NEW PORT RICHEY
Angie Loffredo was 35 when she got pregnant with her third child. Five months into the pregnancy, Angie's doctors told her the unsettling news: Her son had only half a heart.
The left side was intact, but the right side of the organ simply hadn't developed.
The day he was born, before doctors ushered him away for tests, Angie held her newborn son and whispered to him.
"I'm glad you made it," she said, tears welling in her eyes.
Choosing his name had been the easy part. The likelihood that Angie and her husband, Mark, would have had other children and the likelihood that this one would make it through delivery were slim.
On the Internet one day, the name popped out at them:
Now came the hard part.
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The Loffredos have two older children: Mikele, 9, and Cole, 4. After Cole was born, Angie went on birth control pills.
It was a precaution against something that already seemed like a long shot. The doctors had told Mark that his health problems would prevent him from fathering more children.
Mark used to be a Pasco County sheriff's deputy. He was injured at the gun range in 2000, when his pistol misfired, lodging metal fragments in his left hand.
The injury eventually led to reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a disorder in which the nervous system send signals to the brain causing chronic pain.
Mark, 33, has since left the Sheriff's Office, and now receives disability checks.
Last spring, his wife began feeling queasy. On a whim, she took a pregnancy test. The results were positive.
"I took one test, and then I took four more," joked Angie, a part-time teacher's assistant at a preschool. "My husband was like, 'What?' "
Because of Angie's age, an ultrasound and an amniocentesis were done Sept. 17 to make sure the baby would be healthy.
A nurse told her something was wrong with her baby's heart.
"The girl said it's supposed to have four chambers, and she thought she only saw three," Angie recalled.
A fetal echocardiogram was conducted a week later to examine Chance's heart. A doctor at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg delivered the news: The baby was missing the right side of his heart.
"I started crying, and my husband was like, 'What are you talking about?' " Angie said. "Everything else was a blur. I thought, I can feel him moving in my stomach, but he'll never survive."
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Each week until delivery, Angie had echocardiograms so doctors could evaluate Chance's heart.
"I was thinking, please let him hang on long enough for me to see him," Angie said.
She delivered Chance on Jan. 14 at Bayfront Medical Center.
He was diagnosed with four conditions, the main one being tricuspid atresia, a birth defect in which the pumping chamber on the right side of the heart — the side that sends oxygen-depleted blood to the lungs — is undersized and unable to function independently.
As a result, some of the oxygen-depleted blood flows into the left side of the heart, where it mixes with the oxygen-rich blood that has returned from the lungs.
This poorly oxygenated mixture then gets pumped throughout the body.
At times Chance's lips and nail beds turn blue because his blood is so low in oxygen. His body has a harder time maintaining the right temperature. And his tiny heart is working overtime to keep the blood flowing.
The likelihood that a baby would have such a severe birth defect is about one in 10,000, said Dr. Michael Epstein, senior vice president for medical affairs at All Children's Hospital.
"Why something happened with this child, we have no idea," he said. "We aren't entirely sure what happened along the way."
Infant heart transplants are difficult, but there are surgical options to reroute the blood flow.
In a few weeks, Chance will have open heart surgery to improve his circulation and increase the oxygen in his blood.
"It's tough when it's your kid," Mark said. "If I could give him my heart, I'd do that any day."
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Aside from his heart problems, Mark said, Chance is a happy 7-month-old boy.
He loves his bouncy seat, gleefully kicking when he sits in it. And he likes playing with a plastic zebra his parents bought him.
His family has organized fundraisers to pay for his future expenses, whatever they may be.
"There are things he will need for his future," Angie said. "We want to make sure he is situated so he doesn't have to worry."
Chance's fragile health means his parents have to worry about infections, too. Once a month, he gets a shot to help boost his weak immune system.
Angie hung buttons shaped like stop signs from Chance's car seat and stroller that say "Don't touch my hands before washing yours."
It's one of the few things she can do to protect her son from an unexplainable condition that could one day claim his life.
"Last time we talked" to doctors about Chance's life expectancy, Angie said, "we hoped for 25."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.