Hey everyone! I hope all my friends out there are doing well: I decided to take a little break from the blog after the awesomeness that was the 3forCHD Project…but now I’m back! So you might be wondering – how did the 3forCHD Project go? I have to say it was fantastic, inspiring, moving, exciting, and all sorts of other great adjectives. People all over the world participated and shared on social media and on our Facebook event page and it was just really touching to see how people were joining together to do some good in their world. People bought food for others, shoveled snow, made cookies…it was just incredible. I also wanted to share a little bit about how it went for my family:
We kicked off early as my oldest son Hudson was really excited and wanted to set up a free drawing station at the 7th Street Public Market in Charlotte. It’s a busy place where people can come and get food from all sorts of different vendors and it’s a place we love to go. So Hudson set up shop and made drawings that he gave away to people to bring smiles:
He did a really nice job and I was really proud of him for being so kind and for helping share information about his little brother’s CHD.
A couple days later while in the drive-thru for Dunkin Donuts, I decided to pay for the couple behind me – they got the hook up:
Hudson was at it again as we both volunteered at a friend’s church for a program they have called Room at the Inn: they bring in homeless people from a local shelter and give them a home-cooked meal, showers, a warm bed, and a roof over their heads for the evening. Hudson is really passionate about helping the homeless, which is amazing for a 6 year old. He worked really hard setting up beds and helping serve food:
Finally, Hudson brought some chocolates to his teacher:
One of the activities I did was to volunteer for a few hours at one of my favorite organizations called Bright Blessings. They provide birthdays for homeless kids in the Charlotte area, and it’s since expanded into providing snacks at schools for kids who may not have them, toiletries, and even baby supplies for new moms who don’t have resources:
I spent most of my time prepping goodie bags for the birthday parties and then moved to packing snack boxes that would go to the local schools:
I can’t say enough about how much I love what this organization is doing!
Our family continued to do some other kind acts together, like giving chocolates to our mail carrier and bringing donuts to our local firefighters. The kids especially loved that part…sorry, I didn’t get pictures for that one!
Next, I was off to volunteer at an organization here in Charlotte called Project 658. They provide resources and support for our refugee community. It’s easy to see why this population needs a lot of help, especially lately. My task for the day was to assist with their free store, where clients received credits each month so they can come “buy” clothes. It encourages them to learn budgeting and some responsibility:
I spent the time sorting clothes and hanging them up and chatting with shoppers…I found it was a great way to help them with their English, since many of them were in ESL classes as well. There was also a sewing class going on in the back, which was very cool to watch.
My final kind act for the 3forCHD Project just might be the one that had the greatest overall impact on me personally. I collected some food items to donate to a local Mosque’s food pantry: when I was corresponding via email with the Imam, I also asked if I could just spend some time chatting with him and learning about his faith. He readily agreed to have me visit. I’m not a Muslim and what I know of the faith is really just the few things I learned at school, so it was a very cool experience to go to a mosque – I’d never been to one before – and learn. Everyone there was so friendly and welcoming and made me feel very comfortable. The Imam gave me a crash course in Islam before inviting me to observe their prayers. As I sat in the back of the room, I felt very privileged to get the chance to be there and watch all this happen. I got to see all these people – from different backgrounds, different races – standing shoulder to shoulder and praying together. It was peaceful and very moving: I was so glad to get the chance. Afterward I chatted with the Imam some more and someone brought me some Pakistani tea, which was AMAZING. I’m not a tea drinker but this stuff was fantastic. But aside from the tea, it was such a great experience:
Around the time I did this, there was a lot going on in the media with the travel ban and a lot of fear of Muslims. I wanted to do this to show people in my community that our Muslim friends are just like us: nothing to be afraid of. In fact, lots of Christian churches could stand to learn from the kindness I was shown at that mosque. I firmly believe that we need to build bridges, not walls!
Overall, the 3 for CHD Project was a really great success: we got to do kind things for others while spreading the word about CHDs. I truly believe it has an impact and I can’t wait to do it again next year! Are you with me?
And if you didn’t get to participate this year, don’t worry: don’t relegate kindness to one week in the year. Make the 3forCHD Project a living thing that goes on and on and on! Keep being kind, never stop!
