MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A baby boy’s death-defying journey since birth is captivating thousands of people.
Henry Dolan of Annandale, now 8 months old, was born premature. His parents said doctors gave him a 2 percent chance to survive since he was born with two heart defects, in addition to entering the world too soon. But throughout his short life, Henry continues to defy the odds.
Miracles come in all shape and sizes. And the little one sitting up in bed at the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital keeps getting larger and stronger every day.
“I’m such a big boy,” said Mollie Dolan, Henry’s mother, as she caressed his chubby cheeks. She’s been at his bedside almost nonstop since he was born.
“When [Mollie] comes walking into the room that’s the deal breaker, he’ll light up,” said Sam, Henry’s father and Mollie’s husband.
“I get most of my smiles right away when he wakes up and sees me,” she said.
It’s hard to believe those smiles are shared by mom and dad when your baby boy’s crib is a hospital bed and his bedroom is in the intensive care unit.
“This little guy was given a 2 percent chance of survival, so we’re pretty thrilled,” Mollie said.
It’s emotion at one point they never thought they’d feel. Henry was born at 28 weeks and with two serious heart defects.
“The team [of doctors] was pretty much telling us that Henry was in this what they call ‘honeymoon phase’ where everything’s going to kind of go relatively smooth for this first week of life and that next week he probably wouldn’t still be here,” said Mollie.
The Dolans scrambled to take family photos. Counselors came in to explain to Henry’s older sisters why he might never come home.
“We’re all kind of mentally prepared that these would probably be our last few days with him,” she said. “And every day he got stronger and stronger.”
It was Henry’s first sign that he was a fighter, but his heart struggled to keep up.
“And just when we thought we were doing really good, something would happen,” said Mollie.
Henry was flown to Children’s Hospital in St. Louis where he would have his first open heart surgery.
“Right after surgery he went into cardiac arrest,” said Mollie. She said Henry needed to be on an ECMO machine, which basically did the work for Henry’s heart and lungs.
“They say you got about 50 percent chance to come off of that if you ever go on it. He came off of it like a champ but his own heart just never really recovered,” she said.
Weeks later, Henry got a heart transplant.
“He was really sick coming out of it too and had a really rocky, really rocky first month after that heart transplant,” Mollie said.
The physical and mental toll weighed constantly on his parents, but Henry never gave up and neither did they.
“Even when you feel like there’s nothing left, there’s always hope,” said Mollie.
The Dolans often found that hope online. Through a Facebook page Mollie started to track his progress, support and prayers came pouring in through comments and messages.
The page now has more than 11,000 followers, each giving Mollie and Sam strength when they’re weak.
“Just going to my page and just reading some of the messages, the encouraging messages that people would send, would just really, really help,” she said.
Strangers and neighbors had been rallying around them since Henry’s birth like a team.
Skip Dolan coaches the Annandale High School basketball team and softball team. He’s also Henry’s grandfather.
So when his players and their parents learned of Henry’s struggle, they stepped up and raised money through Hope for Henry bracelets.
Everyone on the basketball team wears one and right before game time hangs them on a makeshift tree which sits next to a jersey declaring Henry an honorary teammate.
It has the number 13 on it, which is what Sam wore when he used to play for the team.
“For them to do that for Henry, I hope someday he gets there to wear that jersey, and he’s strong enough to run up and down that court,” Sam said.
Modern medicine and a donor’s heart undoubtedly have given Henry his fighting chance. But his parents say their faith and their community are what makes a miracle out of their baby boy.
“I think certainly somebody’s been watching out for him,” Mollie said.
While Mollie was in St. Louis with Henry for several months, Sam stayed back to work and take care of their two girls. He said people would come by and drop off frozen meals. When he’d get home from a weekend visit to St. Louis he said the house was often spotless thanks to someone cleaning it.
“We just want to make sure to thank everybody. I can’t emphasize that enough,” he said. “We couldn’t have done that without you.”
The Dolans also wanted to extend a special thank you to the family that donated Henry’s new heart.
“Especially during the holiday season when we know it’s the first Christmas they’re having without their baby so we’re just, they’re near and dear to our hearts and we’re just forever grateful,” said Mollie.
A GoFundMe page was also set up in order to help the Dolans with medical and travel expenses. If you’d like to make a donation to help, click here.
To track Henry’s progress on the Facebook page, click here.