Wild at Heart

“The ultrasound tech was going over and over the same spot,” said Jennifer. “We were trying to process it, but we were just in shock. It was so nerve-wracking to know something was wrong with his heart but we didn’t know exactly what yet. You go through every possibility in your head and we just hoped and prayed that it was something they could fix—that he would be okay.”

Jennifer Brinegar, her husband Michael Brinegar, a white man with short dark-blonde hair and a beard, and their son Bennett, a young blonde white child, walk hand in hand through a field while on a maternity photo shoot. Michael is wearing a white button-up long sleeve shirt and blue jeans, and Bennett is wearing a blue and green plaid long-sleeve button-up shirt and blue jeans.
Jennifer, her husband Michael, and their older son Bennett welcomed Jeremiah in 2018.

When Jennifer and Michael Brinegar found out they were expecting their second child, Jeremiah, they were over-the-moon thrilled. The Lexington natives brought along big brother Bennett to the baby’s 20-week anatomy scan—but that excitement was slowly replaced with dread as the Brinegars realized something wasn’t right with their baby’s heart.

Dr. Preeti Ramachandran, a young South Asian woman with medium-length black hair, stands in front of a mural with her arms crossed as she smiles for the camera. She is wearing a white lab coat that has her credentials on it overtop of a yellow shirt, and she is wearing a pair of pearl earrings.
“I remember when I gave the diagnosis,” said Dr. Ramachandran. “We went through all the details.”

Dr. Preeti Ramachandran, a pediatric cardiologist at Kentucky Children’s Hospital’s Congenital Heart Clinic, met with the Brinegars to review Jeremiah’s test results. She confirmed his diagnosis: D-Transposition of the Great Arteries (d-TGA). Babies with this congenital heart defect are born with their aorta and pulmonary artery transposed, affecting circulation and the body’s ability to get oxygenated blood. Heart surgery is required for d-TGA babies to help regain the correct circulation in their bodies.

Dr. Ramachandran is in an office having a conversation with Jennifer, whose back is to the camera—she is out of focus.
“Talking with [Dr. Ramachandran] was just very reassuring,” said Jennifer.

Jennifer had one advantage over other parents receiving a similar diagnosis: she’s a nurse. Her medical background and training kicked in, helping her take control of the nerve-wracking situation by researching everything she could about congenital heart defects.

Dr. Ramachandran and Jennifer smile as they stand together in front of Kentucky Children’s Hospital’s Congenital Heart Clinic.
“Jennifer, she's a very inspiring individual,” said Dr. Ramachandran.

“I still remember, when I gave Jeremiah’s diagnosis, Jennifer was incredibly calm, incredibly poised,” said Dr. Ramachandran. “I knew the immense stress and anxiety that comes with this, but she responded to it beautifully. Parents always have a lot of questions and they get emotional during this process, but she was extremely composed as we went through all of the details.”

A close-up of Jeremiah in the NICU after he was born. He is being given oxygen through a tube and has several monitors attached.
“When somebody like Jeremiah is born, we need a lot of preparation,” said Dr. Ramachandran.

Careful preparations were made for Jeremiah’s arrival. With a due date of New Year’s Day, Dr. Ramachandran wanted to make sure the correct care team was in place, no matter when Jennifer went into labor.

 “When we expect a baby like Jeremiah to be born, we prepare the OB team, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and cardiac ICU,” says Dr. Ramachandran. “We gave everyone a head’s up so that the moment Jeremiah was born, we would be able to stabilize him and transfer him to the cardiac ICU.”

Jeremiah sits in a bassinet at the hospital while hooked up to several machines. He is laying on top of several blankets while surrounded by tubes and wires.
When he was born, Jeremiah’s blood was deoxygenated, making him look almost blue.

At Jennifer’s OB appointment right before Christmas, Jeremiah’s heart rate showed concerning dips, so they admitted her for observation and ultimately decided to induce her. Jeremiah was born at 7:03 a.m. on Dec. 22. Jennifer and Michael were able to hold their new son briefly before the care team took him to the PICU.

Jennifer smiles as she holds a newborn Jeremiah, who is swaddled in a blanket.
“I'm so very grateful to have had the team that I had for him,” said Jennifer.

