Pair of area troopers have daughter who suffers from multiple congenital heart defects

Gia Paddock didn’t know exactly what it was, but at 20 weeks into her pregnancy, she began to feel that something wasn’t right.

Up until that time, it was mostly joy that Middlesex residents Gia and Tim Paddock felt for the baby inside her — a girl they already had named Piper Jae. 

“I was over the moon,” the 33-year-old said. “It was great. I was so happy.”

An anatomy scan at around the 20-week mark of the pregnancy suggested that everything was normal. Regardless of that reassurance, an unsettled feeling began to grow inside Gia along with the unborn child. 

At 28 weeks along, after demanding an ultrasound that Gia and her husband would pay for out of pocket due to its irregular scheduling, the mother-to-be’s fears were confirmed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, about 1 percent of babies born in the U.S. are born with congenital heart defects, which is around 40,000 births per year. Of that number, approximately 7,200 babies born each year — a rate of about 18 per 10,000 babies — are born with critical CHDs each year, the CDC states.

It was discovered shortly after that ultrasound that Piper Jae had multiple CHDs, Gia said.

Piper Jae and her parents will head to Boston Children’s Hospital next month for pre-operation testing for the baby’s next open heart surgery. It will be the seventh such surgery Piper Jae has endured since she was born on Aug. 4, 2016. 

And more are expected, according to Gia, who said the next surgery will just prepare her for the next surgery after that, and so on.

“I love her and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me, but I also feel bad for her for what she has to go through for the rest of her life,” Gia said.

From the beginning

Since she was 9 years old, Gia knew she wanted to be a police officer. Another dream that came as she grew was one day having a child of her own. 

One aspiration led to the other for Gia.

She trained to become a member of the state police at Finger Lakes Law Enforcement Academy in Canandaigua, where she met Tim.

They began dating in March 2014 and by September 2015, the two troopers were married. 

The good news rolled along for the couple and their loved ones, as shortly after the marriage vows were exchanged, the two police officers announced that they were expecting a child.

Gia lived a healthy lifestyle in preparation for their daughter's arrival. That included, among other things, a strong diet and visits to the gym. 

When she first found out that her daughter was born with critical CHDs she felt anger, realizing the rarity of the diagnosis.

“It was like, ‘What did I do wrong?’” she said. “I was blaming myself a lot.”

Gia remembers it well.

During the ultrasound at 28 weeks along, the technician explored the image of Piper Jae’s tiny heart for roughly an hour. Meanwhile, Gia simply cried.

The doctor told her at that time to go to Strong Memorial Hospital, as there was something wrong with the little girl’s heart.

Gia and Tim headed to the Rochester hospital, where the heartbroken parents were told that their baby probably wouldn’t survive. 

Among the CHDs with which Piper Jae was diagnosed was the particularly rare Ebstein's Anomaly.

“The right ventricle was so small that they couldn’t even see it,” Gia said. 

The unborn child was also found to suffer from pulmonary atresia. 

According to the CDC, pulmonary atresia involves an absence in the development of the valve that controls the blood’s movement from the heart to the lungs. Blood then has trouble flowing to the lungs to pick up oxygen for the body. 

“We cried for weeks,” Gia said. “There was no happy point in my pregnancy from 20 weeks on.”

However, Gia and Tim decided to broaden their options and researched other places to take the still unborn Piper Jae. They needed additional expertise and hope. This led the couple to Dr. Wayne Tworetzky at the Boston’s Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts. With the doctor’s wishes, Gia agreed to try a trial medication.

“I wanted to give her every chance possible,” Gia said. 

Battling on

As they explored their medical options, Tim transferred to Albany, and would drive two hours to Boston from the State Police Academy, while Gia moved to the city so their daughter could continue her needed treatments.

On the day of Piper Jae's birth, doctors wanted to see how the newborn would do on her own without surgery. However, her oxygen levels were low due to her heart's abnormalities.

Only 36 hours into her life beyond the womb, Piper Jae required her first heart surgery. 

“She’s been through a lot,” Gia said. “She had more than any adult could handle. She’s still happy and she still laughs and giggles. But she’s in pain a lot.”

Aside from the stresses of their daughter's future, there are the growing medical costs. Gia said she and her husband have already gone through nearly $60,000 in medical bills, medications, and housing while staying in Boston.

She pointed out that, with the hospital being based out of state, they are out of network for health insurance coverage. The costs are also impacted by the equipment Piper Jae requires — including a pump for her food intake, as the roughly 6-month-old is fed through a tube directly to her stomach. 

Providing help for the small family are fellow members of law enforcement. Gia noted that for times of need, she and her husband picked the correct career field.

Gia pointed out that troopers in the Troop E headquarters have donated their time so she can stay with Piper Jae and still get paid while caring for the child — a 24/7 duty.

In addition, a GoFundMe page, with a target of $30,000, has been set up for the Paddocks. To date they are approximately $7,000 short of the stated goal.

Also lending a hand have been the New York State and Ontario County Police Benevolent associations.

Donna Schaertl, the event coordinator for the Ontario County Police Benevolent Association, has used the "Back the Blue" campaign to assist.

“She’s a trouper along with her parents,” Schaertl said. “Piper Jae is also part of our ‘blue family’ and as I have said so many times, no one fights alone in our family.” 

In an effort to bring awareness to CHD and help Piper Jae, Schaertl will be selling purple heart-shaped cookies from Sweet Blessings Bakery, 16 W. Main St. in Shortsville, every Tuesday in February.

In addition to the costs, Gia pointed out that she has to be back to work this year at some point after receiving one year unpaid time off through the Family Medical Leave Act. 

She is by her daughter’s side 24 hours a day, and says the thought of leaving her is difficult. 

“It’s definitely stressful," Gia said. "I don't want to leave her side."

By the numbers

40,000 The number of babies born in the U.S. each year who have a congenital heart defect 

7,200 The number of babies born each year with a critical congenital heart defect 

75 The percentage of babies born with a critical congenital heart defect who are expected to survive to age 1

Numbers provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

How to help

Visit the GoFundMe page set up for Piper Jae and her parents Gia and Tim Paddock at https://www.gofundme.com/prayersforpiperjae

Editor's Note

"Behind the Badge" is an occasional series published on Wednesdays profiling the behind-the-scenes contributions of area first responders. If you know of someone worthy of being profiled, please forward your suggestions to reporter Aaron Curtis at acurtis@messengerpostmedia.com.