Because of Noah

When newborn Noah Hunter was diagnosed with a sick heart, many wonderful things happened.

July 2009

Juicy. The heart doctor intends the word to be descriptive and clear and therefore helpful, which it is. But it's more. It's not just that something, as in a discrete thing, within the chest of an infant boy is "juicy." It's an area, vaguely bounded, spreading. It is Saturday, the 11th of November, 2006. The baby's name is Noah. He is three weeks and four days old. And his parents have just been told that the pulmonary vessels between his heart and lungs are soppy and dilated, like the flesh of a fruit that's begun to soften and turn from the inside. Juicy.

Is it better to know too much or too little? Are the best words for such a thing the forcible ones ("juicy") or those that partially obscure it in a mesh ("ventricular septal defect").

Noah's parents, a couple from Castle Rock named Stephanie and Chris Hunter, make for an interesting case study in what is and isn't, and what should and shouldn't be, beyond words. In part, this is because they are as alike in temperament as any husband and wife you'll ever meet. Private, unassuming, with the same gentle and measured way of speaking. More important, they share a marked—and markedly specific—intellect: the kind that is capable of, and seeks out, great precision. Chris and Stephanie, who are in their early 30s, have both found careers that demand and amplify this quantitative capacity. Chris works in Denver for St. Mary Land & Exploration Company, where he creates pay decks (think of pie charts) that break down the economics of individual oil wells—with the size of each "slice" calculated out to the eighth decimal point. He loves his job. Steph, as she's known, also loves her job, at the Medical Center of Aurora, where she works as...a cardiac nurse.

Time warps, leaping and jerking instantaneously along the points of its trajectory. When did Chris get the text—30 minutes ago? An hour? A couple the Hunters knew was getting married, and Chris had taken his and Steph's only other child, two-year-old Kayleb, to the ceremony. Steph had begged out in order to take Noah to the pediatrician. Infants weren't supposed to cough, at least not persistently, and Noah had been at it for days. The doc had put the stethoscope to the baby's chest, heard an unholy whoosh in between each buh-BUM, and sent mother and child to the Sky Ridge Medical Center for an X-ray, stat. The Hunters' friends were halfway through their wedding vows when the text from Steph buzzed in Chris' jacket pocket.


Chris, Steph, and Noah are now in the waiting room at Sky Ridge. Kayleb's off with Chris' father. The radiologist emerges with the unnerving news that "your pediatrician is on the phone" and then escorts them to a room in the ER. There is a cell phone. It belongs to a nurse. Stephanie takes it. The Hunters' pediatrician then repeats to Stephanie over some nurse's private cell phone what the Sky Ridge radiologist has told him—that Noah's heart is enlarged. "Juicy."

"Is the X-ray there?" the pediatrician asks.

"Is the X-ray here?" Stephanie asks into the room.

The X-ray is produced.

"I have it," Steph says.

"Do you see?"