So you’ve been going about your week and somewhere along the way you received an act of kindness and this flier…
That means you received an act of kindness as part of the 3forCHD Project! February 7-14 is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week and around the world people are doing 3 acts of kindness in order to raise awareness.
I really appreciate you taking the time to visit this blog and learn about my son Nolan’s story, which is just an example of what many kids with CHDs go through. I encourage you to take a little bit of time and read through the posts on here.
Since it’s CHD Awareness Week, I want to also provide some opportunities for you to help spread the word:
- Tell others about those facts that are on the back of your card. CHDs are the most common birth defect. There is no cure.
- Make some noise! You can write to your mayor, governor, city council, or even local lawmaker to tell them about the act of kindness you received and that you want to make them aware of Congenital Heart Defects! The reality is that we still don’t know the cause of CHDs and it’s going to take a lot of research and money to find that out. Call, write, and email to your representative and ask them to support Congenital Heart Defect research.
- Learn more facts! The Pediatric Congenital Heart Association has a great CHD fact sheet: read it here.
- Send your prayers and kind thoughts: there are lots of kids like Nolan out there who need all the prayers and positive thoughts they can get. They are going through lots of scary things and so are their families. They can use your support, even if they don’t know you’re sending it!
- Support a cause, if you wish. There are two great ways to support organizations that help kids with congenital heart defects. The first is Levine Children’s Hospital, where most local heart kids receive their life-saving care. If you ever want to donate to them you can do so here. Another great organization close to our heart is Camp LUCK, which provides support for kids and families as well as a medically-supervised overnight camp for kids with CHDs. They do AMAZING work and you can learn more about them here.
- Continue to follow Nolan’s story. I update this blog pretty regularly and also try to post pictures and videos on his Facebook page. Nolan is one tough kid and he has been through so much and is full of lots of love and laughs. He will be going in for his third open-heart surgery this spring: if you could send him some love through kind messages in the comments section on this blog or on Facebook, that would be awesome!
Thanks again for taking the time to visit. I hope you’ve learned something about CHDs today and I hope you know that not only is it important to me, but it affects thousands of kids and families across the country. You can keep making a difference by helping us make people more aware.
I also hope that the 3forCHD project encourages you to go do your own acts of kindness: imagine what a difference we could make!
You guys, I am super excited about this post because I get to announce a really awesome opportunity to spread CHD Awareness. So about 3 years ago I did something called the 32for32 project, where I did 32 acts of kindness for my 32nd birthday in order to raise CHD Awareness. The following year I was able to do some lobbying for CHD research in Washington, DC, which was amazing. Last year I did 10 acts of kindness in 10 locations in the area and when you looked at them on a map it made the shape of a heart. Each of those projects gave me a really great chance to teach people about CHDs while doing some great things for people in need in my community. Over time I’m heard from people who were inspired by this and wanted to be a part of it somehow…well here is your chance!
I’m happy to announce the 3forCHD project!
During this year’s CHD Awareness Week, February 7-14, I want to unite heart families and friends all around the world and encourage them to do three acts of kindness in an effort to educate people about congenital heart defects and hopefully play a part in finding a cure.
Three. That’s it.
Three things: that can be feeding the homeless, volunteering at a nonprofit, bringing treats back to the staff at the children’s hospital where your heart warrior got their care. It can be anything! It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter where you live. All I’m asking is for all of you to join me during that week to make a real difference in people’s lives. Imagine if 100 of us do this: that’s 300 acts of kindness…300 real, tangible ways for us to help people in need! That’s AMAZING!
So I need you to step up and do this with me, I need you to be excited about this with me: I want you to share this with your friends and family. Invite them along: maybe partner with other families where you live and do something awesome together. Whatever it is, I know that together we will make a big impact!
I’ve made a Facebook event page where you can “join” the event (keep in mind you’ll be doing all these activities right where you live) and post pictures, videos, and stories of your acts of kindness using the hashtag #3forCHD. You can use the same hashtag to share throughout all of social media leading up to and during the event. Let’s take this thing worldwide!
