Love conquers all: Couple shares journey with Down syndrome

Published 8:47 pm Sunday, September 15, 2019

CJ Hartman is originally from Loyd Star, Mississippi. His service in the U.S. Air Force has moved him many places, including Colorado Springs, where this journey began.

Our journey has had twists and turns, ups and downs, and many treasured gifts.

My husband CJ Hartman and I, Mika, had babies at age 22, 32 and 42. A baby every decade. Yes, we agree, very funny. If you are wondering, I hope to be a grandma at 52.

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Our story is one of love and perseverance. Our middle child, Henley, only arrived after the help of in vitro, so pregnancy in my 40s was laughable. But after many jokes between CJ and me, we decided to take a test. It was positive. And we were thrilled. What a blessing.

Our firstborn, Hayden — who was all too easy to conceive — and now our official caboose would arrive in the same month, 20 years later. Because of my age (ancient in pregnancy terms), I had to have genetic testing at 13 weeks pregnant.

This day started off as any other. I had no reason to fear this exam. But quickly I saw faces that had smiles turn to worried looks. Our baby showed signs that made doctors want to run more tests and he showed a major heart defect, too. The thought of miscarrying to get results was terrifying, but we needed to know what we were facing.

After a 48-hour wait for results, we learned a lot in one phone call. First, we were having a boy. His name was already set — Hudson Jag Hartman.

Secondly, we had results that confirmed Down syndrome. Honestly, not one teardrop of sadness was shed, but tears of joy. We had a chance to bring him into the world and make the world a better place. Definitely our family would embrace this gift and face it all together.

Hudson’s heart defect was the challenging one for me. How do you even bring him into the world safely with a failing heart? But after talking to all on his care team, I was relieved. Smiles were back. We could do this. Better together.

At 30 weeks pregnant, our world was turning upside down. My heart was failing and it seemed imminent that they would take Hudson to save me. I felt like a failure. Like he would suffer because I wasn’t strong enough. It was awful and I refused to accept this.

With a tearful plea, I asked the head of the labor and delivery department, Dr. Laura Klein, to give me a chance to fight for Hudson. Let us get to 32 weeks to give him his best chance (two weeks longer reduced many risks). She put me in an ambulance and sent me to Denver.

It was a relief to know that I had this chance, but soon the dark clouds came in again.

During a heart cath (to find out why my heart wasn’t working well), my story went from bad to worse. I went into complete heart block. Medicines, four shocks, nothing. A temporary pacemaker had to be placed to save me.

I knew when I woke up in Cardiac ICU that I had to have given birth at 30 weeks anyways. But I was still pregnant.

I was still pregnant! Prayers answered.

And to make all things even more of a miracle, Hudson grew that week. We spent a few more weeks in the hospital. But then we were given the OK to go home under close monitoring. On the morning of April 12, I packed my bags, picked up donuts for the nurses and walked into my room for delivery. I was 37 weeks along

Hudson was born (in Mika style with a little drama). He weighed 7 pounds and was 20 inches long.

Hudson spent the first six weeks of life in the NICU and even had his own ambulance ride to Children’s Hospital in Aurora. We learned a ton about what Hudson’s needs would be to provide him with the best care. He needed oxygen, constant monitoring, tubes to feed him, lights for bilirubin and more.

We also were told that he had blast cells at day one of life. This is called transient leukemia. Shook us the hardest to learn this one. But at five weeks, they were gone. No treatment needed. It was a miracle.

Now, even with failing the car seat challenge, we could bring him home. Best. Day. Ever. Of course we had concerns, but we knew we could do this.

You see, love conquers all. Not some, not most, but all. And our love was greater than our fears.

Hudson’s light has shown that even with all he’s been through, that a smile even in pain goes a long way. He even smiles in his sleep. True story.

So now we were home, waiting on his heart to fail. And at 3.5 months, Hudson said it was time. So we (like during birth) packed our bags and anxiously drove him to the hospital. Hudson’s surgery provided his heart with four chambers. We did have a couple of setbacks. And, ultimately, Hudson will need a second surgery later to repair a leaky valve. But, overall, it went extremely well. Again, love conquers all.

With Hudson’s heart not being 100 percent, we learned that the Colorado mountains were too much for him. So after an unsuccessful trip to Winter Park, we decided it was time to talk with Hudson’s cardiologist, Dr. Stewart, about what would be best. He agreed that this altitude is hard on anyone with heart or lung problems. So we put in for a transfer to sea level.

God provided. We were able to come to where we always considered home during our 18-year military career (CJ is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force). Keelser AFB had an opening and we took it without hesitation. We had just built our retirement home in Colorado Springs, but amazingly, it sold in 48 hours. And we were doing it, moving back to the South. Whatever it takes.

We arrived to a home we were buying, totally unseen. We were given amazing hope within hours. Hudson was independently sitting for the first time on day one of our move. Then, he was sleeping like a baby for the first time. Today, he sits, crawls, stands and even walks with equipment. We are blessed. And our new care team is amazing. All the pieces are coming together.

Sept. 14 was the National Down Syndrome Society’s 25th annual Buddy Walk. Hudson has been selected as one of this year’s two grand marshals. Our story of love conquering all was shared with the world.

We have made it through rough waters and we are loving this opportunity to share our sons light with the world. He really is making it better and he has no clue. He’s just being his best self. We could all learn from him.

Find joy and happiness in each day we have. Don’t look back, look forward. Seek a better attitude on life and others. Let love conquer all.

Story by Mika Hartman