Flashback #3: The Surgeon Smiles, The Parents Breath (#CHDAware)

I’m sipping tea at the dining room table. Charlotte is upstairs–first day of winter break–doing who knows what. I look at the clock: 9:17 a.m., exactly the time a year ago today Dr. Backer made the first incision in Charlotte’s third open heart surgery. It’s been 365 days. Charlotte hasn’t given it a second thought. Her scars will be neatly hidden beneath warm clothes today, and she’s mostly focused on whether she can convince me to go to a toy store. But, I’m sure I won’t stop thinking about it all day. About how lucky we’ve been in her outcomes so far.

 

I thought I’d share our final update from the surgical waiting room because it begins with the most unlikely of images, a smiling surgeon.

February 11, 2015, Update #4: Dr. Backer stopped by about 30 minutes ago, coffee in hand, imprint from surgical cap still on his forehead, and grin on his face.

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Bubba sits on the gurney outside the surgical suite, keeping guard.

 

Bottom line: Charlotte is out of surgery and he is happy with the results. As he was talking, the surgical team was getting ready to bring Charlotte up to the CCU. We should be able to see her in an hour.

If you don’t need details, you can stop reading there!  If you want more, read on:

The doctor replaced her 16mm Dacron conduit and valve with a 22mm conduit and valve. That means that she has a valve the approximate size of mine. He said that the new valve (her last one was placed in 2007) are made better than the old ones. And it is big enough that there is a good chance that a valve replacement, if needed, might be done via catheter procedure. No one can say for sure that this is her last open heart surgery, but this one went as well as can be expected.

p.s. The new valve is still a “piggy valve,” so kiddo will still be able to snort when she laughs.

Sources:

Children’s Heart Foundation Fact Sheet

American Academy of Pediatrics Congenital Heart Public Health Consortium

 

Flashback #2: Partying through Pre-Op to Mend a Broken Heart (#CHDAware))

Every 6 months I go through the heart momma ritual: I brew a cuppa (today it was tea) and dial the cardiologist’s office to schedule our follow up. And today, that phone call topped my to do list. We have every reason to believe that it will be a routine visit, lots of images, and then a lovely chat with Dr. Young. But…no heart mother (or father) ever stops worrying or ever stops bracing herself for that other kind of appointment. In November 2014, we had that other kind of appointment. We expected it, anticipated it, and were still gobsmacked by it. Still angry at the injustice of our kid having to go through this kind of heartache, literally.

Today’s flashback will take you to February 9, 2015 the day before her scheduled surgery.

It includes a tribute to the children who made it clear that their hearts would hold Charlotte’s while she underwent surgery and recovered. I am grateful to them and their teacher every day. (Fair warning: I cried AGAIN when I watched the video.

February 10, 2015: Pre-Op The lead up to the pre-op appointment started in the most wonderful way. Charlotte’s classmates threw her a surprise party. While she was, I think, most thrilled with the gifts (especially an Equestria and Monster High Dolls), we were touched by the fact that the party was the idea of two of Charlotte’s classmates and the joy of the rest of them. The children put their hearts and souls into letting Charlotte know that they would miss her, that they will be thinking about her, and that she has an incredible network of support.

We spent the weekend playing with friends and generally not thinking about what was on deck for this week.

We also began a mindfulness practice late last week to practice breathing through fears, especially fears of needles.

This morning my friend Jeanne came to work with Charlotte, using an energy technique called EFT Tapping. Charlotte did as good a job as she could working with Jeanne, though she did lose focus once she realized that there were still crepes in the refrigerator. She did seem relaxed and ready for anything when we left the house.

Now, Jeanne and I realized that one tapping session and a few meditation sessions might not help her enough. But, Charlotte was willing and it was worth a try.

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I got a smile from her when I told her that Bubba was looking down from atop her head and smiling. I had to take this photo to prove it!

