Sunday, August 23, 2015

5 years post Norwood

It was 5 years ago today that we sent our two week old baby girl into her second open heart surgery. The same surgery that they were unable to do the week before that ended up with an emergent decision by her surgeon that had saved her life. The week between her first week surgery and this one we went through the process of getting her listed for transplant. It was a long scary process and we were told she would be listed 1A. Meaning first on the list to receive a heart if one came available. She was that sick, that fragile. It was so hard. But we, along with our army of prayer warriors railed together to storm the gates of heaven with our pleas for God to save her life and heal her sick lungs to support her half of a heart. Because in the words of her doctors, her lungs are too damaged to support a broken heart. But in that week, our mighty God used the first surgery to send the perfect amount of blood too her lungs and they slowly day by day they began to grow stronger. So at two weeks old her surgeon decided that her lungs were ready to try the first surgery again. She went in and the many hours went by, and when she came out she was swollen from being on the bypass machine, she was still on the ventilator, and her chest was still open covered only by a translucent amber colored type of plastic.  We could see her heart beating inside and it made me physically ill. But she was alive! About 12 hours into recovery things went downhill fast. We were losing her, or so we thought. The room was full of doctors and nurses all rushing around, the life support machine was brought in and the surgeon had been called to come back to the hospital to hook it up... But we didn't have time to wait. The doctors gave her a dose of medication that they call "poison" it's an awful medication, but sometimes it can save a life. It was our only option. They gave her dose after dose and it wasn't working. They had maxed out on the allotted amount and the doctor called someone on the phone and I heard them arguing over what to do, he wanted to give her one more dose, but the lady on the other side of the phone basically told him it was a death sentence. He explained that we were losing her and the surgeon 
hadn't arrived yet. They both knew the risk, but went ahead and decided to go through with one more dose. The doctor explained to us the place we were in and we all agreed to give it one more try. Then her doctor came over and prayed with us. That's when it happened. Instead of her death her heart started to stabilize! God had heard our pleas and He had mercy. Today we celebrate His goodness!!! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

It's been 5 years

It's been five years since we left our little home, heading to Dallas to face the unknown of Ella's birth. In just a mere 13 days our miracle baby girl will turn five years old. I'm not sure how that's possible! Every year on this day I reflect because it's the day that everything really became a reality. Of course it was already our reality with so many doctors appointments, but this was the day we left our home and we knew that on that day, five years ago, when we came home we would either have a fragile baby post open heart surgery or we would come home with empty arms, an empty nursery, and broken hearts. Either way, we knew when we returned home our lives would be forever changed. We had no idea how long we would be gone or even if it would possibly end up being a permanent move to Dallas, depending on her condition when she was born. It was a scary day, I remember arriving at the Ronald McDonald house exhausted and still so sick from the pregnancy. Of course we will never be able to express our gratitude for the Ronald McDonald house and all that it provided for us while we were there, but it wasn't home. And we were there under very hard circumstances. It's not the way we wanted everything to work, and because we knew we may be spending our last 13 days with our baby girl I desperately wanted to be home with her. As I look back over the last five years I'm humbled by the miracles that God has done on behalf of our baby girl. It has been far from easy, there's been so much pain both physical and emotional, but worth every single second of sacrifice and tears. She is such a ray of light in our world, our sweet sunshine. We can't wait to celebrate her fifth year of life and hope for many many more! 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Update on cardiology appt. and a special moment!!

Yesterday's appt went well! As always it was a long trip driving to Dallas and back in one day, but Ella was a trooper! Most importantly we got a good report on Ella's heart! Everything continues to look wonderful and we are just so thankful for each and every good report! Our next step will be to continue to pursue her GI issues with her GI doctor and we will see her cardiologist again in October! 

As you all know, yesterday was the 2 year anniversary of Ella's 4th open heart surgery. Celebrating that by being back in the hospital was not our idea of fun, but we made the best of it and had an incredibly special moment. Ella had drawn a picture for her surgeon of him operating on her, so since we were going to be at the hospital we decided to stop by his office to see if he was in so she could hand deliver it. Unfortunately he was in surgery at the time, so we gave the picture to one of the ladies that works in his office to give to him, but after hearing Ella tell her all about the picture we decided to go back to his office and wait for him to come back so he could hear for himself because it was just so cute!! When he came in Ella was able to give it to him and tell him all about it! It was just so sweet! It turned out to be a great way to celebrate being two years post Fontan after all!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

2 years

I can't believe it's been two years since I got the call asking if we could be in Dallas the next morning for pre op and send our baby into her 4th open heart surgery the day after that. We knew it was coming, but we weren't prepared for it to be so soon. Ella needed the surgery and they had a last minute opening so we took it. It was emotional and stressful to pack for an unknown amount of time in one night. Friends went out and shopped for the things we needed and delivered them to our door late that night. We packed as fast as we could and tried to get some sleep before heading out early the next morning to face the long drive and an even longer day of pre op testing. It was all a bit of a whirlwind of fear and focusing on what needed to be done. There were tears as we drove away wondering once again if it would be the last time our family would ever be home together.

