Norco toddler beats doctors’ odds of survival

Community unites to help 5-year-old Aubrey

By Kristen Higdon
Contributing writer

Trish Caples-Tierney has always dealt with whatever life has thrown her with resilience.

Channeling her unwavering faith and strength of character, she continues to always march on. Never wanting to take advantage of help from others, the Norco native is known to face challenges head on with practical thinking and determination.

However, news that hit her and her family over five years ago would prove to be the toughest test for Caples-Tierney and her family yet.

At her 23-week pregnancy checkup, she and her husband, Brandon, learned something was wrong with their baby girl’s heart.

“We were at East Jefferson General Hospital to see a perinatologist for a biophysical profile and an amniocentesis,” Caples-Tierney said. “All the doctor could tell us then was that something was not right with her heart.”

She never had issues during the pregnancies of her two older children, so this news left her scared and wondering.The doctor immediately sent Caples-Tierney to a cardiologist at Ochsner Hospital for further tests. They determined the baby had not one but two congenital heart defects. She had transposition of the great vessels and double inlet left ventricle. She also has no right ventricle to her heart, leaving it with only three chambers.

“My initial thought, besides fear, was concern in how we were going to be able to provide monetarily for what I knew she would need,” Caples-Tierney said.

Another side effect of a newborn with these heart defects is that they are at increased risk for Down Syndrome and impaired mental faculties.

Doctors said if she survived the birth, she would need three open-heart surgeries. Even with the procedures, they said it was likely she would go into congestive heart failure. Due to the poor quality of life anticipated for Aubrey, they recommended Trish and Brandon abort the pregnancy.

“They were not sure they could even help her,” Caples-Tierney said. “My immediate thought was no, because even though I trust doctors, my faith is way stronger.”

So the couple started researching and doing all they could that was within their control. Caples-Tierney picked up a second job waiting tables. She was also working on finishing up her prerequisites at Delgado Community College to go to nursing school.

Caples-Tierney and her family prayed and thought a lot about it. They relied on their faith to get them through this tough time, which led her to deliver the baby.

It came as a shock to everyone when Aubrey Tierney was born kicking and screaming. The healthy-sized baby was over 7 pounds and 21 inches long. She also had no sign of Down Syndrome.

Then, at 7 days old, she underwent her first open-heart surgery. It was a relative success, with only a couple complications but they kept Aubrey in the hospital until she was 4 months old.

Once Trish and Brandon took her home, they, along with their other two children, Alivia and Ethan, were able to acclimate to life with another child. The family took all the precautions necessary to keep the baby healthy.

“I remember Aubrey left the hospital on no medicine except baby aspirin,” Caples-Tierney said. “She kept defying all of the doctor’s odds.”

However, it was not smooth sailing for the family who was struggling financially after the surgery and extended hospital stay.

Though Trish and Brandon had the help of family and friends, they do not consider themselves the type of people to put their problems on the shoulders of others. Instead, they were dealing with the cards they were dealt on their own and chose not to tell many people about Aubrey’s condition.

“We had limited visitors in the hospital because a lot of people could not handle seeing Aubrey how she was. The doctor told me that would happen, though,” Caples-Tierney said.

She remembers when the doctor told her that she would have to find a type of strength unlike any strength she has had before because people around her would fall apart – so that is what she did.

Roughly two months later, Caples-Tierney noticed Aubrey was turning blue around the mouth and having trouble communicating.

The concerned parents immediately brought her to the hospital. After some hardships trying to get the most beneficial treatment for her, the doctor’s said it was time to have her second surgery.

This procedure was going to redirect the blood flow within her heart to improve the overall circulation within her body. It was successful and Aubrey recovered pretty well.

“She can’t run around like other children and has to have frequent echocardiograms to monitor her heart health,” Caples-Tierney said. “But other than that, she is completely normal, and the most social out of all of my children.”

According to Caples-Tierney, if a stranger walks into a room, Aubrey will hug them without any hesitation. “She is just a very outwardly loving child.”

She will even articulate her symptoms as best as she can, saying, “My heart hurts,” which means she is having chest pains.

About four years after Aubrey was born, the couple started discussing having another baby.

“After everything, it was definitely a scary thought to think of something going wrong again,” Caples-Tierney said. “The doctor told me that since I had one child with a heart condition, the odds are greater that my next child would have one, as well.”

Nevertheless, facing fear straight in the face, the couple welcomed their son in July 2014.

Owen was perfectly healthy.

At the beginning of this year, the family knew Aubrey, who is now 5 years old, would soon need her third surgery. Since Oschner did not have a pediatric cardiac thoracic surgeon, the doctors recommended she have it done at Tuffs Medical Center in Boston.

This would not be an easy trip for the family financially as they needed to pay for six round-trip tickets and a hotel stay.

“We left Monday, June 8, and I was calling everywhere frantically looking for affordable rooms the Friday before,” Caples-Tierney said.

It was at this point when the family realized that the community of Norco was there for them – all they had to do was ask.

“Before the Boston trip, we just felt like this is our problem and we did not want to bother anyone else,” Caples-Tierney said. “Now, we see this amazing generosity toward Aubrey.”

Once word started circulating, the families’ neighbors started a lemonade stand to raise money for the trip. Just that small effort alone raised $1,500.

Other family and friends started selling “#teamaubrey” shirts.

As more and more people in her life found out about Aubrey’s condition, they could not believe that Caples-Tierney had gone five years without saying anything.

“I did not want people to treat us or her any differently,” she said.

Aubrey underwent her third open-heart surgery on her fifth birthday, June 16. The 12-hour surgery went well, and since then, she has been dealing with normal post-op hurdles.

Thanks to Caples-Tierney’s good friend, people can now donate, as well as follow Aubrey’s progress through photos and updates on her GoFundMe page. So far the page has raised $6,425.

Aubrey was scheduled to be released on June 24. Caples-Tierney’s mom, family and friends are planning a welcome home party for her when the family returns from Boston. “So far, more and more people are coming, and it is just so special to see people come together for her,” Caples-Tierney said.

Perhaps the best thing about the community becoming involved in Aubrey’s journey is the fact that she is old enough to realize it. Post surgery, Caples-Tierney was able to read Aubrey all of the birthday wishes people left for her on her Facebook and GoFundMe pages.

She understands that she has a town rooting for her.“You know, a lot of times when people think of small towns they think of people being in your business, but it is truly times like this when you are thankful to live in a community that cares,” Caples-Tierney said.


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