I wish I could say it worked miraculously. Sadly, no. Charlotte began to fall apart when it was time to change in to a hospital gown for the lung x-ray. The little tigers seemed babyish to her. Then the x-ray technician called her “sweetie” and told her she couldn’t hold Bubba during the x-ray. Charlotte’s dark side started seeping out. She was muttering, crying, on the verge of a meltdown. I snuck Bubba under her thumb and we got out of there as unscathed as possible.

She calmed down and seemed to set her mind to getting through the blood draw. Until we entered the room. I’ll spare you the details, you can get the general idea from the last time we did this. Truthfully, I’m sparing me the details. I don’t have the heart to write about this again. Bottom line–this time was a bit worse. We were better prepared; instead of a phlebotomist, we had a member of the IV team to do the draw. We called Child Life to distract. And still, Charlotte just couldn’t concentrate on hertools.We tried breathing. She didn’t want to tap, so I tried another technique Jeanne taught me, squeezing Charlotte’s finger tips while quietly talking to her. Eventually she said, “Mom, stop squeezing my fingers.” Sigh.

Eventually (maybe 40 minutes later?) the IV team member had to go to the ICU so she called cardiology and we went down to see the APN (advanced practice nurse) for our pre-op conversation. The nurse and Dr. Backer spoke while we went down and they decidedFullSizeRender-4that they could get the blood once Charlotte is under anesthesia tomorrow. It’s not ideal–it will add time to the procedure and the time that Charlotte is under anesthesia, but since they couldn’t sedate her today, it was the best we could do.

Maria, the APN, explained the procedure and risks and we asked a few questions. Then it was time to get lunch and head to Art for the Heart.

We got Charlotte to bed around 9:30 after a bath, watching Mirror Mirror and swabbing her whole body with special antibacterial wipes.

We are expected at the hospital at 6 a.m. tomorrow. We’ll keep you posted periodically. If we don’t answer your texts or phone calls quickly, please don’t take it personally.

 

 

Flashback #1: 18 Hours Before Surgery She Played a Steinway (#CHDAware)

I’ve just kissed Charlotte good night after finishing the very excellent The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg. As we snuggled and talked about her upcoming school break, I couldn’t help but think how different February 9, 2016 is from February 9, 2015. Since this is CHD Awareness Week, and we are oh, so aware, I thought I’d repost last year’s heart updates, starting with the eve of the anticipated surgery.

In case you don’t remember, or are just tuning in, Charlotte was originally scheduled for open heart surgery on February 10, 2016. We had our pre-op appointments that day. And, then Charlotte did something amazing, she played piano to benefit Saving tiny Hearts Society.

Read all about February 9, 2015 and be #CHDAware.

Charlotte’s scars have nearly faded back to the silky white of February 2015, and she seems less self-conscious of them. But she stills feels different. Sometimes special. Always grateful.

 

Heart Month 2016: How Aware Are You?

While the “Charlotte’s Journey” part of this blog is on a sort of hiatus for the time being, I thought I’d use Heart Month to continue raising awareness of CHD and of the amazing Heart Center team at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

This video tells the heart-stopping (literally) and heartwarming story of Kaysen, a brave baby who survived a heart transplant when she was only a few weeks old. Watch it, and try not to cry. I dare you.

Years ago, my friend Francie Paul asked the cardiac-thoracic surgeons at Lurie Children’s what they need most. The answer? More research dollars. The Children’s Heart Foundation notes that for every government dollar spent on cancer research (very important research, and I certainly don’t begrudge them the money), less than a fraction of a penny is spent researching congential heart defects, their origins, and their treatment. Less than a fraction of a penny  for the leading cause of birth defect-related infant illness and death.  Let that sink in a bit. And then if you feel like it, visit Saving tiny Hearts Society to learn about how Francie and her husband Brian decided to combat that imbalance.

