But Kristen wasn't worried-she'd had a fetal echo with her first son, Graham, four years earlier. That appointment had shown nothing but a perfectly healthy baby boy, and she was expecting her second bundle of joy to be the same.
But Kristen's plans-and her family's life-were about to change. The baby had a complex heart defect with multiple problems that would affect the flow of blood between his heart and his lungs.
"I didn't hear anything after that," says Kristen. "I was in shock."
Kristen's birth plan changed. She would now deliver in Little Rock instead of Jonesboro, so the baby could be transferred quickly to ACH. While the team at ACH continued to monitor the baby's development as the pregnancy progressed, there would be no way to know exactly what to expect until he was born. They needed to be prepared for anything.
At Kristen's 36-week check-up in December, her obstetrician informed her she was already having contractions. The baby was on his way.
Sloan was born at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), where he was immediately prepared for ambulance transport to ACH. Since Sloan was stable, the Angel One team gave Kristen a cherished moment to hold her newborn son. But soon, Brock and Sloan were on their way to the pediatric heart care at ACH.
Initially, Sloan's blood supply and breathing looked good. The plan was to keep him at ACH a couple of weeks to make sure he was growing and eating well. Then, if all went well, he could go home to Jonesboro until he was robust enough for heart surgery at six months old.
Once again, things didn’t go according to plan.
On Christmas Eve, family members brought 4-year-old Graham to the hospital, so the family could be together to open Christmas presents. After the visit, Brock went home to prepare for Christmas morning, and Kristen stayed behind with Sloan. She thought he seemed a little fussy. When she changed his diaper and saw bright red blood, she knew something was very wrong.
It was discovered that Sloan's collateral arteries had been sending blood to his lungs, but robbing it from the rest of his organs. Unable to digest his formula, he had a severe septic infection. Kristen asked the cardiologist on call to be honest with her about her baby's chances. She remembers him telling her that her husband should come back to the hospital.
"He told me, 'If you're the praying kind, I would start praying now.'" Brock came to Little Rock to stand by Kristen's side as they watched the ACH team try to save their son's life over the next 24 hours.
The morning after Christmas, Kristen recalls, their doctor came in with news.
“He put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘It looks like somebody got their Christmas miracle.”
Sloan was stable and all signs were pointing to recovery.
But the newborn continued to experience setback after setback. At just 10 days old, he suffered a perforated bowel and needed an ostomy bag. He coded three times by the end of February. Attempts to partially correct his heart defects sent them back to square one, says Kristen.
His team decided they had to risk an open heart operation.
In March, Sloan’s surgical team took the tiny baby into operating room to fix his strawberry-sized heart, while Kristen and Brock held their breath and waited with their family for periodic updates—and, finally, the joyous news that the procedure had been a success.
After six months, Sloan finally left the hospital at the end of May with oxygen, a feeding tube and ostomy bag. As he grew into an active toddler, Sloan went back to Children's for surgery to reconnect his intestines and have a feeding tube placed in his stomach. It was a major milestone.
In 2018, he had another surgery to improve his blood flow. For once, things went according to plan, and Sloan was discharged after four days with no complications.
All of the expert, pediatric heart care Sloan received is possible because of generous donors like you. Thanks to you, Sloan will start kindergarten next year. At 32 pounds, Kristen says he is "tiny in size, but mighty in spirit."
Sloan will need more surgeries as he grows and his family is grateful to have expert, pediatric heart care in Arkansas. Says Kristen, "we have a wonderful place in our home state that helps people. If it weren't for all the people at Arkansas Children's Hospital, Sloan would not be here at all."