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Surgery in Mexico saved life of Detroit Lakes boy

Jake Erickson and family

Watching Jake Erickson, 2, enjoy a slice of pizza, interact with his older brother and sister or play with his toys, one would never know that underneath his "normal" exterior, he has a fragile heart.

He was born in Cabo San Lucus, Mexico, where his family lived at the time. Jake's parents, Amy and Jed, had no idea they would be back at the hospital in a few days, worrying for their baby's life.

Jake has been chosen as this year's face of the Lakes Area Heart Walk through the American Heart Association. The walk will be May 5 at the Detroit Lakes Middle School.

"We wanted to get involved because the American Heart Association funds the research and without that, our baby wouldn't be alive," Amy said.

When Jake was 5 days old, Jed and Amy noticed something was wrong with their baby.

"He wasn't eating and just wanted to sleep all the time," Jed said.

They took him into the local clinic and were told he was "failing." He was in heart failure. He had what's called coarctation of the aorta and three other heart defects. Doctors told the worried parents that their baby was "hours from dying" when they got him to the hospital.

Because of his highly unstable condition, Jake couldn't be transported to a larger hospital, and because of the risk in altitude, he couldn't be flown to a different hospital either. In Cabo San Lucas, the doctor performed a surgery that he had never done before on a child -- let alone a 5-day-old baby.

Jake had an angioplasty, where the doctor went in and balloon dilated his arteries because his blood wasn't circulating to the lower half of his body.

After the surgery, he was transported to Guadalajara, where he stayed in the hospital for three weeks. Amy said when they finally got to take Jake home at 1 month old, he actually weighed 2.5 pounds less than when he was born.

After that, the family moved back to Detroit Lakes -- Jed is from Detroit Lakes, and he and his brother still run a resort in Cabo San Lucas -- so they could be close to the Mayo Clinic. At 10 months, Jake had to undergo a second angioplasty, but since then, he hasn't had to have any more surgeries.

"(Doctors) think he could go on and live a perfectly healthy life," Amy said.

"Hopefully we're going in the right direction," Jed added.

The Ericksons agreed it was the right move to come back to Minnesota and be closer to Mayo Clinic in Rochester because of Jake's delicate heart. Although Jed and Amy praise the doctors in Mexico for what they did to save their son, at Mayo Clinic, these kinds of heart problems are more general.

"To us, it's a very big deal. To them, it's routine," Amy said. "Even the doctors at Mayo said the doctors in Mexico did a great job."

Jake also had a sleep study done because of some other issues he was having, and it turns out he was having breathing issues as well. His breathing would stop an average of 19 times an hour, with the highest being 59 times one hour.

He immediately had his tonsils and adenoids removed and has been sleeping fine since.

"This kid gets everything," Amy said with a laugh. Right now he's battling ear infections as well.

Doctors have warned the Ericksons along the way, especially when Jake was younger, that he could have a variety of hurdles in the future, including developmental difficulties or brain damage. During his first visit to the hospital for surgery at 5 days old, his heart stopped five times, and was accidentally nicked during surgery.

But, he's doing just fine, his parents said. Amy describes Jake as a smart little boy who likes to tumble around with his siblings, Alex and Annika. They try not to coddle him and treat him any differently than his brother and sister.

"He really is a true miracle," she said.

Jed said up until 10 years ago, doctors didn't even know about some of the issues their son had when he was born. It's because of the American Heart Association and its the research it funds that doctors were able to save Jake's life.

To support the American Heart Association or to participate in the Lakes Area Heart Walk on May 5, contact Stacy Duncan at 701-212-3995 or