I’d love to hear your story about CHD. Please share it in the comments.

mended heart

 

 

Goodbye 2015, Hello Leap Year

I realized tonight that we never did our annual New Year’s post for 2015. Probably because we were in the thick of “countdown to surgery.”

So, let me be the first in my family to wish you a happy and healthy 2016. We will not be sad to put parts of 2015 behind us. But, in truth, we couldn’t have asked for a better year. Yes, Charlotte had her third open-heart surgery. And, yes, it was the first surgery she was old enough to be scared of and the first new scar she was aware enough to be self-conscious about. And yet…she crushed it, as they say. She came through with a smile (after the dilaudid wore off).

And once past it, Charlotte learned to ride a bike; traveled to Washington, D.C., Mexico, Cape Cod, Belgium, Amsterdam, New York and New Jersey; had her first sleepover party; and made me laugh harder than you can imagine. We’re proud of the incredible strength she showed during the first part of the year and hope she’ll realize one day what a warrior she is.

As a Truncus Arteriosus type I patient, we have learned, Charlotte continues to experience best-case scenario outcomes. She has had no emergent issues and suffers no contingent developmental delays (we just learned this year that we probably should have been prepared for severe learning and developmental difficulties). With that in mind, I have one thing to say as 2015 fades into memory: Thank you.

Thank you Dr. Backer and your extraordinary surgical team. Charlotte with Dr. Backer Thank you Dr. Luciana Young, for your friendship and amazing care of our daughter. Thank you Elizabeth Capella, for teaching Charlotte’s friends about her condition to make post-surgery school easier.
C and Doc YoungC and Liz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to Lurie Children’s Hospital and the Regenstein Cardiac Care Unit.Flock of DocsThank you to Charlotte’s incomparable teacher Alexandra Mignet and her 4th grade class for throwing Charlotte a party and Skyping with her while she was out. DSCN1235Thank you to Philippe and Team Charlotte for running the Move for the Kids 5K with Charlotte in celebration of Charlotte’s recovery and in support of “Charlotte’s Hospital.”

Team Charlote MFTK

And thank you to each and every one of you who never ever treat her like anything other than a regular kid. All things considered, 2015 was a good year.

Charlotte’s Journey Home began as a way to keep our family and friends informed throughout my pregnancy and in the first critical weeks and months of Charlotte’s life. Little did I dream that it would be a 10+ year endeavor. Nor did we realize that we would touch the lives of other parents of CHD children or of kids with severe reflux. Or find an adult role model for Charlotte, another Truncus Arteriosus patient (Jessica, that’s you). Or be befriended by a tour-de-force crusader for CHD research (Francie, you know who you are). It’s been a pretty good 10 year run.

As we head into the next phase of Charlotte’s life, she wants more privacy about her growth and life changes. And as there aren’t that many medical updates these days, it seems a good time to put Charlotte’s Journey Home on hiatus. We’ll be back when there’s a heart or medical update of import, or when we want your support for our endeavors on behalf of Lurie Children’s, or when we just are so proud we need to kvell loudly.

Until then, dear reader and Team Charlotte, one last THANK YOU for all the support you’ve offered our family for the past decade.

Three in Mexico

 

The Unstressed Stress Test

Charlotte went for her post-surgery exercise stress test yesterday. If you recall, she had a baseline test in January. For the details of the visit itself, check out that blog post–I was pretty specific about the machines, the hook-ups, etc. and how it all worked.

In January she was only able to move (a slow, steep walk into a steeper run) for about 7 minutes. She had to stop because she began to have pain in her chest, or in her heart as she put it.  Her lung capacity was 71%, lower than the average 80% for kids her age.

Yesterday she continued on to 10 minutes. She only stopped because the tube she had to breathe into was terribly uncomfortable–she was drooling around it, but her mouth was dry–and the knee she skinned on a carpet was really bugging her.

