When the Heart Fails

In February 2008 within the confines of the 4 walls of an exam room and a 20-minute not even 8 weeks after my valve surgery, my husband and I were told that my heart was failing. An encounter etched in my memory forever; an encounter characterized by shared disappointment and genuine compassion. After delivering this news, my cardiologist left the room to give us time together while he called to consult my surgical team in Cleveland.

Before the door was completely shut, I fell to my knees wrapping my arms tightly around my husband’s legs as I cried out “this can’t be happening”. Even as I type, it takes me back to those moments; I can feel the rawness of the emotions and tears are blurring my vision.

My husband ever so lovingly lifted me up and held me in his arms as we wept. Our life had been upended and we were feeling completely vulnerable and utterly helpless. We were shell-shocked as we made our way home to our little boy. I walked through the door, scooped him up, and we rocked as I wondered how many more times would I hold him, rock him, twirl him, read to him, tuck him into bed, delight in him.

The gravity of our reality shook me, us to the core. We responded by ‘cocooning’ as a family: snuggling together on the couch, playing the Wii, and going out back to play on the playset.

Hugs and kisses were free-flowing; my husband and our son, my oxygen.

There was much to be done, but where to begin?

Well, if you know me at all, then you know that no matter adversity or prosperity, I pray. Given the circumstance, however, I found myself at a loss, not knowing what to pray.

How could I pray, ask for a new heart?

The answer is I couldn’t, and I didn’t.

The persevering prayer of my heart was for healing, supernatural healing of my heart such that I would live and no lives would be lost.

Sadly, I continued to deteriorate quite quickly; I knew my life was drawing to an end.

Once again, I found myself at a loss as to what to pray.

This time, however, one thing was painfully obvious; someone’s life would be lost whether mine or that of a donor.

And so, I prayed for myself, my family [and] friends while I also prayed for my donor, their family, [and] their friends.

I prayed that broken relationships would be reconciled.

I prayed peace, no fear.

I prayed comfort amidst great loss.

I prayed that tears-shed would be tears of healing, not haunting.

I prayed that purposes would be fulfilled and lives would be impacted for the good, for eternity.

I prayed that mine, their name would be spoken often and that stories about me, them would be told with every mention of my, their name.

I prayed always remember, never forget.

I prayed a wife for my husband, a mom for our little boy.

I prayed knowing that God hears amen which means ‘so be it’ wherever we are.

In late April as I emerged from anesthesia, my husband with tears in his eyes told me I was receiving a new heart. When I emerged from the anesthesia from the transplant surgery itself, I couldn’t remember being sick or needing a new heart, nothing.

It was a good 2 weeks of my husband telling me what happened over and over again until on May 8th, my memory returned; my thoughts turned immediately to my donor’s family and their loss.

I was heartbroken, grief-shot over the loss of life, the loss of my donor, a loss that would alter the landscape of the life of a family whose decision afforded me continued presence with my family and friends.

There is an entry on our CaringBridge from that day written by my husband. It reads, “Today is hard; please pray for us”. My husband didn’t know why May 8th was so hard; I wasn’t able to speak because I was still on the ventilator. He could, however, see it in my eyes.

Loss is jagged bringing us to our knees every single time.

And so, I continue to pray healing for them, for me giving thanks for the kindness of then strangers and the impact her life, their decision has had on me, my family, friends, friends of friends and complete strangers.

Never forgotten; always remembered; forever thankful.

[Heart Failure Backstory]

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