FORT WORTH – It’s just after 11 a.m. and baby Lola is finally down for her morning nap.
“When she came I was on the moon,” said Bryan Catron, Lola’s dad.
Cooing quietly on her dad’s lap, it’s easy to overlook the large scar running lengthwise on her chest or the needle prick marks dotting her tiny arms. But the reality is that Lola has been in a hospital for most of her three short months.
Born at Cook Children’s Medical Center on Oct. 4 with a congenital heart defect, Lola had her first surgery at 3-days-old. She had her second surgery last week. The angelic newborn will need another surgery before her third birthday.
“It’s brought the family together, but at the same time it’s been rough,” Bryan said as he gently rubbed Lola’s fine strawberry blonde hair. “I want her to grow up and be able to be a normal girl, and do everything a normal girl.”
The Catron’s learned of Lola’s condition when her mom, Laura, was 21-weeks pregnant. After a tough patch of morning sickness - mom and daughter are opposite blood types - they had a brief, perfect pregnancy patch.
“You just have to mourn that loss. Get that healthy baby out of your head and learn to love and accept this new normal for you. And that’s what it is, it’s our new normal,” Laura said as she leaned against Lola’s hospital crib. “We wanted her for so long, and we finally got her, and just because she might be a little broken isn’t gonna stop us. I refuse to have this girl believe that she can’t do anything that she wants, we just might have to tweak it a little.”
Since Christmas, the Catron family has been at Cook Children’s, where the close quarters can get a little cramped. They’ve had to make sacrifices, too, like trading in date night for Sunday football in a hospital room.
“All day Sundays that’s our favorite day,” Bryan said as his smile widened. "She sits normally right here, and we watch the TV and that’s where she stays all day.”
But a funny thing happened along the way. Mom figured out that when Lola cried and dad was away, hearing the Cowboys would make her stop.
“That is what calms her down is football,” Laura said.
And don’t worry, Laura already knows you probably think she’s crazy. But she also knows her daughter. If it’s not game day, Laura will search for YouTube video of a past Cowboys game and play that.
“Come hang out with my kid and you’ll know that its real,” Laura said. “It’s real because she loves the Cowboys.”
This kind of simple happiness gets them through many of hard times. Because the truth is tough – Lola’s condition is serious. Approximately, 25 percent of children born with a CHD will need heart surgery or other interventions to survive, just like Lola.
“Yes, it’s a cute story, my daughter loves the Cowboys, but I want them to know why she’s crying,” Laura said with a serious tone. “I want them to know she’s crying because she has a headache from her second open heart surgery; I want them to know the CHD is very real.”
To help cope, Laura turned to Facebook, where she documents her daughter’s journey as part educational and part catharsis.
“I refuse to let this be in vain,” she said.
The medical bills have been staggering. They have no idea how they’re going to make it. Unbeknownst to them, a friend set up a GoFundMe page.
“It’s a little embarrassing, you know, because you don’t want to ask for help,” Laura said. “The community has been amazing.”
For now, it’s about living in the moment. And yes that absolutely includes the Cowboys, who face off against the Packers this Sunday.
“Oh, it’s the Cowboys, guaranteed,” Bryan said.
“Yes,” Laura said. “And they better win for my daughter and her little heart.”