beauman said, and was still sedated to keep her from hampering the healing by moving or pulling at her stitches.

“They don’t know how long the recovery will take, but everything is thumbs up and looking good right now,” he said. “They normally have to leave the incision in the chest open for two to three days to allow the swelling of the heart to go down, but they were about to stitch her up the morning after the surgery.”

Avery has not undergone her last surgery, however. Beauman said she will likely have to have the valve in her lungs replaced once her lungs outgrow it, but the pulmonary valve in her left ventricle is expected to grow along with the heart.

The Bells live in Pearl, where Jake is a baseball coach at Mississippi College and Megan is a special education teacher. While health insurance will cover some of the medical costs, they have been absorbing the travel, lodging and transportation costs. Beauman said they may be able to stay in a Ronald McDonald House in the coming weeks, but have thus far stayed at the hospital and hotels.

Bowmar Baptist Church is collecting donations to help defray the Bells’ costs, and donations can be mailed or delivered to the church at 1825 U.S. 61 South, Vicksburg, MS, 39180, with a note specifying the donation is for Avery. Beauman said his daughter’s fellow teachers in Pearl have also been donating their vacation time to Megan to allow her to keep from having to go on unpaid leave.

“Everyone has been so kind and generous, and I can’t tell you how much all of us appreciate it,” Beauman said. 

The Beaumans have three children and three grandchildren — but it may be four by the time they get back to Vicksburg.

“My youngest son, Mitchell, and his wife, Jennifer, are fixing to have their first baby, and they might actually have it before we get back,” he said. “So, we’ve had a pretty exciting week.”

Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com