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updated: 8/10/2014 6:38 AM

Couple's video follows as joy turns to dread -- and back

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  • After a lifesaving open-heart surgery, Alexander Marshall remains the star of his parents' video chronicling the pregnancy. Four days later, the video shows the healthy active baby at home in his crib.

      After a lifesaving open-heart surgery, Alexander Marshall remains the star of his parents' video chronicling the pregnancy. Four days later, the video shows the healthy active baby at home in his crib.
    Courtesy of Marshall family

  • Thanks to an aggressive treatment plan and innovative surgery to correct an otherwise fatal heart defect, Alexander Marshall arrives home healthy and happy in this final scene from his parents' viral video.

      Thanks to an aggressive treatment plan and innovative surgery to correct an otherwise fatal heart defect, Alexander Marshall arrives home healthy and happy in this final scene from his parents' viral video.
    Courtesy of Marshall family

  • Smiling and joyful throughout a pregnancy with a life-threatening twist, Erin and Rob Marshall are able to pose for this first family photograph with their healthy son, Alexander, thanks to an innovative heart surgery.

      Smiling and joyful throughout a pregnancy with a life-threatening twist, Erin and Rob Marshall are able to pose for this first family photograph with their healthy son, Alexander, thanks to an innovative heart surgery.
    Courtesy of Marshall family

  • Smiling, blond mom-to-be Erin Marshall, lower left, enjoys a post-Thanksgiving moment with relatives who would help support her through a heart-wrenching pregnancy. The time-lapse video edited by husband, Rob, captures all the highs and lows.

      Smiling, blond mom-to-be Erin Marshall, lower left, enjoys a post-Thanksgiving moment with relatives who would help support her through a heart-wrenching pregnancy. The time-lapse video edited by husband, Rob, captures all the highs and lows.
    Courtesy of Marshall family

  • Birthday boy and father-to-be Rob Marshall finds out on Jan. 17 that his wife, Erin, is pregnant with a boy. Alexander would be born more than four months later with a heart defect that required an innovative lifesaving surgery.

      Birthday boy and father-to-be Rob Marshall finds out on Jan. 17 that his wife, Erin, is pregnant with a boy. Alexander would be born more than four months later with a heart defect that required an innovative lifesaving surgery.
    Courtesy of Marshall family

  • Known for his innovative and aggressive approaches, heart surgeon Dr. David L.S. Morales needed a seven-hour surgery to save the life of newborn Alexander Marshall. The pregnancy, with all its drama, is documented in a video put together by Rob Marshall, the boy's father, an Arlington Heights native.

      Known for his innovative and aggressive approaches, heart surgeon Dr. David L.S. Morales needed a seven-hour surgery to save the life of newborn Alexander Marshall. The pregnancy, with all its drama, is documented in a video put together by Rob Marshall, the boy's father, an Arlington Heights native.
    Courtesy of Cincinnati Children's

  • Video: Pregnancy video with twist

 
 

Everything was so new and fun that it simply had to be shared.

Making their first iMovie, newlyweds Robert and Erin Marshall used a time-lapse video to celebrate their new life together, their new home in Cincinnati, their new careers, and, most importantly, their new joy about the baby on the way.

Starting with a lingering close-up of the positive pregnancy test kit dated "9/26," the couple's "Waiting for Alexander" video zips through a series of daily one-second clips that include shots at local public haunts Rob remembers from growing up in Arlington Heights, time spent at ballparks, museums and restaurants, on vacations as well as private moments together and with loved ones. The only constants are Penguin Café Orchestra's upbeat "Perpetuum Mobile" musical accompaniment and the beaming smile of the happy-go-lucky Erin.

"But life doesn't always turn out exactly as we've planned," warns the video, which can be found online at vimeo.com/101263112.

Twenty-eight weeks into Erin's pregnancy, an ultrasound revealed a life-threatening defect known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The left side of Alexander's heart was severely stunted, and only two of the heart's four chambers were working. Babies with this condition die a day or two after birth without medication and open-heart surgery. Even with treatment, one baby in 10 dies and some survivors suffer from lifelong, life-changing complications.

"It was just completely devastating," Erin remembers.

"They didn't give us a lot of room for optimism," Rob says, recalling one particularly painful conversation about the best ways to "accommodate" their baby's death. "It was heartbreaking."

