Hello readers! February 7-14 is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week. This is the time (though it’s pretty much year-round for me) where we get everyone’s attention by sharing facts about CHDs, which have no cure. The Pediatric Congenital Heart Association has done a fantastic job creating a graphic that sums up the impact of CHDs:
CHDs are devastating for families. Painful and frightening for kids. Expensive to treat. Grossly underfunded in terms of research.
Please share these facts with the people you know and with the people you don’t know, because everyone needs to know…the more support we get for CHD research, the better chance we have of eliminating it one day.
So this week, give your Heart Kid an extra tight hug and be grateful for them and all that their experiences have taught you. For those who mourn this week because CHDs have taken your loved ones, my heart goes out to you and breaks for you. If there’s one more thing I ask, is that this week you do something kind for someone else, in the name of the kids fighting Heart Defects and those who have passed on.
I wake up pretty early for work – just after 5am, usually – and let’s face it, it stinks. No one likes getting up while it’s still dark out and leaving for work while it’s still dark out. For me, however, I got a little bit of perspective over the last few months while leaving for work and – if you’ve read this blog at all – you know that perspective in this journey is an important, and helpful, thing. You see, I used to just wake up, shower, get dressed, let the dog out, give Nolan his morning meds, pack my lunch, make coffee, and then head out to the car and off to work. Boom. Same thing every morning.
The last few months, though, I’ve come to give a little bit of appreciation to leaving for work while it’s still dark due to one thing: the view. While leaving for work one day I just happened to look up and – WOW – it was like the sky was darker than usual and the stars were brighter. And it was incredibly beautiful. So then it became a morning thing: go out the front door, lock it, then look up. The moon would shine, you can pick out a constellation or two, maybe a planet like Venus nice and bright in the morning sky. And call me a nerd if you want, but it’s almost breathtaking.
You see, where I grew up there was a lot of light everywhere, so seeing the stars wasn’t really much of a thing. You can see some, but it also wasn’t the kinda neighborhood where you hung around outside looking up at the sky. Over time, you take that kind of thing for granted. Yeah, there’s stars and a moon, they’re up there all the time, big deal. I live in the ‘burbs now and while there’s still quite a bit of light, I can see the stars much better now than when I was younger, and now I find myself in awe. How they can be so far away and still seem right there, how we”ll see more of the moon’s surface in our life than our own planet’s (when you think about it). I think about how people navigated using the stars long, long ago, and how amazing it is that – as far as we know – we’re the only living beings out there. Crazy, right?
For Christmas, the kids got a telescope as a family gift and I think I was the most excited to use it. I’ve looked at the moon with it several times (most recently the blood moon eclipse, which was amazing), but the first time we set it up and I finally got the moon in view, it was really breathtaking. Even the kids were amazed, and they don’t seem amazed by anything sometimes. The stars, the moon, space…it just leaves me with this amazing sense of wonder. What else is out there? What will we find out in my lifetime? What’s it like to be in space?
There’s something about that sense of wonder that I find – I dunno – grounding, in a way. When I look up in the morning sky and see those stars as I’m walking to my car, there’s that feeling of being so small in this great huge universe. And that’s actually ok with me, it doesn’t bother or intimidate me at all. It tells me there’s so much more to know and to learn. And that I’m lucky to be alive, on Earth, to see what discoveries happen next. That’s amazing!
Then I get to thinking about being a Heart Dad and I realize that this life is often full of wonder, too, if you stop and think about it. The other day I was giving Nolan his evening meds: he’s sound asleep by this point and I was just kind of watching him sleep and breathe slowly (you parents know all about the “you still alive?” nighttime check). And then it hit me, even though I already knew it – this kid has half a heart. HALF. That’s wild…and it, like, still pretty much functions. Yes, the plumbing is different right now and it’s nowhere near perfect, but whoa. That’s pretty amazing. What does it feel like to have half a heart? I don’t know. I don’t think Nolan can describe it to me at this point, and either way he doesn’t really have much of a reference point for what a “normal” heart feels like. When Nolan gets to running around and playing, or when he’s at the trampoline park jumping around and climbing, you can sometimes forget about his HLHS. And yeah, that gives me a sense of wonder, too. Yes, CHD is stressful and scary, but wow is it amazing what this kid can do and how his body works.
Look at our own bodies! Before our heart warriors, I’m certain we really didn’t think much about our own physiology. We didn’t think about heartbeats or circulation or the intricacies of the human body. At least, I didn’t. But man, now that we’re kinda immersed in it, it’s pretty amazing right? It’s amazing how far medicine and healthcare has come. And it’s amazing to see where it will go.
I just think sometimes we get too caught up in everything…life hits you hard and fast…and we don’t take time to dwell in wonder about something. It’s a lot like me growing up, not seeing much of the stars and not bothering to really acknowledge that they were there. But now I can take the time and I have the ability to see them and be amazed. Often we let fears and anxieties of the CHD life consume us. I’m not saying it’s wrong to be afraid, or that it’s wrong to be anxious. I understand and accept that those things will always be there and they hit me, too. But I wonder what it would be like if every once in awhile we stop, open our eyes and our minds, and just dwell in the wonder that is our heart warrior….or the wonder of the human body, or the ocean, or space, or animals, or nature, or whatever. I’m willing to bet that in those moments when it feels like life is spinning just a bit (or a lot) out of control, letting wonder keep you grounded with help you a great deal. I know it does for me. So maybe get out there early in the morning or at night, take a few deep breaths, and look up. The stars are out there waiting.