Jayme Ford had never heard of hypoplastic left heart syndrome before she became pregnant with her son Hudson in 2013. But in the months leading up to her birth, she learned that the rare heart condition would impact her family for years to come.
“We found out when I was 21 weeks pregnant — it was really scary,” Ford, 34, of Alberta, Canada, tells PEOPLE. “I was in disbelief. It’s not something that you ever think will happen to you.”
The rare congenital heart defect occurs when the left side of the heart is underdeveloped or, in Hudson’s case, “too small to function properly.” So, when Hudson was just 2 weeks old, he underwent his first of three open heart surgeries to rewire the right side of his heart to make up for the left’s lack of function.
“I had just given birth so my hormones were all over the place and it was definitely difficult. I was scared. I was scared about what I was going to see, I was scared about the outcome, scared about waiting in the waiting room,” Ford says of the hours before Hudson’s first surgery.
“I was worried about not only him, but about how it was going to affect our entire family. And how it would affect me seeing him with his chest open, having surgery at 2 weeks old.”
Hudson survived the surgery and his quick recovery shocked both Ford and the doctors. “He’s such a strong kid and he made every recovery marker when he needed to,” she says.
However, just when Ford and her husband Lucas, 40, began to reach a sense of normalcy with their little boy, it was time for Hudson’s second invasive surgery. He underwent his second open heart procedure at just 4 1/2 months old, Ford says.
“Something that’s always in the back of your brain, you know, there is a possibility that something could go wrong during surgery, after surgery, whenever,” Ford tells PEOPLE..
“I knew that if I had those thoughts continually, it would just be too much of a burden on my own psyche. So, I remained positive. We didn’t really entertain [the possibility] all that much.”
With two surgeries complete, Hudson had begun growing into a a “sweet” toddler, whom the doting mom describes as “passionate” and “mischievous.” She says the family was able to put Hudson’s health woes in the past for years. But in December, after Hudson turned 4, the family learned the time for the boy’s third surgery had arrived.
“We had kind of been in a sweet spot where we had a sense of normalcy so when [doctors] said, ‘Yes, we need to begin the process of surgery,’ it was a little bit more nerve-wracking.”
But when Hudson emerged from the surgery in good spirits, and in good health, it was a “huge relief” for Ford and Lucas.
“Once we were done, it felt really good. It was like, ‘Oh my God! This is over, we can finally breathe and get back to normal life.’ ”
And that’s just what the Ford family has been doing. With no more surgeries scheduled for Hudson, Ford has been taking the little boy snowboarding and hiking. She says it’s a joy to see him with more energy and able to breathe easily.
“He’s positive and passionate and just an all-around good kid,” Ford says. “He couldn’t run before without having to stop and take a break. Now he can keep up with his big brother and it’s just amazing to watch him use energy and have energy.”