We drove straight to the hospital, we didn't even have time to drop off our luggage at the Ronald McDonald House. There were weight checks, blood draws, EKG, echo cardiogram, blood pressure check... but Jesus was with us and Ella was so very brave. By evening we left the clinic and went to settle into the RMH to spend our last night out of the hospital for awhile. We ate in the courtyard and played in the grass. I gave her as many hugs and kisses as I could and kept telling her that I loved her. We had done our best to prepare her for what the next day would hold for her, but how do you tell a 2 year old that they will be having open heart surgery... again. She was all smiles and beautiful innocence and although we couldn't see her sick heart beating inside her scared chest, we could see it affecting her. She was out of breath and her color was often blue as her oxygen would plummet as she tried to walk or dance or play. The scary part was no one could tell us why this was happening and no one knew if this surgery would help. We knew we had to do something, so after getting second and third opinions from other top surgeons at other hospitals, it was unanimous that this had to be our next step. That night before surgery we didn't get much rest. We had already sent her into open heart surgery 3 times before, but it never gets easier... in fact I dare to say it was harder.

That morning June 5th 2013 We were up early for our check in, we let Ella wear her most comfy PJs even though they didn't match. We checked in and did more of the typical testing, Ella cried. It was scarier that day, I think she knew it was different. We tried to smile and be calming to reassure her, but inside my heart was aching so deeply. I just wanted to run away, It wasn't fair that she was having to do this yet again and as always in the not so back of my mind was the biggest question of all... will she make it? Will I ever see her eyes again? Hear her voice? Did I tell her I love her enough? Will I see her smile again? It's not only death that I feared, it was also all of the complications that can come along with such a high risk surgery that can forever alter who she is. Stroke, brain bleed, damaged vocal chords, infection...etc. With all the thoughts rushing through my heart and mind I watched as the medicine began to kick in and she started to get sleepy and silly. I was thankful for the medicine to help her relax yet it felt like her personality was slipping away and I knew I wouldn't see it again until she recovered... if she recovered. We sign form after form giving our consent for treatment,  and they remind us of the possibility of death but we have to sign it anyway because she needs it. Then when I saw the anesthesiologist and his team I knew the time had come to send her back to the OR. I looked him in the eye and begged him to take good care of my baby. We then had to take the dreaded walk along her bed as she was wheeled to the doors and then we gave our last hugs and kisses before surgery and we put all of our heart in someone else's hands and she disappeared from our sight.

We found a seat and waited for what seemed like forever between those hourly phone updates from the OR nurse. With each good report I felt a sigh of relief yet I still held my breath. Then finally the call that it is finished and that it went well. We got a quick glimpse of her cold, somewhat puffy, face as she passed through on her way to the PCICU. She was sedated and on a ventilator but she was alive.

The surgery was over, but the hard part was far from over. She woke up scared wondering why she couldn't talk. The ventilator going through her vocal chords made it impossible to make any sound. She gaged over the tube down her throat and fought hard to sit up just merely an hour or two after having her sternum cracked open, her heart stopped, cut on and worked on, restarted, and then her sternum tied together with wires and her skin sewn back together. It took 3 or 4 of us to hold her down and try to calm her. She is a fighter. She is strong. Once the ventilator was removed, she looked at me and said "now I can go home" She so desperately wanted to leave. She was begging for water that she couldn't have and it broke my heart to have to tell her "not yet" over and over again. She refused to use a diaper so she stood up and went on a bedside potty chair. She was on Lasix which helps take the fluid off of your body and it makes it very hard to hold it, yet our 2 year old insisted that she would make it to a potty every single time despite the pain and vomiting when she would stand, and make it she did. She blew our expectations out of the water! Jon and I looked at each other across her bed and said "she is doing so good"!  We couldn't believe how well she was handling it all, how well she understood and how determined she was to get up and walk. It was hard, there were lots of tears and refusal of meds, and vomiting and painful dressing changes and those dreaded drain tubes, but through it all she persevered. She was a true hero.