Within hours of his delivery, Jeremiah underwent a balloon atrial septostomy to help his body mix more oxygenated blood. A special catheter with a balloon attached to its tip was introduced into Jeremiah’s body through a blood vessel in his groin. The balloon was then used to enlarge his foramen ovale—the hole between the left and right atria of his heart—allowing blood from both sides to mix together.

A close-up of Jeremiah as an infant. He’s looking up at the camera, while wearing a onesie that has a large red heart sewn onto it.
“He's just doing his growing,” said Jennifer. “He's doing fine.”

Jennifer and Michael were able to visit Jeremiah shortly after his procedure, and once Jennifer was by her son’s bedside, she rarely left. She felt like a trusted partner in her son’s medical care over the 18 days he was in the hospital.

 “There was always someone by his side, nurses or a doctor. Whenever decisions needed to be made, everyone collaborated and included me,” said Jennifer. “It’s a very patient-centered and family-oriented aspect of care. No one was making decisions on their own—it was a team effort and a team decision.”

A close-up of Jeremiah as an infant. He is sleeping with his arms above his head, his chest exposed displaying his surgery scar.
“[After] he made it out of surgery, we were like ‘We can breathe,’” said Jennifer.

Jeremiah underwent surgery to fix the transposition when he was a few days old. Despite a few complications, he is now a thriving toddler, running around and causing chaos—like constantly climbing in and out of his crib.

 “Jeremiah has the biggest personality,” said Jennifer. “He’s just like a Sour Patch Kid, you never know if he’s going to come up to you and try to bite you or kiss you. And he’s wild—I thought our oldest was a wild child, but Jeremiah has proved he’s the wild one.”

Jeremiah, now a toddler, sits and smiles on a log out in the woods. Another child can be seen playing on the same log behind Jeremiah.
“He's literally so agile,” said Jennifer. “He gets into everything.”

“It’s such a beautiful transition because when they’re born, they’re so tiny and helpless,” said Dr. Ramachandran. “Now Jeremiah is just like any two-year-old. Unless you saw the scar on the front of his chest, you wouldn’t know it. He looks great and is turning into quite the mischievous two-year-old. He’s one of our congenital heart disease superheroes.”

Jeremiah poses for the camera while wearing a pair of oversized sunglasses that are upside down on his face.
“He has the biggest personality,” said Jennifer. “He's so sweet.”

In addition to being thankful for Jeremiah’s spunky approach to life, Jennifer also found a new career path from her family’s experience. She underwent specialty training to become a cardiac ICU nurse and moved to Jeremiah’s specific unit to work side-by-side with the care team who helped her baby survive—and thrive.

“My career path change should be a reflection of the care we received while in the hospital. I am blessed to have this opportunity to work with the best care providers and the toughest group of patients around.”

Jennifer poses and smiles alongside five of her fellow nurses, all of whom are white women wearing blue scrubs.
“I hope that I'm making that same impact on families,” said Jennifer.

“This experience brought Jennifer to a new calling in life,” says Dr. Ramachandran. “We’re fortunate to have her as a part of the team because she brings such a unique perspective. She has lived through this and has a child with ACHD. She truly has walked in their shoes.”

As for Jeremiah, his sweet grin says it all. He’s wild at heart—and proud of it.

The Brinegars pose together as a family and smile for the camera. Jennifer and Michael are standing side by side, Bennett is standing in front of Michael, and Jennifer is holding Jeremiah on her hip.
“He will continue to follow up with cardiology, but for now, he’s doing great and is on the right track. I’m beyond thankful for our healthcare team.”

See how we care for kids like Jeremiah through Kentucky Children’s Hospital’s nationally-ranked Joint Pediatric Heart Program.

The Joint Heart Program, a collaboration of Kentucky Children’s Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s, is jointly ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

Arlo Yost, a blonde-haired and blue eyed toddler in a gray t-shirt, smiles as he looks into the camera, while sitting with his father, Tyler Yost, an athletic brunette man in a grey shirt, and a boy whose back is to the camera.Kristen Love, a young African-American girl with long, dark, braided hair, is swinging on a swing set alongside her brothers while they are being pushed by their parents. She is wearing a blue and yellow floral print sundress. The older of her two brothers is a young African-American boy with dark short hair, and is wearing a short-sleeve white button-up and blue jeans.