April 16, 2002 11:00 pm
Jerry Chandler and Reed Chandler of Elgin have both triumphed over open-heart surgery. (The Observer/T.L. Petersen).
Jerry Chandler and Reed Chandler of Elgin have both triumphed over open-heart surgery. (The Observer/T.L. Petersen).

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

ELGIN — Reed Chandler will turn 5 years old May 27, and now has a new birthday wish.

He's hoping that when he grows up, he will grow plenty of chest hair along his scar, just like his dad, Jerry Chandler.

The idea isn't quite as outrageous as it might sound.

After all, the father and son now have similar scars from successful open-heart surgeries.

Jerry Chandler was 8 years old when doctors decided in 1974 that the small hole in his heart needed repairing.

Jerry said his mother tells stories about hearing her son's racing heart, and noting that his heart was pounding enough to shake the bed when he was little.

Chandler remembers little about the circumstances of his open heart surgery, relying on an Observer newspaper clipping from Aug. 15, 1974, that reported the operation was expected to require at least 15 pints of blood and blood donations would be welcome.

More than a newspaper clipping will remind Reed Chandler of his own heart history.

Michelle, Reed's mother, has already filled one album with memories of his encounters with doctors and surgeons.

In a busy household on the edge of Elgin, Michelle has learned to juggle Reed's health concerns while keeping track of daughter, Rachel, 8, and sons, Ryan, 3, and Regan, 15 months — and overseeing four angioplasty procedures that Reed has had since his diagnosis of a bad heart valve just six hours after his birth.

That diagnosis of a problem with their oldest son was "shocking," Jerry said.

"We did a lot of praying," Michelle adds.

While Reed has stayed slim, he hasn't had other symptoms of the bad heart value. Doctors, Michelle explained, had waited to do the surgery until Reed did some growing since the operation involved replacing one of his valves with a donor valve.

Last month, doctors at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland decided to proceed with Reed's surgery.

Opening his chest on March 6, surgeons took the little boy's pulmonary valve and used it to replace the aortic valve. They replaced the pulmonary valve with a donor valve, Michelle said.

When the family asked about the donor, doctors told them that the heart valves can be frozen for longer periods of time than many other organs, so Reed's surgery could be planned in advance.

A month after the surgery, Reed is wrestling with his brothers, racing around the house and yard and showing an increasing appetite.

The youngster grimaces when cameras are pointed his way. Aren't there enough pictures in his book?

His only restrictions, his parents said, are to stay off tricycles and other riding toys, and not put pressure on his arms, to protect the healing breastbone.

Jerry Chandler had to remove a battery from one toy to slow down his son.

The boy's only concern expressed before the surgery, his mother said, was "just no needles."

At the word "needles," Reed stops and frowns at his parents.

"It has been amazing how fast he's recovered," Jerry says.

"God has watched over him," Michelle strongly believes. And the prayers of family, members of their Nazarene Church congregation and friends and neighbors have helped, she adds.

Michelle keeps a Bible verse prominent in Reed's album, a verse a friend pointed out to her after her son's diagnosis: "A bruised reed He will not break." (Matthew 12:30)

Jerry and Michelle were told after Reed's birth that Jerry's own history with heart problems may have predisposed their son to problems, but that didn't mean they shouldn't have other children.

"We felt God wouldn't do it again," Michelle said, explaining why they chose to expand their family. They have taken the precaution of having special ultrasounds done during Michelle's last two pregnancies.

And so, with matching chest scars, father and son spend a rainy afternoon talking about their next hunting trip, hearts beating fast with excitement, nothing more.

Reach T.L. Petersen at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it