Happy Half-Birthday to Charlotte!!! (11/9/2015)

Happy Half-Birthday to Charlotte!!! (11/9/2015)

Unlike the test in January, the cardiologist in the room did not give us the full detail of lung function, etc. He just said that everything looked good and that he wasn’t worried about anything. We’ll expect a more full report from Dr. Young when she has a chance to read the EKG and other data.

We weren’t terribly surprised by what we did hear, though we loved hearing it. Charlotte is training for the Girls on the Run 5K which she and I will run on November 21. She regularly is asked to run for as long as she can in gym and usually gets to at least 12 minutes. She tells me that is longer than some of her other classmates.

She was thrilled to go to school for a half day on her half birthday! I was thrilled that all is as it should be: Her heart surgery in February is a memory, the scar is fading to white (finally), and our daughter is again thriving and keeping up with her friends.  A good day.

May His Memory Forever Be For a Blessing

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Christopher Saucedo’s World Trade Center as a Cloud, No. 4 is part of a papier-mâché series on display at the U.S. District Court in East Brooklyn through mid-November. Learn more by clicking on the photo.

The challah is churning in the breadmaker for a neighborhood Rosh Hashanah celebration this evening and I’m about to light a yarzheidt candle. I can’t help but think of 6 meaningful Shabbats shared with my friend Jeffrey at JFTY Urban Mitzvah Corps, countless High Holidays listening to his dad in our synagogue choir, confirmation class shenanigans, and an adolescent friendship that meant so very much. Thirteen years later, all I can do is repost this and say, Jeffrey, we’ll always miss you. Not just on 9/11, but every day.

Jeffrey B. Gardner died 6 years ago today when the World Trade Towers collapsed. I had known Jeffrey for as long as I can remember, growing up in the same town (Livingston NJ) and attending religious school at B’nai Jeshurun together.
More than a boy I grew up with, Jeffrey was a dear friend throughout my high school and college years. We were both socially conscious teenagers and active in our temple youth group and in JFTY, the Jersey Federation of Temple Youth.
Like all of the people who have signed his guest book, I can attest to Jeffrey’s special qualities–his goodness, kindness, wisdom, and sense of fun. I can also recall his pride as he listened to his father sing in the temple choir on the high holy days, his clear affection for his siblings, and his love for his mother.
Jeffrey and I, along with 20 other Jewish teens, spent a special summer together in 1982. As part of the JFTY Urban Mitzvah Corps, we lived in a fraternity house at Rutgers (later Jeffrey’s alma mater) and volunteered for various organizations in the New Brunswick area. We worked with the elderly, disadvantaged children, and the disabled. In the evenings we studied and played, enriching our Judaism and bonding as a group in a way that is immeasurable. Jeffrey lived his Jewish values and he taught us how much fun (and mischief) we could have within the limits of a moral, thoughtful life.
My father had a special place in his heart for Jeffrey. Not just because they were in the same business, but because Jeffrey was respectful, forthcoming, and friendly. In business, my father could count on Jeffrey, just as I could count on him as a friend.
Since Jeffrey’s death, I’ve learned that he continued to live those values for the rest of his far-too-short life. He read the Christian Bible and the Koran in order to understand other people’s belief systems. He volunteered with Habitat for Humanity throughout the hemisphere. He worked hard at his career and prospered.
In his obituary, his sister Amy noted that he had a sun tatooed on his ankle because “a good day was as bad as it got. ” Jeffrey shone like that sun. Even when we weren’t in touch for a long time (we hadn’t spoken for about 3 years before his death), I felt his presence and the mark that he made on my life.
On that perfect sunny September morning, a day eerily like today in Chicago, hatred hilled Jeffrey. The irony that intolerance killed a soul who embodied tolerance is not lost on me.
I dedicate today to Jeffrey–as sad as I am for his loss, I strive to live a life of which he would have been proud, to be tolerant and kind and strong as a tribute to his memory.
Rest in peace, dear friend. You are indeed Z”L (Zichrono Livracha), of blessed memory.