I’ve also made up this handout for you to use:
Print some out and give them out when you do your 3 acts of kindness. Once Feb 7th hits, I will add a “sticky” post to the top of my blog that will welcome anyone who has received this handout and is brave enough to come here to this blog. It’ll have more information about CHDs and what they can do to continue being involved. It’ll remain there for a couple weeks after the event, too.
Will this require some money? Maybe. Will this require your time? Yes. But what we need – most of all – is your heart. I believe that if we give back, with all our hearts, we will create a movement where people know about CHDs and will help us make enough noise to increase funding for research and one day find the cure.
So I have just one more question for you…
WHO’S WITH ME?
Lately the weather here in North Carolina has been – for lack of a better word – possessed. One weekend it’s snowing and the van is encased in ice, and then a few days later it’s 70 degrees. Go figure. I’m not complaining, though, I appreciate some really mild weather this time of year; after all, I grew up in Connecticut, where the snow can get waist-deep, so this is much appreciated. Anyways, we were recently taking advantage of a fairly nice evening outside with our fire pit. It was a little cool outside, so we had some light jackets on and made some hot cocoa and just hung out before putting the kids to bed. Grant loves the fire pit, referring to it as the “fire camp,” so he was excited to hear we were starting the fire. Of course, our kids’ attention span lasted a whole 42.7 seconds and they were off playing with toys in the back yard, which is just fine. At one point, Nolan was playing with a metal Tonka dump truck and was piling all sorts of stuff into the back: a football, a small skateboard, a bowling pin, a bucket. And it was cute seeing him lost in the world of play. My wife commented how “it’s nice to see him just doing little boy stuff.” And it’s true: you’ve been there too – where you look at your Heart Kid doing even the most “normal” things and you just appreciate it, because they’ve been through so very much.
As a dad, I live for all the moments and all the memories with my kids. Walking, first words, first days of school, piling on top of their poor old man:
School performances, Donuts with Dads, parent teacher conferences, etc. I live for it and I will do everything possible not to miss those moments. I’m so thankful for that chance.
Lately I’ve been really thinking about those types of moments and how fortunate I am to experience them. My job is really flexible in letting me attend school stuff or appointments and it means a lot to me and the kids, too. Even time at the park is a joy:
But as a Heart Dad I really want to acknowledge that there’s a tremendous amount of sacrifice that goes into the opportunity to make those moments happen.
Every single day – rain or shine, snow or sleet – there are a group of people who leave their homes while it’s still dark, or leave home while most people are just getting home from work, and they park their cars, ride an elevator, badge in on a time clock, wash their hands, and get to work. Some of them walk into the room where I’ve sat, sleepless and helpless with my son on a vent, and say, “Hi, I’ll be your son’s nurse today.” Some of them load up a cart of cleaning supplies and work hard to keep things clean and avoid the spread of germs. Some lug a ladder down the hall to replace a burned-out light bulb so a nurse can see better when he or she is charting. Some fire up the grill in the cafeteria to sling burgers and chicken sandwiches for hungry families and staff. Some scrub in for a grueling surgery in an effort to safe a kid’s life. Some land a helicopter on the roof, carrying a life that needs desperate help from the best team available. These are the hospital workers…and they sacrifice so much for us.
I really want to use this post to acknowledge all the hospital workers – clinicians and non-clinicians – who give so much so that we can enjoy so much. You have lives, you have families, and you have memories you want to make, too. I just want you all to know that it’s not lost on me that sometimes you sacrifice a school performance, a bedtime story, a goodnight kiss, a good push on the swings…all for my son, and to give us the chance to enjoy him. I know you put up with a lot: the demands, the long hours, the demands, the hours without peeing, the hours without eating, the sad stories. I see you, and I thank you. It’s your job, but I know your job comes with a steep price: you could do anything else in this world but you choose what you do, and I could never enjoy the memories I have without you.
So hospital workers – wherever you are, whatever you do – just know that you are loved, you are appreciated, and your sacrifices truly do pave the way for magical moments in a Heart Family’s life. Your work is not in vain, your work is priceless.
The life of a Heart Parent is a rather insane one. I know you know this: isn’t it amazing how the most run-of-the-mill things become colossal when your heart kid is involved? Take this holiday season, for example.
