Monday, July 10, 2006

The One With A Sick Heart

This is my 3-year old grandson, James Patrick. In May, we learned that he had been born with an atrial septal defect and it could only be fixed via open heart surgery. With the help of some special friends, my daughter, Jessie, eventually came to deal with the news with courage and faith, and painstakingly explained to Patrick and his older sister about the hole. Soon, Patrick was telling anyone who would listen that he had "a sick heart".

Luckily, we live close to MUSC's Children's Hospital and the physician who would be Patrick's surgeon, Fred Crawford, and his team are internationally known for their skill. The procedure would be just a walk in the park for them, and yet I couldn't help but tear up every time I thought of my little man being subjected to such a major operation.

Finally, the morning of the procedure arrived and we all met in the surgical registration room to wait for Patrick to be called. It wasn't even six o'clock yet, and there he was with his pretty blue eyes and ornery smile, clutching his raggedy old blue teddy bear, Bee, that his Aunt Jan had given him when he was born. He alternated between sucking his thumb on his mom's lap and looking around for something to get into. Then the dreaded moment arrived, and after we each gave him a big hug and kiss, he disappeared with Jessie and her husband, Michael, into the pre-op holding area.

Very soon Jessie and Michael came back out and nervously we all went to the PCICU (Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit) waiting room to, well, wait. Friends came to wait with us; their warmth and support (and Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins!) were such an enormous and welcome help. We chatted and even managed to chuckle a little. But when Dr. Crawford and his nurse practitioner, Kathy, came out to say that Patrick's heart was all fixed and he was being closed up, a collective sigh of relief arose from our little group.

It was tough to see Patrick asleep in the PCICU after surgery - he looked so tiny and helpless in that big bed. There were tubes coming out of everywhere on his little body, it seemed, and a ventilator was helping him breathe. I held his baby hand and whispered to him, all the while wanting to pick him up and hold him in my arms so I could kiss his sweet face. I hated leaving him that night.

I visited Patrick again the next afternoon after I got off work. When I first saw him, sitting up in the wagon his father was pulling about the atrium/playroom, he was pouting and looking like he was putting up a big fight against the urge to cry. It scared me a little because I thought he must be in a lot of pain, but then it occurred to me that he was only frightened by the noise coming from the other kids and overwhelmed by the sheer size of the atrium. So after I read him a couple of books with buttons he could push (he loves to push buttons!), he was ready for Michael to lift him out of the wagon. To my surprise, he stood up. Then he walked. He walked over to the toys and played with his mom and dad. If I hadn't known better, I would never have guessed that this child had had his chest cracked open, his heart stopped and fixed and restarted, only the day before.

The next afternoon, Patrick left the hospital and came home to play with his adoring older sister. This evening, a little more than a week later, Jessie and I walked in the neighborhood while Patrick and his Sissie rode their bikes alongside. As the kids threw sticks and pebbles into the pond where we stopped along the way, I couldn't help but marvel at the miracle standing right in front of me.

These days, that little miracle is known around here as - you guessed it - The One With The Special Heart.

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