By Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 02, 2018
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNS) -- When Ashley and Tech. Sgt. Ben Mockovciak, 372nd Training Squadron Detachment 202 F-16 tactical aircraft maintenance instructor, learned their son Noah, barely one month old, had experienced a heart attack, their world was turned upside down.
Sitting in a room at the Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital after the early morning rush in an ambulance, the family was faced with an uncertain future.
The hospital’s doctors made a plan to monitor the infant overnight before he was transferred to Medical University of South Carolina for more tests and, before long, surgery. While Ashley went home to prepare for the trip to MUSC, Ben stayed with their son.
The plan quickly fell apart.
Reliving the previous horror without the support of his spouse, Ben watched his son stop breathing again as he went into cardiac arrest. The father called for the nurse who immediately began CPR, working to revive Noah for nearly 15 minutes.
“It sucked just being completely helpless,” said Ben. “You just don’t know what to do in a situation like that. One minute my son’s in my arms breathing and happy and smiling, the next he’s not breathing and there’s a bunch of people around him doing CPR.”
Noah began to breathe again with a tube in his throat, which was later learned to have damaged his throat and swallowing ability.
Within hours, a new plan formed as a helicopter was prepared to transport him to MUSC days ahead of schedule.
Terrified for his son, Ben struggled with the idea of returning to the academy when the weekend was over.
“I called my boss and let him know what was going on,” said Ben. “He said, ‘Don’t go back to the academy. Just go be with your family.’”
The husband and wife followed their son to a second hospital, only seeing him for an hour before he was put into a medically-induced coma.
“We didn’t realize at the time, but that was the last time we would see him with his eyes open for the entire week and the last time we got to hold him for about a month,” said Ben.
The next day, Noah experienced his third heart attack.
“That’s when they started to explain the odds to us, about survival and brain damage just because the (more) CPR you do, the more likelihood of brain cell loss and all this stuff, so it was really overwhelming to just take all that in,” said Ben.
Noah’s doctors asked the new parents to consider signing a “do not resuscitate” form.
“That’s when you think hope would die,” said Ashley. “I think that was the moment that my heart really broke. From that moment, we were kind of wondering what to do, but honestly we didn’t want to give up on him because we knew our son and we just knew he was going to fight through it.”
The Mockovciaks reached out to family and friends for support as Noah approached his surgery. Friends and fellow Airmen checked on the family throughout the hospital stay, bring along changes of clothes and food.
When surgery day arrived, the parents cried and prayed as they held on to their son’s blanket for hours sitting in the waiting room while their child was operated on.
In the operating room, surgeons stopped Noah’s heart to mend a hole, a detached coronary artery and Truncus Arteriosus, a defect in which one blood vessel exits the heart instead of two.
After his successful surgery, Noah’s health began to improve quickly over the coming month.
Following weeks of therapies, medicine and parent training, baby Noah returned home.
“He came home again and we were even more nervous,” said Ashley. “We had a baby with a (gastrostomy tube) who just had open heart surgery and we were even more delicate than we were with him the first time. (Even after all the training) you’re not really prepared for it. You’re not really prepared as a fist-time mom or a first-time dad to be open-heart surgery and G-tube (baby) parents. It’s a little extra work and that becomes your norm. You don’t know any different. You don’t know what normal is anymore.”
With a fixed heart, Noah attends regular therapies and medical appointments to grow stronger and healthier.
“Ashley’s been doing a great job with all of that,” said Ben. “I had to go back to work so she’s been amazing with the baby and all his therapies. He’s got his cardiology appointments, his gastrointestinal appointments, nutritionist, and his pediatrician, so she’s always on the move. She’s probably the best mom in the world.”
More than a year later, the Mockovciak family continues to make strides with the support of those around them.
“We have such gratitude in our hearts for the support,” said Ashley. “It’s hard if you don’t have support. We did and we were lucky. We had our church family, our (blood) family, our friends, and then we had the military family.”
Surrounded by love, Noah is growing as a happy and healthy toddler.
“If anybody meets Noah, they’ll know how sassy and how much of a fighter he is,” said Ashley with a smile on her face. “I think I admire that about him, because he’s so full of life, so full of fight. There’s no doubt in my mind that’s why he survived. He fought and lived. That’s why God gave us him, to give us a fighter.”