A family in Grayson County is reminded of their blessings this summer as they watch their young man prepare for college.
Jimmy Esparza has come a long way in the last 18 years and is literally living proof that you can defy the odds.
He was born in 2002 with a sweet face and the biggest brown eyes. Melissa Esparza was a proud mama.
“He was full-term, almost eight pounds,” she recalls. “But then he turned blue almost automatically when I had him.”
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Baby Jimmy was born into Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas with obstructed pulmonary veins due to a heart condition. Multiple methods to get Jimmy more oxygen failed.
His mother said at just 12 hours old, he was placed on a special machine called ECMO, which essentially performed the functions of his heart and lungs to give him oxygen. He was on the machine for several days and received care at Children’s Health in Dallas.
“We were told he needed emergency open-heart surgery and they were going to rush him over to Children’s Health,” said Melissa Esparza.
Doctors gave Jimmy just a two percent chance to live. Nurse practitioner Mellissa Myers, who works in the Heart Center at Children’s Health, broke the news to the family.
“We all knew that he wasn’t going to survive but you have to give the family some hope. And the family said, we are in,” she remembers.
A priest even read Jimmy his last rights as a baby. Pictures show a rosary laid gently beside his head in the hospital room as tubes surrounded his frail body.
“They told us to make funeral arrangements for him. Me and my husband just prayed to God and said if you need him, take him, but just don’t let him suffer,” said Melissa Esparza.
But that two percent chance was all his family needed.
“He did great during that operation and right then, it was a sigh of relief. That this is it, he’s going to make it,” said Melissa Esparza.
Nurse Mellissa Myers said he spent roughly a month to two months in the hospital.
“His heart and lungs had to basically learn how to re-pump and he had been in mom‘s tummy against different obstructions but he did well over time,” she said.
The family was eventually discharged home.
“He was followed very closely by his cardiologist and overtime as he grew, he did have some mild issues with his lungs and saw special doctors for that, but it got better over time,” said Myers.
About 18 years after this photo was taken in the NICU at Dallas Children’s:
A now over 6-foot tall Jimmy holds that same photo as an 18-year old, newly graduated senior from Pottsboro High School.
“I’ve heard a lot of stories about it and it’s honestly crazy,” he said. “I think God every night that he let me live and survive.”
Myers has even watched Jimmy grow through the years at the annual heart camp run through Children’s Health. A co-director of the camp, she’s now worked for the hospital for 27 years and is a nurse practitioner in cardiothoracic surgery.
“I’ve had the honor of taking care of many children at Children’s,” she said.
At eight years old, Jimmy started going to camp and that’s where his bond formed with the nurse.
“He was entering the bus as I was loading kids. He held a picture up to me and he said, ‘My mom said to give this to you,’” Myers said.
It was a picture of him as a baby in the NICU, the last time she had ever seen him in person.
“He said, ‘Mrs. Mel, I’m your 2%,’ Of course as a human, I just started to cry!” said Myers.
He continued to go to camp all the way until age 16 and came back as junior staff for his 17th year.
“You knew the odds his family came against and he made it,” said Myers. “There are hard days but they are good days and we celebrate those good days. Two percent is a good day!”
Now Jimmy’s life has come full circle. Once he starts classes at Grayson Community College in the fall he wants to start studied to become a trauma nurse, just like the ones who helped save his life.
“The nurses were there to help me,” he said. “I want to give back to my community.”
Jimmy’s mom also has this message for other families going through a difficult time while seeking care for a sick child.
“Never give up and believe in miracles. I know it’s tough with the numbers but you have to give it to God,” she said. “Just pray for peace and comfort and for the doctors and nurses that are taking care of your baby or child that’s in the middle of their battle right now.”
Children’s Health is also celebrating a new honor this summer. The hospital was recently named one of the top 10 Heart Centers in the country by the U.S. News and World Report.