That scenario didn't mesh with the perky video showing meals at Egg Harbor, young cousins bouncing on a bed and all the other upbeat images that had captivated family and friends.

"We debated about whether to stop," admits Rob, 36. But he and Erin, 33, knew they had to continue.

"Quitting is just not the right way to respond to a problem," Rob says.

"We were put to the test, and we tried to rise to the occasion," says Erin, whose smile continued to light up the video.

"That's there for our son to look at that and see this didn't get the best of us," Rob says.

Instead, their best is on that video.

"It really shows their courage and their faith to go ahead with it after they got the diagnosis," says Connie Marshall, Rob's mom, who still lives in the family home in Arlington Heights and was in the group of loved ones who got a phone call on the day of the diagnosis.

Alexander was born May 28, weighing a surprisingly robust 8 pounds and 1 ounce.

"They were able to show him to me over the curtain before they took him away," his mom says. "I didn't get to hold him until he was three days old."

Having diagnosed the defect before birth, the medical staff went into action immediately, putting Alexander on a special drug to keep him alive until the operation.

"There were so many people in the room they almost forgot about me," says Rob, whose introduction to his son wasn't ideal. "The first picture I have of him, he's getting his hand pushed back to get an IV."

His surgery was performed on June 5 at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, by Dr. David L.S. Morales, chief of cardiovascular surgery and a prominent innovator in pediatric heart surgeries.

Many babies in Alexander's condition require a series of three high-risk operations, but Morales says he opted for a more "aggressive" approach. During a seven-hour surgery in which Alexander's heart was stopped and machines kept the infant alive, Morales reconstructed the baby's aortic arch, fixed the blood-flow issues and revived the left ventricle.

"We were lucky enough as a team to make him two-ventricle," Morales says, noting that Cincinnati Children's has earned a reputation for tackling these rare heart defects.

In contrast to the frivolity leading up to the moment, the video scene marked "6/5" shows an unconscious Alexander lying on his back with his mouth agape, an incision zippering down his chest, and his little body tethered to too many tubes, hoses and wires to count.

"Every time a wire comes off that baby, we'll be grateful," Connie Marshall promised herself.

The scene dated "6/11" shows an active Alexander wearing a blue onesie and checking out the world around him from a much more comfortable spot in his crib as his dad says, "Welcome home, Alexander. We've been waiting so long for you. We love you very much."

A grateful Erin and Rob say the surgery team has given their son a shot at an active life that can include everything, except maybe a career as a football player.

"Oh, I don't know about that," says Morales, who suggests it's possible that the boy might not have to cut back on any activities.

"We're not 100 percent out of the woods," the surgeon says, noting that Alexander will return for checkups to make sure his heart is growing and pumping normally. "But we are looking good."

Erin's mom, Joan Fischer, sister, Caitlin Brutout, and 10-month-old niece, Quinn, and Rob's mom, brother, Todd, of St. Charles, and his twins, Jack and Sophie, 3, and 1-year-old son, Ben, join a host of friends in the support team included in the video.

"We were really part of it. We felt it all," says Linda Selway, a classmate of Connie Marshall during high school in Evanston, and a family friend who helped host wedding and baby showers for Rob and Erin. "I've known Rob since before he was born. They're just lovely. I really felt this has to have a good ending."

Everyone rallied around the couple.

"It was a hard thing to hear," says Connie Marshall, who immediately knew how she'd respond. "He's our baby no matter what. We'll just embrace him and hope for the best -- and we got the best."

Aware that many other families with sick babies don't get to celebrate, Rob and Erin visited and stayed in touch with parents whose outcomes weren't as good.

"We feel very strongly about helping people down the line," Erin says. "We know patients before us helped Alexander have a better outcome."

For those who do want to join in their joy, the video makes that possible.

"When we saw it, my husband (Mike) and I cried," Selway says. "It was so heartwarming and so heart-wracking at the same time."

Years from now, Alexander will appreciate the love that went into the video.

"Now, they've got this wonderful gift to Alexander," Connie Marshall says, imagining her grandson growing up to be a man in his father's image. "I'm sure there won't be a dry eye at his wedding."

Video: Alexander's prognosis looks good so far, surgeon says

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