Never an easy task, Rebecca Beard was helping her 7-year-old son Gavin through an asthma attack. Monitoring his pulse rate and checking his labored breathing was something she was very familiar with — but couldn’t help thinking this time was different. She became aware she was witnessing something very wrong and frightening.
Her son’s heart was racing at a high of 191 beats per minute. He was pouring sweat but freezing cold. Realizing he was rapidly going into shock, Rebecca called 911. The Military ambulance from Luke Air Force Base where the family was stationed arrived first, but was unable to help because they did not have the right technology for children in their ambulance. Thankfully, the Goodyear paramedics were not far behind and soon arrived with the right equipment.
“The Goodyear Captain and crew were amazing," said Rebecca. "They worked so fast."
The Captain got Gavin in the ambulance, started the drip and gave him meds immediately. Just before the ambulance left for Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Gavin asked the paramedics if he could pray for them and asked God to give them the strength and knowledge to help him.
For someone so young, Gavin has an unusually strong faith and is a thoughtful, kind, and loving child. His mom believes his kindness and empathy were formed early — not only because of his illness but because of his strong beliefs.
Arriving at Phoenix Children's Hospital, the family was met by long-time friend, Dr. Mitchell Cohen. He had been Gavin and Garrett’s physician since they were babies.
Besides his parents, Gavin has a younger brother Garrett and the family had recently adopted Cash — a 95-pound German Shepherd who is Gavin’s best friend. Garrett had been diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) at six weeks and Gavin had been seeing Dr. Cohen since he was diagnosed at 18 months with a SVT and a heart murmur.
“We are always so happy to see Dr. Cohen,” said Rebecca. “He has always been able to help ease our fears, give us hope, and explain difficult things in a way we can understand,” she added.
When the boys were first diagnosed, Cohen had explained to the family that SVT is the most common abnormal tachycardia in children. He told them that it’s the fast heart rate that involves both the heart’s upper and lower chambers.
“Although it’s usually not threatening,” explained Cohen. “Treatment may be needed if episodes are prolonged or occur often.”
Gavin’s heart was beating normally after spending a few hours at the hospital and before he left, Dr. Cohen diagnosed Gavin with Wolff- Parkinson-White, a condition that involves episodes of rapid heart rate and an abnormal baseline ECG, caused by an extra electrical pathway (circuits in the heart). “We had never heard of it,” said Rebecca. “It was baffling to us, but the staff at the hospital were so wonderful and helped us adjust very well to this life-altering diagnosis.”
A plan was put in place by the physicians and staff and Gavin was put on a medicine which needed to be monitored regularly. For a few years, the family experienced a break. Gavin was doing well on meds and although he had a few STV events, none were serious and the family was able to take care of him at home. But again, another major change occurred in the family’s life in early September 2011 when the Air Force moved the family to Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas.
Shortly after the move, Rebecca was awakened from a sound sleep when Cash began barking, growling and running through the area between the parents bedroom and Gavin’s.
“The dog seemed to be having a panic attack,” she said. Entering his room, Rebecca was alarmed to see a very pale Gavin, so weak he could hardly speak.
Rebecca quickly took him downstairs to monitor his pulse, only to read a heart rate of 252. Thinking it was a mistake, she took it again and it registered 301. Gavin’s heart was racing out of control. She called 911.
Once the EMT’s arrived, and when the crew started the IV, Gavin again wanted to pray for them and asked God to guide the crew that was working on him, praying to God to help him get better.
“When we opened our eyes there wasn’t a dry eye there,” said Rebecca. “All 15 men and women had tears rolling down their faces.”
Then the crew started the IV and gave Gavin Adenosine to restart the heart rhythm. The drug can stop a fast heart. “ I’ve never been so afraid in my life,” she said. Rebecca recalls, “Gavin was in the middle of talking and his heart completely stopped, he made a horrible sound, and called out for me. It seemed like forever. I couldn’t stop praying, asking God to take care of him. And then, miraculously, his heart began beating again.”
Back in Texas, the family was keeping things under control, but Gavin was unhappy. He missed being involved in sports, baseball and keeping up with his friends. The medicine kept him continually tired, and the episodes of SVT left him completely exhausted. “We knew it was time to do something and we wanted to do it at Phoenix Children's. The staff there is like none other,” said Rebecca. “They are so amazing at their jobs. We called Dr. Cohen and made plans to travel back to Phoenix Children’s in the summer of 2012.”
Soon, friends and family stepped up and held fundraisers to cover the cost of the trip and the family flew back to Phoenix just in time for the surgery, coincidentally on Gavin’s 10th birthday. The next day, after a three and a half hour surgery, Dr. Cohen gave Gavin the best birthday present he ever had — a successful surgery and a 99.9 percent chance that the Wolff- Parkinson-White EKG would never come back.
Gavin was on his way to a normal childhood that would soon include sports, baseball and outings with his friends. "While he was in surgery, the staff at the Phoenix Children’s Heart Center went out and bought him birthday gifts. This place is like family,” said Rebecca.
And that Sunday following the surgery, in the a small Texas church along with the Beard family, were pews full of EMT’s who were again happy to pray along with Gavin.