Doctors give baby second chance at life

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (WOOD) — Atlanta doctors told her there was nothing they could do after her son was born premature and with a rare heart defect, but his mother and family weren’t convinced and turned to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids where doctors performed a rare surgery, giving Elijah Norman life.

Loni Benau was given the worst news any parent wants to hear — your son isn’t going to make it.

Hooked up to wires and wrapped in covers as he takes little breaths in his hospital bed, it’s been a tough five weeks for Norman.

“I’m so thankful,” said Benau.

And it’s been just as agonizing for his mother.

“There’s a couple of times where people suggested for him not to be here. And he’s here and he’s doing great. He’s a little fighter,” said Benau.

Norman’s journey to his room at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital started before he was born five weeks early in Atlanta.

“I’m like what do you mean, nobody mentioned nothing about the heart to me now you’re telling me this,” said Norman.

Doctors detected early that Norman had a rare heart defect called Hypoplastic left heart syndrome which affects normal blood flow through the heart, the prognosis was grim.

“They said there’s nothing that we can do for your baby. And they said we don’t think he’ll survive the surgery and they said he was just too small,” said Benau.

“This is specific for extremely small babies who have complex heart problems where open heart surgery is high risk,” said Joseph Vettukattil, Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

But the surgeon who knew how do it was right here in West Michigan.

“In him because the left side was so small we had to make the right side able to pump blood to the body. And get blood to the lung through a small tube,” said Vettukattil.

The surgery was a success, giving Norman a chance at life as mother and son hope for the future in a world-renowned hospital Benau never even heard of until her son’s medical complications.

“I said you got to see this hospital is gorgeous, it’s beautiful. It’s so bright and I said it’s funny that I keep saying that. I said that it’s something about these colors that’s telling me that everything’s just going to be ok,” said Benau.

Norman’s father Marrio is currently in Atlanta but comes back for visit his son often.

At this point, the goal is for Norman to be able to do everything on his own. Doctors are closely monitoring his progress. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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