One of the hardest things to deal with as a parent is seeing your child struggle with health issues. On Oct. 31, 2018, Josh and Brenda Miller found out their 9-year-old son Liam was born with a congenital heart defect.
"It was not something we ever suspected, so it was very much a surprise to all of us," Brenda said. "When we found out he needed open-heart surgery the cardiologist was very good at explaining why it needed to be done so we planned it for the spring/summer to minimize Liam missing school.
Liam was scheduled to have open-heart surgery last May at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. But the day before his surgery it was discovered the hospital had a mold problem so it was recommended Liam have to the procedure done at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma.
"That turned out to be a much better fit for him," Brenda said. "It was a smaller environment than Children's (Seattle) and he really connected with the child-life specialist and surgeons there —we had just a phenomenal experience."
As one could imagine, having open-heart surgery at such a young age was a confusing and frightful experience for Liam.
“He understood what was going to happen,” Brenda said. “But I don’t think he understood how much it was going to hurt afterward —he told us it hurt more than he expected.”
His recovery period at Mary Bridge, Brenda said, was surprisingly short.
“I was amazed we were home four days after open-heart surgery,” she said. “Liam had surgery on a Tuesday and we were released to come home on Friday night.”
Once home, Liam’s initial routine was very limited.
“You can’t do any physical activity at all for the first six weeks. He couldn’t lift a jug of milk — couldn’t open doors. He couldn’t even use his arms to push up to get up because he had to protect his chest,” Brenda said. “About the only thing he could do was play video games and build Legos. He was able to go for walks, and that’s what we did every day.”
Brenda said it wasn't until mid-July they got word that Liam had healed enough and was given the okay to return to normal activities.
"It was pretty hard for Liam to be idle for those six weeks," she said. "He plays soccer for a Northshore Select Team and it was really hard for him to miss the start of the season—to be out there with everybody.”
To help Liam celebrate getting past the restrictions Brenda said his good friend Ender, and family helped them put on a lemonade stand on July 21 to raise money for congenital heart defect awareness.
Brenda said the money was also used to by some toys for Mary Bridge as a thank you for taking good care of Liam and to give to kids who have to undergo surgical procedures.
"At the hospital, they had a wall with all the different toys. The people at the hospital gave out toys when I was stressed like during my pre-op appointment or to encourage me in painful times like when they took out my pacemaker lines and drain tubes," Liam said. "Last summer my friend and my brother and me had a lemonade stand and we got to bring toys to the hospital I had my surgery at. The wall was nearly empty the day we brought them."
They also donated toys to Conquering Congenital Heart Disease.
Brenda said the money the boys raised at the lemonade stand didn't buy a "whole lot of toys." So, to commemorate his one-year anniversary of having open-heart surgery, Liam asked if he could have another toy drive for Mary Bridge.
“The toys I got at Mary Bridge were what kept me motivated and encouraged me to keep improving,” Liam said. “I wanted to give toys back so other kids get toys when they are there too.”
Brenda said letters were mailed to Liam’s classmates, teammates, and to friends and family asking to support Liam’s dream but because of the COVID crisis, weren’t sure how or if people would respond.
“We were blown away with the outpouring of support he received,” Brenda said. “We had packages arriving every week. Our living room was full of toys. It was mind-blowing… really cool.”
Liam, too, was taken aback by the generosity of all who rose to the occasion.
“It made me happy,” he said. “I did not expect to see so many toys.”
The Millers were eager to take the toys to Mary Bridge but were told they’d have to wait until King County had moved into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home Stay Safe ordinance.
On Friday, June 19, King County was approved to enter into Phase 2 of the recovery plan. On Monday, June 22, the Millers were Tacoma-bound.