A Year Later
Monday, March 11, 2013
It’s been a year since my transplant surgery. What a difference a year makes!
My husband, Mike, woke from a restless sleep. His brain was still fogging from the turmoil of packing bags, piling into the car, and driving for hours through blinding snow. In a private ICU waiting room, his aching muscles protested the nerve-pinching contours offered up by the uncomfortable hospital sofa. It had been a long night, with a longer year yet to come.
At 3 a.m., having awoken from a restless sleep, my mother, Yvonne, and soul sister, Antje, were already in the main waiting room. Leaving the tiny, family-packed Toronto apartment, they ventured out into the cool chill of the morning air. Walking four city blocks, they waited for hours in the quiet hospital ICU.
Antje would later recall the brightly shining stars and the clear full moon in quiet whispers that only she and I would remember. “Haniel is watching over you,” I heard from within a drug-induced sleep. In that moment, I saw the archangel named Haniel looking down at me through a window behind my head, telling me all was well.
My children, Riley and Kate, demonstrated the behaviour of children much younger. Falling asleep hours after leaving the hospital, they showed the terror of losing their mother in unexpected stages of hyperactivity, lack of consideration, and finally tears. Tears at least from Kate. Riley, my big, tough boy, simply withdrew. By morning his pale skin had turned ashen, his temperature rose, and fear presented itself in the form of a stomach flu. To this day, neither choose to recall that night.
My sister-in-law Paula, then six months pregnant, had settled her head on an air mattress that had been firmly squeezed between the stove and the dishwasher in the short, narrow kitchen of the tiny Toronto apartment. This was the start of a long journey for her as well. A nurse by profession, Paula would spend many of her free hours over the weeks tending to me. Whether she was assisting me with daily tasks or simply holding my hand, Paula was a genuine source of love and laughter. She saw the beauty in it all.
So many others came to squeeze themselves into that tiny apartment that night. My father and stepparents Marie and Brian cared for my babies, and watched me during my long sleep. My sister-in-law Janna stood over me and held my hand. She never knew (until now) that I saw the love in her eyes, and heard the gentle whisper of her voice.
Last year at this time,
A family spent a sleepless night. They wept for their loss. They remembered the happy times, and despaired for the sad ones. They said goodbye to their child, their loved one, and in doing so, reached out to save another.
Last year at this time,
A brilliant team of surgeons came together from the transplant unit at The Hospital for Sick Children and Toronto General Hospital to stand over two people they didn’t know. They used their combined skills to protect the heart of one in an effort to save the life of the other. With precision hands and loving hearts, they worked 14 hours, until the transfer was complete. Two days later, I opened my eyes, squeezed my mother’s hands, felt my husband’s lips on my forehead, hugged my children, and smiled at my doctors.
Today I celebrate my first heart birthday. Friends and family gather to honor me with a “pink party.” I hold my new niece. I hug my friends. I kiss my family. I honor the heart that beats inside of me. Today, I hold a quiet vigil by celebrating the life that allowed me to do it all.
In memory of my beautiful donor who gave me life and remains with me always.
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