We made the trek to Florida for a good 10 days to spend with my wife’s family. All the kids did surprisingly well on the drive (which we stretched over 2 days) and enjoyed their time with their grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. The bulk of the time was spent in a condo right on the beach in Clearwater…it was pretty sweet:
The day after Christmas the whole family took a trip to Busch Gardens, and we weren’t completely sure what to expect. Let’s face it: the twins are still shrimps so I wasn’t sure how many rides they could get on. Plus it was really hot, which Nolan struggles with…and if Nolan isn’t happy…well…no one is, if you know what I mean. But Busch Gardens had a decent collection of rides in their Sesame Street-themed area and none of them provided any concern for the kids. I mean look how happy Nolan is here:
The big deal came two days later when our little family had the opportunity to go to LegoLand. Before I get into the story I wanted to give a little background about how we got to go to LegoLand. Merlin’s Magic Wand is a wonderful charity that gifts fun outings to kids with severe illnesses and disadvantages. They were gracious enough to provide our family of 5 with tickets to LegoLand and we gave it to the kids as a family gift on Christmas Day. They were super excited to get to go on more rides and I was excited at the prospect of a theme park that’s made for smaller kiddos.
Now I love amusement parks. Always have. I love roller coasters and all sorts of fun rides, so I was really looking forward to this special day with the family, and Nolan was definitely excited too:
They gave us a little pass to help us get on the rides quicker, they measured Nolan and gave him a wrist band so he wouldn’t have to be measured at every ride (he’s finally 36″! YAY!), and every single person who we ran into there was so kind to all of us. We got on some rides like the train and the merry go round and even this Lego Chima ride that got us SOAKED. There were smiles all around…this was gonna be an awesome day.
But then Nolan said it: “I wanna go on a roller coaster.” He had asked this several times already and we were able to successfully deflect it and re-direct, but this time he was insistent. The problem? He was too small for any of the roller coasters, not to mention I had no idea if a coaster was truly a good idea for him, if you know what I mean. It says it there when you get to the line: not for people with heart trouble. This was looking to get real frustrating, real fast.
But kudos to my wife, who is ever so awesome: she saw there was a ride nearby that could potentially serve as a “coaster” of sorts for Nolan. It was called Merlin’s Challenge:
You’ve been on something like it, I’m sure. You’re in a car, it spins round and round and goes up and down. Nothing too fancy, but the cars looked like trains and to Nolan it was a roller coaster…and I wasn’t gonna correct him. And the height requirement? 36 inches! BAM! So we waited in line and Nolan was super excited as we boarded. Hudson was big enough to ride in a car by himself. My wife went with Grant and I went with Nolan. I sat next to him asking if he was ready and excited. He was practically jumping up and down with excitement. Again…this was gonna be awesome. But then, as the ride operator pushed our lap bar down into place, my freakout started.
Suddenly, in an instant, my mind went racing: this is the fastest, most insense ride he’s ever been on. Don’t let his chest hit the bar. Don’t let his head hit the bar. Don’t let his head hit the back. Watch him. Watch him. What if his lips turn blue? What if his heart rate goes too fast? How will I know? Will I know? How can I stop this ride? Do I flag the guy down? Do I yell “STOP!” Do I yell “EMERGENCY!” How fast can a medic get here? What’s the closest hospital? I was like:
And then the ride started to move and I was like OHCRAPOHCRAPOHCRAPOHCRAP! It was the most scared to death I’ve been in a long, long time. No joke guys, I was freaking out. But then I heard it…the high-pitched, squealing, almost wookie-like laugh of the strongest little 4 year old on earth sitting next to me. I looked down and Nolan was smiling and laughing and looked like everything was a-ok. Only then I was able to relax. It’s blurry because we were going fast, but just look at this face:
I think the ride maybe lasted 2 minutes…but it was 2 minutes of pure joy. Preceded by holy terror, of course…but pure joy nonetheless. It was a moment I’ll cherish forever because after all the surgeries, all the therapies, all the tube feeds, all the meds, and all the concerns about what he might not be able to do, we had a moment where he got to spin, laugh, have fun, and be just an awesome 4 year old boy. It was epic and it meant everything.
