When Carol Kruger's son Wesley was still in the womb, doctors discovered that he had an abnormally slow heartbeat. For much of his childhood, it didn't hamper him much. But when he was 9, testing showed that his heart was stopping briefly while he slept.
Shortly afterward, in October of 2014, Wesley had a pacemaker implanted at UCSF. His parents now know he'll make it through the night safely, and sports-loving Wesley is thrilled to be back in the game. Below, Carol Kruger talks about Wesley's treatment and how it's changed their lives.
How did having a slow heartbeat affect Wesley's everyday life?
He was told that he couldn't do certain sports. [He played when he was younger] and then they said, "Probably you shouldn't do it." He was away from sports for at least a year, maybe two. It was a bummer, because he's my little jock kid.
Was it a difficult decision to get the pacemaker?
No. Wesley's grandmother has a pacemaker. If Wesley was concerned about it, he didn't show it. He was pretty brave.
How did you end up at UCSF?
We were referred there by our doctor at Kaiser in Santa Clara, Dr. Abhishek Sharma.
What was the day of the surgery like?
We stayed in San Francisco the night before and arrived at the hospital really early. Wesley had his San Francisco Giants clothes on. Our pastor came and sat with us and entertained him. We got to go in with Wesley while he went to sleep. The staff at UCSF were great — really helpful and kind.
How long was the surgery?
About four-and-a-half hours.
Do you remember the moment when the doctor came out to tell you how it had gone?
I want to say it was Dr. Tanel but I honestly can't remember. They came out and said he was fine and in the recovery area. We went in there and he gave us the thumbs up and was all loopy from the drugs. He still had his black and orange Giants socks on.
How long did he stay in the hospital?
Just that night. I stayed with him and we watched the Giants game. It was super fun. He had his little Giants hat on, and his socks, and he was happy to watch the game.
How did the recovery go once he was home?
It was fine. Wesley got to hang out with our new Boston Terrier puppy, Petey, on the couch and they just cuddled together. He couldn't wait to go back to school and be with his friends.
When did he go back to school?
He was out of school for a week. For the first six weeks his arm was in a brace and he was not supposed to run around. He was in fourth grade, but his third-grade teacher let him come into her room for recess and lunch, even though he wasn't her student anymore. He would help the third-graders and play on her computer.
How soon was he able to get back to sports?
Thanksgiving weekend. We were camping in Pismo and he was surfing and paddled into his own waves. The doctors told us Wesley shouldn't go crazy the day the brace came off, so we made him get out of the water after just an hour. But it was great. My husband is a surfer and was just so happy to see him doing that.
When was he able to start Little League again?
He was able to play when the season started in February.
I shared a great story with Dr. Tanel — Wesley's team was playing a really long game and the kids were super tired. Wesley's team came up, there were two kids on base and we were down by one. Wesley got up there and hit a home run and won the game.
Dr. Tanel and all the wonderful staff helped make that happen. He would have missed out on baseball if he did not have his pacemaker.
Did he have to make any adjustments because of the pacemaker?
The only time was on vacation. We had to step aside at the airport and have them pat him down. And every time he would go on and off the cruise ship, he would need to be patted down. It didn't ruffle him — he's a pretty easygoing kid.
I remind him, "You've got to take care of yourself." He's totally taken that to heart. That kid will eat his vegetables and go for a healthy snack when he could totally go and grab a crappy snack.
Will he have to get the pacemaker replaced every certain number of years?
Yes. He is not using the pacemaker as much as they thought, which is great. It kicks in when he needs it. Sometimes his heart is beating at the pace it's supposed to. So, hopefully, that will extend the battery life.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Thank God for Mr. Benioff. He's helping so many people. I wish I could thank him in person and say, "You have no idea how you have changed my life." When I knew about Wesley's heart stopping I would go in there and watch him and wonder, "Am I going to see him tomorrow morning? Is he going to wake up?" Now that he's had that pacemaker surgery, I know that he will.