When Stephanie and Noah Joyner found out they were pregnant with their third child, they were absolutely thrilled. Halfway through the pregnancy however, they discovered that the baby had a two-vessel umbilical cord instead of the standard three. Initially, doctors weren’t overly concerned, but at 32 weeks, doctors recommended weekly ultrasounds as well as other tests, as they had concerns about the baby’s growth.
Five weeks later, when Stephanie and her mother went for an ultrasound and exam, the nurse asked Stephanie, “Are you ready to have this baby?” The baby had lost weight in the womb and the doctor felt it was crucial to induce labor so that Stephanie would not lose the baby.
I was completely unprepared, “Stephanie recalled “My husband wasn’t with me as we thought this was a standard appointment, and my mother and I had plans to meet him later for dinner.” Instead, after many hours of labor, Stephanie gave birth at Rex Hospital in Raleigh to a 5-pound, 5-ounce baby boy named Shepherd. In the coming weeks, the parents would feel certain they picked the perfect name for their baby boy from Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
A specialist told them that Shepherd needed surgery for a coarctation of the aorta, which is a narrowing of the aorta that causes the heart to pump harder. He was quickly transported from Rex Hospital to N.C. Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill. Upon arrival, Shepherd was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and Stephanie and Noah checked into a local hotel. On their second day in Chapel Hill, they checked into the Ronald McDonald House. “I was totally blown away at all of the things the House provided that we hadn’t thought of,” Stephanie said.
On April 1, 2009, Shepherd underwent heart surgery to repair his kinked aorta. The surgery went well, but complications ensued. First, fluid build-up on his lungs and then a yeast infection prolonged his stay in the hospital. Happily, 3-month-old Shepherd is now at home with his parents and big brothers, Aslan, 3, and Haddon, 2, as well as a home health nurse who is with the family 16 hours per day. He still has a tracheotomy to facilitate breathing, but he is finally able to nurse. Little Aslan likes to demonstrate on a doll to show the home health nurses how to wash his baby brother. While the journey to Shepherd’s complete recovery is still long, Stephanie and Noah’s faith are seeing the family through this time. They will likely have more stays at the House in the coming months because Shepherd will need another heart operation, but, as Stephanie put it, they are grateful for the House “whose sole purpose is to serve as a cushion when the bottom falls out.”