This life we lead is a marathon and there will be many freak-out moments along the way, but man sometimes these kids of ours will just surprise us and lead us into a place of true joy.
Our family really wants to thank Merlin’s Magic Wand for their absolute kind generosity to our family and families like ours. Your helped us make memories that otherwise would not have happened. And to the staff at LegoLand in Florida: you guys are amazingly kind…keep up the great work!
As you know by this point, on top of having a CHD, Nolan has also struggled with feeding issues his whole life. Aside from slowly taking a couple bottles from me when he was a couple days old in the NICU, he’s never really eaten by mouth. He had a feeding tube placed before we brought him home for the first time and it’s been a life of tube feeds and feeding therapy for the little man. Progress on eating has really been up and down: we successfully moved him from Pediasure to using blended feeds and eventually managed to get Real Food Blends covered by our insurance, which took quite a bit of work. All the while he wasn’t really eating at all. His morning routine, in fact, involved some meds, some fluids, vitamins, and some Benecalorie, which is a high-calorie product that we mix with water or juice:
During Nolan’s stint on the rehab unit this summer, one of his speech therapists – Grace – gave us a few “local” recommendations for feeding programs. All of them were hours away, which made for a tough choice. In the end, we decided to try the feeding program at the University of North Carolina Medical Center because they had some experience working with heart kids. Once all the referrals were made we had our first appointment for early in the morning in October. Until this point, all of Nolan’s appointments are around 30 minutes away. Now we were facing this:
And not only did we face a nearly 3-hour drive, I had to take the day off work and we had to find people to drop off our other kids at school and pick them up. This was quite an undertaking. We left super early and made the drive…and barely made it there because of traffic. UNC Medical Center is on a really big campus, right next to the University. They have a massive parking deck with a $10 daily maximum and no validation in the hospital…BOO. It’s kinda weird having to go to a different facility after being so used to Levine Children’s Hospital and we didn’t know what to expect. We found the check-in relatively easily and went through all the initial paperwork and whatnot. Then we were sent to a different waiting room and were barely there before Nolan was called back. They got the usual weight/height/sats that everyone measures and then we were taken back to a room.
What’s unique about this program is that it’s run by a team approach. We had a NP from GI come in along with a nutritionist and the feeding specialist. All at the same time. Yes, you read that correctly. Working across disciplines: what a concept! The initial appointment was really, really long: they had a ton of questions, naturally, and wanted a good feel for Nolan’s needs. While they did give us some dry spoon exercises to do with Nolan at home, their first major concern was Nolan’s vomiting. Nolan has always had issues with throwing up ever since he came home from the Norwood. We talked to everyone we could about it and either no one seemed too concerned or no one could do anything about it. And absolutely no one would communicate across disciplines about it. God forbid. So this was different. They said the dose of meds he was on for his tummy was so low it wasn’t going to do anything so they prescribed him a different med – Nexium – that he would take once a day before feeding. Then they also recommended starting him on a different food blend called Nourish:
It’s a plant-based formula that they felt better met his nutrient needs (Real Food Blends apparently was short on some things, hence our need to add vitamins). Plus they said the addition of turmeric in the blend has shown to help kids with their reflux issues. I was skeptical: I just wanted to jump to the feeding and get it done as quickly as possible so we can stop driving so much. But hey, I don’t get to make that choice, right? For now, though, hey held off on the Nourish and just had us work with the dry spoon and new meds on Nolan and meanwhile they would communicate with Nolan’s current speech therapist to see if she was on-board with UNC’s recommended plan (she was, thank God).
We went back one month later and Nolan was showing a little bit of improvement with the vomiting and he did a good job taking the dry spoon. So the next step was to start him on Nourish. They made sure our DME provider carried it (great job on their part!) and told us they’d email the recommendations for switching over. What they didn’t tell us was…dun dun dun…we’d be bringing back to bleeping feeding pump. And when I say bleeping I mean literally bleeping.
This really made me pissed off because we had gone away from the previous Kangaroo pump and were giving his feed bolus by hand. Now we were back to this nonsense and we they wanted us to put him on continuous overnight feeds for 10 hours. TEN HOURS! Did they know how much this kid rolls around in his sleep?
