Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Putting A Broken Heart Back Together

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18 
Wearing red for our favorite heart "child"
We all have those moments that we will always remember.  I'm not talking about the national level "you know exactly where you were when X happened" moments.  I'm talking about the personal moments.  The moments that make your life pause for a second or two.  The moments that don't just blend into the next moment.  One of those moments for me was in 1997.  Kris and I had been dating for a few months and there was a group of college students hanging out at Steak-n-Shake (it was probably in the middle of the night when we should have been studying).  I don't remember what the conversation was about, but I do remember Kris saying (very casually, of course), "I had open heart surgery when I was five years old."  WHAT?  How did I not know that?  I remember my mind being flooded with questions.  What was the problem?  Was he okay now?  Was he going to have problems in the future?  Yes, I tend to be a worrier.

Fast forward eight years to another memorable moment.  I was sitting in my OB's office.  Kris and I were excited about becoming first-time parents.  This was my first visit and the nurse was asking me a slew of questions.  I felt pretty good answering "no" to the questions like do you smoke, do you drink, do you eat tuna?  I was in a rhythm when the nurse asked, "Was anyone in your immediate family born with congenital heart disease or other birth defects?"  I was about to answer "no" like all the other questions when suddenly, I flashed back to that night in Steak n Shake.  "Yes," I said.  "My husband was born with an aortic coarctation."  It had never dawned on me that this could be hereditary and that my baby could have a problem with his or her heart, too.

I admit that I was very uneducated when it came to congenital heart disease (CHD) or heart health in general when I sat in the doctors office that day.  Even though I was married to a "heart child", I didn't really know what that meant.  The facts, however, are staggering. One out of every 100 children is born with a congenital heart defect which means about 40,000 babies are born every year with CHD in the USA.  It is the #1 cause of infant deaths in the United States.  Even though technology has come a long way in the 30+ years since Kris' open heart surgery, CHD research is still very underfunded.

Kris was just a few months old when he started having problems keeping down his formula and then his lips started turning blue.  After some tests, the doctors discovered that he had an aortic coarctation.  This is when the aorta is crimped making it harder for his heart to pump blood.  At the time, infant surgery was not as common, and the doctors decided to hold off as long as possible to give Kris the best chance of survival.  Kris remembers how it felt before his surgery.  He wasn't able to run or jump and had very little energy.  His legs and feet were always tired and cold (caused by the lack of oxygen getting to his body).  When he was five years old, he had open heart surgery to open up the aorta and put a patch on it.  They also discovered that he had a bicuspid valve.  Kris' mom shared with me many years later that during his surgery, she prayed the prayer of Hannah from the Old Testament (1 Samuel 1:11). If God would save her son, she would give him back to the Lord for His service. 

I can only imagine what it was like to be Kris' mom.  There were no Facebook support groups or awareness weeks back then.  She was an amazing woman who put her faith in the greatest Supporter, Comforter, and Healer.  When I had my 20 week ultrasound with our firstborn, I remember holding my breath as the tech took all the heart measurements, counted out 1, 2, 3, 4 chambers of the heart, and made sure everything looked just right.  Thankfully, I was able let out a deep sigh of relief. 

Kris has a big heart (literally and figuratively)
This week is CHD Awareness week and we are more aware than ever that this disease can last into adulthood.  This week Kris has at least three doctors appointments for more tests and a meeting with a panel of experts who will be reviewing his case.  We are blessed beyond measure that Kris is one of the almost 1.8 million people LIVING with CHD.  Heart babies can grow up and get married and have families (and play softball and climb mountains and change the world)!  My husband is living proof of that.  We want even more of these precious babies to have the same chance. 

If you'd like more information on CHD and want to know of ways you can help, please visit my friends' sites below.


No comments: