Tri for Tristan

Published On 05/02/2016

Father finds a way to give back for son’s care

A 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Twelve months of intense training. That’s what Andy Domina committed to when he signed up for the September 2015 IRONMAN Triathlon in Chattanooga, Tenn. The conditions would be tough – but so was Andy. He and his wife, Sarah, had already been through so much.TristanStoryPic1Resized

In 2013, Andy and Sarah Domina were living in Hawaii where Andy was stationed as an active duty Naval officer and anxiously awaiting the birth of their first child. May 9, 2013, began as one of the happiest days of their lives, as they welcomed 6-pound Tristan into the world.

Soon after Tristan’s birth, the Dominas learned their little boy was born with esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula (EA/TEF), a rare birth defect that affects one in 4,000 babies each year. The upper portion of Tristan’s esophagus was shortened and ended in a blind pouch instead of connecting to his stomach, and the lower portion was connected to his trachea instead of his mouth. Because of these issues, there was no path for food to get from his mouth to his stomach, but there was a direct path for stomach contents to move into his lungs—a grave concern.

Their tears of joy turned into overwhelming fear. Within 24 hours of his birth, Tristan was transported to a major children’s hospital, and at just 4 days old, he underwent a surgery to reconnect his esophagus. After three weeks of recovery in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the Dominas finally went home as a family of three.

TristanPic2StoryResizedBut the challenges didn’t end there. The family had to learn the intricacies of raising a child with EA/TEF. Scar tissue near the surgery site made feeding incredibly difficult at first.

“For Tristan, eating was like trying to swallow a drink through an hour glass-shaped esophagus. Meals were very slow at first, and many feedings ended in gagging and vomiting,” said Andy.

They spent the next six months in and out of the hospital for check-ups and other procedures. Later that year, the Dominas relocated to Memphis for Andy’s new job at the naval base in Millington, Tenn. Tristan’s condition causes him to need regular dilation – a procedure that uses an inflated balloon instrument to open his esophagus and help him swallow normally. So, Tristan continued his follow-up care at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

At the Millington base, Andy met a fellow Naval officer who was training for an IRONMAN triathlon. Andy, who had previously competed in a sprint triathlon, had an idea. He registered to compete in the IRONMAN race, using the endeavor as a chance to raise money for Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital – a place they had grown to love for the care Tristan, now 3, receives. He spent the next 12 months training, while asking friends and family to pledge their support and donate to the Dominas’ favorite cause.

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“It was a social media experiment to see my friends rally behind my training and this cause. I was thrilled to find a way to give back,” said Andy. TristanPic4Story Resized

The race was grueling, and by the end of the final leg of the competition — a full marathon — he felt himself giving out. As he neared the end, he spotted Sarah, Tristan and his loved ones, and shared hugs and kisses before officially crossing the finish line to the sound of cheering crowds. 

He then heard the words, “Andy Domina, you are an IRONMAN!” finishing at 10 hours 48 minutes and 42 seconds.

When it was all said and done, he was proud of how his training prepared him for such a feat because, on race day, he never doubted that he would become an IRONMAN.

While the post-race pizza and sodas were well-deserved indulgences, Andy says his greatest reward was being able to give back to the hospitals that saved his son’s life. He raised $15,000 and split the donations between the hospital in Hawaii that saved Tristan’s life and Le Bonheur – the hospital that continues to help Tristan recover.