We did try, though: we hooked him up and immediately this godforsaken machine would beep and beep and beep with some kind of error: No Flow In, No Flow Out, blah blah blah. And I hated it. Do you remember the movie Demolition Man? Where Sylvester Stallone kept cursing at that citation machine?
That was pretty much me.
So we fired off an email to the team and pleaded our case for not having the overnight feeds, at least. They responded that it was meant to help create a hunger sensation that would help with feeding and to trust them for awhile.
So there it was…trust. It’s hard to do, and especially hard when the team is hours away and doing something that inconveniences you. But that’s just what it is, an inconvenience for me…ultimately it’s meant to help Nolan, so we sucked it up and went with it.
Well I gotta tell you: between the meds and the feed blend, Nolan rarely vomits now. And even when it seems like he’s going to (usually when he’s upset), I’ve noticed he’s able to control himself and not do it. It’s amazing! We’ve also graduated from dry spoon practice to dipping the spoon in juice and Nolan has been doing a great job. Yesterday he sat down to feed at least 3 times and took at least 20 bites each time. Soon we’ll graduate to dipping the spoon in a little bit of puree. Baby steps. This is going to be a long process but I’m seeing some progress in our little man…and I’m starting to trust his feeding team more and more. It’s amazing what can happen when disciplines work together! So until now we’ll keep up the work and won’t head back to UNC until February, but it’s promising! As long as he keeps eating, we’ll keep driving. Whatever it takes. Go, Nolan, Go!
On Saturday, December 10th I woke up to a now-common sound: “Dad….DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD!” I hopped up out of bed and opened the door to our room to see little Mr. Nolan there in the hallway, arms held up, saying, “Take me downstairs?” I bent down and scooped him into my arms and he put his arms around my neck and rested his head on my right shoulder. Almost immediately Grant came up and I picked him up too. It was a very special day. I whispered, “Happy Birthday, big boys!” and I was immediately overwhelmed. Here they are…my two little boys…and they’re FOUR! I remember the mad rush to the hospital at 3am, the C-Section, the NICU stay for both babies. I remember being happy as Grant did good enough to go home after 5 days, and I remember the fear that grew in the pit of my stomach every day as I knew sometime soon I’d have to hand over Nolan for a major heart surgery in an effort to save his life.
In the years since, Nolan has been through so much and continues to endure quite a bit. He’s one tough little boy. And Grant has been a fantastic little (by 2 minutes) brother. Together they’re a wreck: a destructive force of giggles and tackle-hugs. There was a time where we didn’t know if Nolan would see 4…but here he is: 3 heart surgeries later and still smiling and still fighting. Each year at their birthday I reflect on what we’ve all endured. There’s so much to celebrate…so much to be thankful for. We’re thankful for our little family, for physicians, nurses, friends, family.
Happy birthday to my sweet Nolan and Grant…I can’t wait to celebrate year 5!
Every hospital has The Intersection. Every heart parent has stood at The Intersection. This is the place where it all becomes real, where it’s go-time, where you whisper that last fervent prayer before letting go. You woke up early to come to the hospital for a surgery date you’ve been dreading, you’re ushered up to a pre-op room where people come to get you to sign here, initial here. Maybe you review some last-minute information and meet the surgery and anesthesia team. But eventually the moment comes where you enter The Intersection. At our hospital, you step out of the room and into the hall where it forms a T: this is the place where a group of people (and your child) turn right while you have to let go and turn left towards the waiting area.
The Intersection is a heavy, heavy place. It’s the place where fear and doubt seem the strongest and where you muster every last bit of hope left in your body and try to project it on the people turning right. For a brief moment all those thoughts cross through your mind: did I pray hard enough, have I been good enough, have I been a good parent, did I give enough hugs, was this the right choice, are you sure it couldn’t just be me instead of him? It’s such a tough place because to turn right is handing your child over to certain fear and pain, which is necessary to live. To turn right is to be filled with fear and tears.
