Ohio Parents Appeal to Governor After Newborn's Clubfoot Surgery Deemed 'Non-Essential'

Emily and Wally Herbert also recently went through another medical trauma when their son Walter died of cancer in 2017

Ohio Parents Appeal to Governor After Newborn's Surgery Was Deemed 'Non-Essential'
Photo: Wally Herbert

An Ohio couple called on Gov. Mike DeWine for help when the state’s coronavirus restrictions lead a local hospital to postpone a life-changing operation on their newborn because it was “non-essential.”

About three months before their son Weston was born, Emily and Wally Herbert were told their child had a rare condition called bilateral clubfoot — a birth defect that leaves the feet twisted out of shape or position.

While the condition can sometimes be treated with non-surgical methods, doctors said Weston would need an operation soon after his birth to correct it, Wally tells PEOPLE.

“We already had plans for the surgery and we were setting it up with the doctor and everything,” the 38-year-old recalls. “We scheduled an appointment for April 14.”

But with most of the country under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, medical facilities have also been placed under increased restrictions. With hospitals also becoming increasingly inundated with coronavirus patients, the state told doctors they would have to postpone “non-essential” medical procedures until noted otherwise.

Then a week before Weston’s operation, the hospital called to tell the family they couldn’t move forward with the operation, according to Wally.

“They called and said it was unfortunately not considered an essential surgery, and that we were going to have the postpone it to a later date,” he says.

“The news brought my wife to tears,” he continues.

The hospital declined to comment due to patient privacy laws when reached by PEOPLE.

Ohio Parents Appeal to Governor After Newborn's Surgery Was Deemed 'Non-Essential'
Wally Herbert

But the news understandably sent the couple — who have three other children ages 6 to 16 — into a panic.

“They couldn’t tell us a new date, but they were saying it could be June, or maybe even July,” Wally says. “But if you start working on his feet too late, they may not be able to fix them.”

“That would be heartbreaking,” he adds. “That would be terrible, right?”

This week, the couple decided to reach out to Gov. Mike DeWine to plead their argument that Weston’s surgery was “essential,” and they were encouraged to do so when a doctor in St. Louis quickly agreed to do the operation if they needed it.

“Basically if the state of Missouri is okay with,” Herbert recalls. “My wife said, ‘Why is Ohio not?’ ”

Herbert says they have since spoken with DeWine, who told them he would personally become involved with getting them help. The governor also met with hospital leaders on Wednesday and gave them a week to come up with a schedule to resume operations that have been postponed under the coronavirus ban, WXIX reported.

The Herberts are well-aware the operation’s postponement was not the fault of Cinncinati Children’s Hospital. The couple has had a “great relationship” with the hospital since its doctors treated the couple’s other son, Walter, who died of cancer in 2017.

“Everybody is just trying to do their little part to flatten the curve,” Wally says. “We’re all trying to get this virus to go away.”

Ohio Parents Appeal to Governor After Newborn's Surgery Was Deemed 'Non-Essential'
Wally Herbert

While raising a newborn with a physical disability amid a pandemic has proven difficult, Wally thanks his wife for being the family’s source of strength through it all.

“I’m blessed to have the wife that I do, she handles Weston perfectly,” he says of Emily. “She does everything for him. I’m obviously his dad, but she’s super-mom to him.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Ohio has seen 8,414 cases and 389 deaths due to coronavirus, according to a New York Times database.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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