West Michigan doctor gives Georgia infant second chance at life

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Just three weeks ago, Loni Benau said she received discouraging news from doctors in Atlanta about her newborn Elijah Maliq Norman. The 28-year-old explained to FOX 17 that she had already had a difficult pregnancy.

"They said there's nothing that we can do for your baby," Benau recalled.

Baby Elijah was born five weeks premature at three pounds, fifteen ounces. He has a rare heart condition known as hypoblastic left heart syndrome. One heart chamber doesn't pump blood properly, so his body doesn't get enough oxygen.

"And they said we don't think he'll survive the surgery, and they said he was just too small," Benau said.

Instead of surgery, Benau said doctors advised her to say her goodbyes.

She recalled, "They said, 'We suggest you take your baby home and enjoy a couple of days with him love on him hold him.'"

That's heartbreaking news for any parent, but Benau wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer. She said her family prayed and then called around the country for a second opinion. They eventually decided on Helen Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids and prepared to meet Dr. Joseph Vettukattil and his team.

Vettukattil, the chief of pediatric cardiology, said he's performed this particular surgery just six times.

"We feel proud that we can offer this service to our population. Actually, it was the good will of the people here, the community, and the Devos family which brought us here to support and build this program," Vettukattil said.

Benau said the procedure took an hour and a half. The new mother was informed that it was successful, and it provided a huge relief.

"God just changes things around, and I'm so thankful," she said.

Just three weeks ago, a mother who was told to say goodbye to her infant now learns he has a 70 to 80 percent chance to survive.

Benau cried, "It feels wonderful. It feels great. I'm so thankful."

The doctor said Elijah will remain in the hospital for at least a few more weeks allowing his organs to develop and until he can start feeding and breathing on his own. Vettukattil  said the infant will have two more surgeries; one at 3 months old and another at 4 years old.

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