I don’t write this to merely drum up our old fears, but rather I spell them out for a different reason: to thank a group that I think often goes overlooked. A couple months ago I was asked to share Nolan’s story with our surgical services team at work. This was a massive group of nearly 200 people all in their green scrubs and funny giant shower cap thingies. They have their staff meetings at like 6am, which is bonkers, but I digress. As I walked to the auditorium, I was thinking in my mind what to say and this idea of The Intersection hit me like a ton of bricks and I just had to share it. So I shared Nolan’s story and at the very end I said to them, and I’m paraphrasing here:
“There’s a place I call The Intersection. Where Nolan goes one way and I can’t follow, so I have to go the other. This is a really tough place to be because I know where he goes there is pain, and where I go there are tears. But as I stand here in front of you I want to thank you, because when he makes that right turn I’m essentially handing him over to you…the people I don’t even see…to save his life. And without you, there is no Nolan, so I thank you.”
I gotta tell you, it took everything in my power for me not to lose it there. Not to mention it was 6am so I was already a wreck as it was. But I meant it. You see, while our amazing surgeons make the news and magazine covers and whatnot, there’s a whole team of people behind those operating room doors who we will never see or meet. They keep things clean, keep things stocked, keep things moving smoothly and Lord knows what else they do. They are so important to the success of these surgeries and I’m not sure they get the recognition they deserve.
So while I know it’s painful to think about The Intersection, remember that it’s Thanksgiving week: let’s channel those thoughts into some genuine thanks for the surgical services teams who have played such an under-the-radar role in the success of our kids. I encourage you to share this post on social media, maybe write a card or note to the surgical services team at your local children’s hospital. Whatever it is, just make sure you let them know how much you appreciate that they’re there on the other side of The Intersection.
If you’re reading this and you’re part of the team who wears the green scrubs and the funny shower caps: just know that our family thanks you for your hard work. Let this recognition encourage you and your teammates to know you are loved and appreciated for your work…keep it up!
I’m sure before you had a child that was born with a critical illness, you knew of your local Children’s Hospital, but you didn’t really know about it. You’ve probably said to yourself, “I’m glad we have it, I just hope we never have to use it.” For you that wish didn’t come true and ushered in a reality that you never expected.
Like all of us, you’ve made many trips to and from these hospitals and walked through the same set of doors over and over: rain or shine, sleet or snow, holiday or humdrum Wednesday. As we left our – hopefully – last surgery with Nolan, I started to really think on the significance of the front door of the hospital.
The Door can lead to our greatest fears, but also our greatest hope. There have been way too many times where I’ve had to walk from the parking garage to these doors, and every step closer makes me more scared and more nervous. Because on the other side of The Door is something scary for my son, something unknown, something painful, but something necessary. But also on the other side of those doors is a team of people who have the professional training to give your kid a shot at a full life. This door also leads the way back home…it says “we made it.” The Door leads to thanksgiving…to joy…to peace.
The Door also leads to suffering. And before you think I’m getting too heavy, just let me say that I believe we don’t talk about suffering enough when it comes to healthcare. Because it makes us uncomfortable and carries a negative connotation. But like it or not, this is the reality of what occurs every single day at a hospital: innocent kids given a diagnosis they don’t deserve, losing time on a childhood that should be free of pain and fear. There are parents who walk through those doors everyday consumed with thoughts like: is he going to make it? How am I going to pay for this? How long? How much more can I do? What about work? And on and on and on. They suffer, too.
Healthcare workers: you have such a power within your hands to impact suffering. Sure, if my son hurts you give him something for it. If I’m cold, you give me a blanket. That’s what’s considered inherent suffering. It’s tied to the thing we’re here for. But what else? There’s another type of suffering called avoidable suffering and preventing/reducing this takes a lot of effort and isn’t something you learned in school. What does this look like? It’s the worker(s) that walk past the lost parents in the hallway, because “I’m too busy right now.” It’s the worker that doesn’t make eye contact. It’s the one who talks down to people. It’s the one who won’t realize that the hospital isn’t quite home for a sick kid, and won’t go beyond the scope of their job description to make that better. It’s the worker who operates off of a checklist instead of a heartbeat. It’s the one who sees a parent as “pushy” or “snappy” without realizing that we…are…suffering. Once you realize that and try to put yourself in our shoes, it will drastically change the way healthcare is delivered. Because human connection and empathy are a powerful way to help heal. I know you didn’t get into healthcare for checklists, productivity reports, and to spend half the day scouring the building for the last working med pump. When you empathize and see suffering for what it is, you will reconnect with the reason you got into this business.
