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Prineville 13-year-old prepares for surgery

This will mark his fourth heart operation

by: MICHELLE BERTALOT/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Timothy Crawford flexes his muscles for the camera. He will soon undergo his fourth heart surgery.

Three days after Timothy Crawford was born, he was back in the hospital.
   "When he was three days old he quit breathing on me. We took him to the hospital, doing CPR the whole way. When we got there his heart stopped," remembered his mother, Becki VerValen. "He's a miracle child."
   Timothy was rushed to Doernbecher's Children's Hospital in Portland.
   "And that's where they told me about all of his problems," she said.
   Timothy was born with truncus arteriousus.
   The Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford explains that the condition occurs when the "single great vessel fails to separate completely, leaving a connection between the aorta and pulmonary artery."
   The condition resulted in Timothy, who was only 10 days old at the time, going under the knife to replace his homeograph conduit, or artificial vein, in his heart.
   As the teenager continues to grow, the tube has to be replaced.
   On Nov. 30, Timothy will have his fourth heart surgery at the young age of 13.
   The surgery snuck up on Becki and her five children. It was originally scheduled for the summer of 2005, but the date was bumped up due to complications.
   "Normally, we would wait until this summer for his surgery, but the doctors did more tests and found he has an enlarged aorta, too," Becki said.
   After Timothy stops growing, doctors will only have to go back in if there is a blockage. The surgery will last between 12 to 18 hours, with two surgeons and medical staff on hand, to replace the artificial vein.
   "I have extreme faith in the doctors and God. They are not going to let anything happen to my baby," said Becki.
   The unexpected surgery caught the family off-guard, and they are raising money for expenses during his hospital stay.
   The family will have to stay in Portland for about three weeks while Timothy is in the hospital.
   "Just for the hotel alone it will cost $629," Becki said. She will stay at the hospital with Timothy and his siblings in the hotel. The family also wants to raise money so blood can be donated from his family for the surgery. The Red Cross charges for each unit of blood.
   Becki prefers her son to have blood from his family members for his surgeries as a safety precaution.
   "This is just something we've always done for his surgeries," she explained.
   This adds $380 to the family's growing bill.
   "It is $95 per unit and he needs four units," she said.
   Factor in money for food for three weeks and other miscellaneous expenses and Becki has a monster on her hands.
   To offset the costs, the family has blanketed stores across town with donation canister's explaining Timothy's situation.
   "The community has been so supportive. Somebody put $50 in the canister at Tastee Treet. No note, no way to say thank you and I'd really like to thank them and everyone else that's helped us," she said.
   On Nov. 11, Becki arranged a dance at the Millennium Club in Redmond. The cost of admission to the dance were donated to Timothy's surgery.
   "About 40 people showed up," she said.
   The family was also hoping to do a hot dog stand fundraiser at either Ray's Food Place or Eriksen's, but have been holding out for nice weather.
   Weather didn't seem to phase his older sister, Pamala.
   "I'll stand out there in the rain. I don't care," she said.
   Covered by the Oregon Health Plan, without it Becki is not sure how the family would afford to pay for Timothy's condition.
   "Lord if were weren't covered... I mean, it was $13,000 for just one of his doctors appointments," she said.
   "His first surgery was $250,000," Pamala added.
   "We go to Portland every six months to see the doctor. We'll go every three months after his surgery," Becki said.
   With all the commotion around his household, Timothy remains the calmest and least worried.
   "The day the doctor called I said 'Son the surgery can't wait until the summer.' He said, 'OK, mom. Where's my brothers?' It didn't even phase him," Becki said.
   A seventh grade student at Crook County Middle School, he's too busy fishing, jumping on his trampoline at home, and playing with his younger siblings to worry about a surgery.
   "I tell him it's my job to worry, not his," said Becki.
   Oddly enough, Timothy was excited about the three-week recovery time after the surgery. He was under the impression he wouldn't have school during that time.
   "Nope, we're having a private tutor come here for you each day from the school," Becki said to her son.
   He is not supposed to play contact sports or do repetitive motions.
   "He does get to do P.E. when he's healthy," she said.
   His best friend, Craigen Snell, is always looking out for him, Pamala said.
   "He's constantly reminding him of his heart condition and telling him to slow down," Becki said.
   "Yeah, but I do it anyway," Timothy replied.
   He's already outgrown doctor's expectations.
   "The doctors told us he wouldn't be over 5 feet tall," said Pamala.
   The teenager is now 5 feet 4 inches.
   His small frame is not void of battle scars.
   Lifting up his shirt two long scars were apparent in the young boy's skin.
   Both scars were about 12 to 15 inches long, with one a symmetrical fading line on his chest, the other a diagonal scar that extends from his back and wraps under his left armpit.
   "All of these other ones are from the chest tubes," his mother said, pointing out small round scars.
   After his long surgery on Tuesday, he'll probably have more to add to his collection.
   Pamala and Becki collected money from the canisters last Monday.
   "Before his first surgery they told me he had a 17 percent chance of survival," Becki told a Pizza Hut employee.
   "And just look at him now," she said, with tears in her eyes.
   "I don't know what we'd do without him," Pamala added.