Son’s life-threatening condition leads Fahey to Durham Tech

Two tubes ran from Seamus’ neck and other lines coiled around his tiny infant limbs, circulating blood through an artificial lung and returning it into the 96-hour-old’s bloodstream.

It was 2011 and Molly Fahey and her husband watched their youngest son from the pediatric intensive care unit at Duke Hospital as the newborn battled heart failure.

Fahey, now a respiratory therapy student at Durham Tech, described the time as a whirlwind.

“I never thought something like this would happen,” Fahey said. “But it could happen to anyone. You’re not exempt from it. Having him taught me so much about life, you truly don’t control anything.”

When Seamus was born, he didn’t turn pink like most babies, she said, which meant he wasn’t properly oxygenating.

“The doctors did a quick assessment and immediately bused him from Durham Regional to Duke Hospital without me,” Fahey said. “I didn’t know what was happening.”

Seamus spent four days on a heart and lung bypass machine that oxygenates blood outside of the body when a patient’s heart cannot do it on its own.

“Two days later, his heart function miraculously turned around,” Fahey said. “Which also happened to be on my birthday. It was the best birthday present ever. We don’t know why it happened in the first place or why it turned around. It just did.”

Seamus’ heart transplant packet was prepared, but never filed as his parents breathed a sigh of relief. A respiratory therapist trained to care for babies born with life-threatening cardiac failure sat by Seamus in the ICU.

“I had never heard of a respiratory therapist until my son was born with these complications,” Fahey said. “Before I got pregnant, I was taking preliminary courses at Durham Tech to get into nursing, but after my experience with him, I wanted to narrow my scope and respiratory was a natural path.”

Fahey stayed home with Seamus for a few years, who experienced some stormy after-effects of his condition.

“His first 3-4 years were rough,” Fahey said. “My head didn’t even really come up out of water.”

When Seamus turned 5 years old and entered kindergarten, Fahey returned to school to pursue a Respiratory Therapy degree at Durham Tech.

“I’m kind of glad I didn’t have the respiratory therapy knowledge to begin with because then I would have known how serious it was,” Fahey said. “In a way, ignorance is bliss when your kid is that sick. So now I can look back on it from a more objective viewpoint.”

Last month, Fahey started the pediatrics unit of the program and went to her first clinical rotation where she worked alongside the same team of physicians at Duke Hospital that helped her son years ago.

“You want to maintain professionalism while you’re in a space like that,” Fahey said. “But I couldn’t help but tell the nurse, ‘You helped us when my baby was here.’ It wasn’t about recognition to see if she remembered my baby, I just wanted to be able to tell her, ‘I remember you when you were amazing.’ ”

After Fahey graduates from Durham Tech in May 2018, she wants to gain a few years of experience working with adults. Her ultimate goal is to work in the same pediatric ICU at Duke Hospital where her son was cared for, she said.

“The Respiratory Therapy program has given me a career path,” Fahey said. “It’s interesting that it took this long, but I’m glad I came to it now because when you get older you have a deeper appreciation for finding something meaningful in your life. This will give me an opportunity to help people and do my best to make a difference somewhere.”

Seamus just started the first grade and is a healthy 6-year-old.

“I feel so lucky,” Fahey said. “I get to look at him and think he’s amazing. He has no residual effects — and he gave me my career path.”

Molly Fahey practices on the Drager VN500, a ventilator used in the Neonatal and Pediatric Respiratory Care Class at Durham Tech.