What about those who walk back out the doors and re-enter their lives? To friends and family: you play a crucial part in alleviating suffering, too! Please realize that while the surgery was a success, and the prognosis is good, we’re going back into a world that’s forever changed. There might be medications to give, multiple appointments, tube feeds, endless stops at the pharmacy, loss of work, increase in stress, and a new schedule that basically says we can’t hang out like we used to. We want nothing more than to go back to that, but this is our new reality. And it’s really, really hard sometimes. And we need you. Don’t stop inviting us to stuff: one day we’ll surprise you and say yes. Don’t stop asking how you can help, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. Realize that while we might wear a smile, it’s not always that way in our minds. We’re always going to worry about the future, that’s just how it is. So text your friend, send a card, cook them a meal…just let them know they’re loved. And try to understand what it would be like for you if the rug was suddenly pulled out from under you and you’re left to put it back together. And I also can’t let this paragraph end without saying that unfortunately there are people who walk through The Door empty-handed forever. I cannot imagine the pain these families face. Please be there with love and patience and kindness. If it was you, you’d want the same.
The Door is a place of great heaviness, but there are things we can all do for those who are currently standing at The Door. If we realize they have fears and are suffering, we can surely do things – through compassion and empathy – to give them the power of hope and joy. They can walk into the hospital knowing they’ll be treated like family. And they’ll walk out knowing they are truly loved.
So this was new territory for us…the Rehab unit. While Nolan’s weakness was unexpected for us, we are always willing to do whatever it took to make him better. So to the 4th floor we went. We met with Dr. Tsai, who was over that unit and he was a very kind, compassionate guy…we really liked him. For some weird reason we technically had to be discharged from the hospital and re-admitted to the Rehab floor, even though we never once left the hospital. But oh well.
One thing became clear right away: we were outside the friendly confines of our usual CVICU and Progressive Care units, where caring for kids with CHDs is right in their wheelhouse. Here? Not so much, but that’s not a bad thing. We just had to do a lot of explaining and re-explaining, and – of course – resetting the blasted pulse ox machine so it wasn’t beeping every 45 seconds. A slew of therapists came through to do initial evals on Nolan and we learned that everyday except Sunday he would have up to 3 hours of therapy a day and they would come in every afternoon to post the next day’s schedule on a calendar in our room, which was pretty cool. It would have the therapy, the therapist’s name, their picture, and length of time. They even scheduled nap/rest times. I actually liked knowing who was coming and when, as opposed to other floors when people just show up (you know how that is…come on, people). Otherwise the staff worked pretty well with us as they got used to Nolan and let us kinda control how often they’d come in and bug him and even let us give most of the meds if we were able. That really ensured a more restful night…for him, not for us: we slept on an awful, skin-eating vinyl couch, but whatever.
On Nolan’s second day they jumped right into things like helping him stand and use his arms for play:
It was a rough go at first: he was still very weak and still on oxygen so things were slow-moving and he got tired easily. But this is Nolan we’re talking about, so he’s a trooper! We enjoyed walks around the hospital in his wagon and even fun time in his room…one of his favorites was playing Bingo:
The combo of letters and numbers was right up his alley. We’d use the TV in the room to tune into the radio station in the lobby and he would call and say “BINGO!” whenever he’d make a line. Then two of the interns would come up dressed like Disney characters and bring him a prize. He LOVED it.
So on and on it went: Nolan continued to work really hard and began making some good progress. He even got some visits from the therapy dogs:
We got to meet some families there in that unit who had been there for some time and would be there for some time. Their kids were going through some real difficulties and my heart went out to them. We knew Nolan would regain his strength and for that I’m thankful. Nolan started getting more energy (and got pushier and bossier, as is his custom) and eventually we got to this point:
That is a post-Fontan, little beast, completely walking on his own with NO oxygen! YEAAAAAAAAAH BOY!
So the next step, then, was to get the heck outta this place and get back home! WOOHOO! And then finally…33 days after we went in for the Fontan…Super Nolan walked back through those hospital doors and we made our way back home, where we can focus on an amazing future for this little nugget: