Little guy, big fixed heart: part I

Ashley Mockovciak, Team Shaw spouse, left, and Tech. Sgt. Ben Mockovciak, 372nd Training Squadron Detachment 202 F-16 tactical aircraft maintenance instructor, lean over their son Noah’s bed at a hospital at Charleston, S.C., circa February 2017.

Ashley Mockovciak and Tech. Sgt. Ben Mockovciak, 372nd Training Squadron Detachment 202 F-16 tactical aircraft maintenance instructor, lean over their son Noah’s bed at a hospital at Charleston, S.C., circa February 2017. Noah was admitted to the hospital after he experienced a heart attack in his home, leading to the discovery of congenital heart defects. (Courtesy photo)

Ashley Mockovciak, Team Shaw spouse, kisses her son Noah Mockovciak in a hospital at Charleston, S.C., circa February 2017.

Ashley Mockovciak kisses her son Noah Mockovciak in a hospital at Charleston, S.C., circa February 2017. Physicians discovered Noah had heart defects after he experienced a heart attack. (Courtesy photo)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNS) -- When Ashley and Tech. Sgt. Ben Mockovciak learned they would soon be parents, they were overwhelmed with the exciting idea of welcoming a healthy, beautiful child into their family.

“It was the best feeling in the world,” said Ashley, tears in her eyes as she remembered the moment she held the positive pregnancy test. “It was just incredible joy. We were like, ‘Maybe this time we can finally have a baby.’”

When Noah James was born months later, the new mother wept with happiness in the hospital room as she held him in her arms with her husband by her side.

“It was pretty amazing,” said Ben, 372nd Training Squadron Detachment 202 F-16 tactical aircraft maintenance instructor. “It was just awesome to see him after all the complications we had in the previous pregnancies. Once he was here, we kind of took a deep breath and everything was good to go. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning.”

Following a short stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, the Mockovciaks were able to take their newborn home shortly before Ben departed to attend noncommissioned officer academy.

“I only got to spend a few hours with him at home, but it was just awesome knowing he was at home with Ashley and they weren’t at the hospital and we got everything handled,” said Ben. “It was a big weight lifted off my shoulders when they were here and comfortable and settled in.”

Though they were overwhelmed with excitement to have their child home, they were also overcome with other emotions.

“Bringing him home after the seven days (in the hospital) was nerve-racking, because it’s different working with children than it is when you’re the parent,” said Ashley, referencing her time as a child caregiver. “It’s totally different…you’re like, ‘Where do I start?’”

From sudden illness and accidents to their child refusing to eat, the couple worried about the things many parents fear, compounded by Ben’s absence due to training.

“You get full of worry,” Ashley said. “That’s the first thing: fear of failing as a parent and then worrying. You’re going to worry as a parent forever, because you want to do it right.”

Unfortunately, the Mockovciaks’ fears would soon be realized during an appointment with their son’s pediatrician at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“The first person to notice the difference was our doctor,” said Ashley. “She listened to his heart and said, ‘It’s something more than a murmur,’ so she recommended we go to a cardiologist.”

Two weeks later, Noah’s growth began to slow and it became difficult for him to eat.

At approximately 4 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2017, during one of Ben’s weekend trips home from the academy, the couple worked to comfort their crying son, feeding and rocking him in their arms to no avail.

The parents’ nightmare soon became reality.

“(Ben) tried to walk Noah around, comfort him, and it just wasn’t calming him down, so I asked for (Noah),” said Ashley, voice falling to a near whisper as she recalled the night. “Once my husband put him in my arms, he was coughing and he just stopped completely. There was no movement, he wasn’t responsive, so I kept calling his name.”

Calling to the newborn in her arms, she made a horrible realization: Noah was unresponsive.

“I heard her yell, ‘Oh my God, he’s not breathing,’ so I ran into the bedroom and you could see Noah’s face was blue and he wasn’t breathing,” said Ben. “I had no idea what to do, so I called 911. They said they were sending an ambulance, which would be about 15 minutes, but it felt like 15 hours just waiting for the ambulance to come.”

Years of training guided Ashley. As calm washed over her, she placed her baby on the floor, tilted his delicate head back and started performing CPR.

To the Mockovciaks’ relief, Noah responded, regaining consciousness with a cough before the ambulance arrived.

As the family arrived at the hospital, they realized their difficult journey was just beginning.

When the Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital physicians tended to Noah, they discovered the truth of what happened: he had a heart attack.

Sitting in a hospital room, the family was faced with an uncertain future.

(To be continued.)