Not rocking nor singing, not cartoons or music could calm baby Lola as she cried and cried in the hospital on Saturday, days after her second open-heart surgery for a life-threatening congenital heart defect. But then her mom discovered just the action-packed distraction to halt her daughter’s wails.
She put on a Dallas Cowboys game for her 3-month-old girl, the daughter of a lifelong Cowboys fan, and it worked like a magical pigskin charm.
“Whenever my baby girl gets upset and starts crying, I put a Cowboys game on and it immediately soothes her, almost instantaneously,” her mom, Laura Catron, told TODAY. “She’ll stop crying completely and she’ll stare at the game. You can tell she’s really watching it.”
“I don’t know what it is,” she added. “Maybe she likes stars (on the Cowboy helmets), maybe she likes (announcer and former Cowboy quarterback) Troy Aikman’s voice, but she loves them.”
Or, maybe, her mom says, this tiniest Cowboys fan was just missing her dad, Bryan, a born and raised Cowboys devotee whose Sunday routine is to cradle his daughter, always dressed in a Cowboys onesie, on his lap to watch the all-day action.
They’ve kept it up whether they are at home in Fort Worth, Texas, or at Cook Children’s Medical Center, where Lola has lived for a total of about two months as she fights for her life. “She’ll always stay calm during football games,” her mom says. “She loves football.”
But on Saturday, when her dad was away, Lola was suffering from headaches due to increased pressure in her head from last week's surgery and was growing increasingly fussy, Laura said. Lola threw up her pain medication and couldn’t have more for four hours.
It’s crucial for Lola’s health that she not cry for long periods of time, Laura says, and she scrambled for ideas to quiet her baby’s sobs. Lola cried for 30 minutes before they found a solution.
“We tried everything,” she said. “I was rocking her, walking around, I put on some cartoons, I played her music and I literally tried everything,” Laura said. “And at the last second, my mom suggested football.”
“Playing a football game for your infant is the last thing on your mind,” she says.
But the idea was that maybe Lola watching her dad's beloved team would make her think of him and calm down. So Laura pulled up an old game on YouTube.
“She calmed down immediately and started watching it,” Laura says, adding that showing her daughter two other teams didn’t work. She kept turning to the Cowboys through Tuesday evening, when Lola needed sedation medication.
“Every single time I would put the game on, she would calm down,” Laura says. “This was a lot of YouTube.”
Bryan needed to see it to understand the phenomenon. “I thought it was pretty funny,” he said. “I didn’t believe it until I watched it happen. It’s pretty crazy how it works.”
However the gridiron action is helping their daughter stay calm, the Catrons, both 28, are thankful.
“The Cowboys have gotten us through a really dark time right now and brought some laughter into a time that’s very, very dark,” says Laura, a Denver Broncos fan. “Your baby only calming down during football makes you laugh. That’s what we need right now."
“It’s been a blessing,” Bryan says. “It’s been funny. It’s a good joke, but at the end of the day, it’s nice to soothe your kid, especially (because) if she cries for too long, she has to go back on oxygen.”
Laura hopes Lola’s story, which caught the attention of the team, will raise awareness about congenital heart defects.
“This is a really cute story, my daughter loving the Cowboys, but this is really about C.H.D. awareness and using this platform she just created to help research and find a cure for something that’s grossly underfunded," she said.
Lola will require another operation at age 3 and eventually a heart transplant, Laura says. “We hope she’s going to be here forever,” Laura says.
Now, though, this family is ready for some more football, and hope to watch the Cowboys take on the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs Sunday from a familiar vantage point.
“We’re crossing our fingers we can be home by then,” Laura says. “The plan is to sit on our couch and watch the game. We just want to do that from home, and not in a hospital.”
TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter: @lisaflam