By God's grace 8 days later we were discharged from the hospital and when we got to the Ronald McDonald House, she ran for the very first time. Gosh what a beautiful moment that was! Her heart had held her back in ways we didn't even know. She had never been able to run or jump, but now those things were in her reach. It took several months to "get back to normal", she had nightmares and would wake up scared and crying, there was still lots of vomiting a small appetite, but she did it. God did it. Now as I reflect over these last two years I feel emotional and extreme gratefulness for the mercy of God and for the blessing of these last two years with her. This Friday June 5th will be the 2 year anniversary of Ella's Fontan surgery and we will be in Dallas yet again seeing her cardiologist. Because this journey it isn't over. It's a daily fight. Her half of a heart is beating hard and working twice as hard as a whole heart. We know that our time with her is limited, we know that in an instant we could lose it all, but we also know that we can't live there. We must constantly choose to treasure the here, treasure the now. We pray for many many many years with our baby, but we know that just because she has done so well thus far doesn't mean that her future will be the same. I think it's easy to look at her from the outside and forget all that God has done in her life, forget all the moments we "should" have lost her, all the moments that we have come through, but as her mom, it's always on my mind. Not always to the deepest degree, but there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about it multiple times a day. It is a part of nearly every decision, every outing, every meal, every get together... everything.       

I just can't believe it's been 2 years since we handed her over. The gratitude that fills my heart exceeds the ability of words to express. So I will continue to hold her close, to constantly shower her with hugs, kisses, and "I love you"s. I will keep feeling her heart beat and always take the time to listen to her breath and I will remember that every moment is a gift. I will never forget and I will do my best to never take her life for granted. I have seen far too many mommies have to say "see ya later", so for them and for me, I choose to cherish Ella's time here on the earth to the deepest of my capability. Each day is one more day together and each day is one day closer to our see ya later. I think it's okay to know that. I thinks it's okay to think about that. I think it drives me to treasure her deeper then I otherwise could. I don't sit around all day crying about it, but I do cry. I don't fill my days with worry and fret, but I do have fear. I refuse to let my sadness and fear steal the moments that I have with her. I speak truth to my heart as best as I can and while the truth is that she is terminally ill the truth is also that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. When the pain and fear are so much that I feel like I can't do it I sometimes fall apart, but when I am able to refocus again on the here and the now, and My heavenly Fathers comforting arms of peace I can live in the moment again.

Friends there is so much pain and sorrow in this world, but praise the Lord we can have Joy and peace in the midst of the storm. We thank you for continuing to life up our family in prayer, it means so much to us as we face the daily struggles that come along with this journey. We will be heading to Dallas on Friday to meet with Ella's cardiologist to discuss her heart and a few other things. I will try to update when we get back!

Here are some pics of us getting the privilege of living life with our sunshine!

We had a family date night and took Ella to see her first movie in a theater. We saw "Cinderella". Then we took a carriage ride and had dinner!

Ella had her 2nd dance recital and of course LOVES every minute of being on stage!

Then we celebrated Mother's Day 2015!

She loves my new patio swing :)

And she loves her daddy almost as much as he loves her!

Then we took Ella to get a new summer do and she looks adorable!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Prayer requests and Easter

We have some prayer requests. 

Will you pray for two of our heart friends, Owen and Emma? They are both dealing with decreased heart function and are in the CICU. Emma has HLHS/IAS like Ella and is recovering from open heart surgery, Owen is post transplant and went in this morning for a precautionary echo since he was having tummy trouble and the echo showed decreased heart function that was "emergent". Emma and Owen are both in need of prayers! 

Also Ella is still dealing with her GI issues and they are causing quite a bit of discomfort. She is also breaking out in hives on a regular basis and we haven't been able to figure out why just yet. This has been going on for about 2 months and some days it's worse then others. We think it may have something to do with her laxatives possibly, however we can't stop them just yet or she has more tummy problems. Ugh, not fun for our poor baby! She has also had some low oxygen that isn't too much of a concern to her cardiologist at this time, but could at some point be something we need to look into further. Right now it is mostly just discouraging since it causes Ella to not have as much energy as she could and also it doesn't give her as much of a cushion for illnesses that can cause her oxygen to drop. 

We covet your prayers as we lean on God's strength to keep moving forward through the unknowns of this life. 

Easter 2015- was spent at home with just the three of us celebrating the fact that Jesus is alive and because of His sacrifice and love someday our suffering will end and our hearts, minds, and bodies will be made whole in His presence! 

A few weeks prior we did get to celebrate Easter with our family! 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Update on Our trip to Dallas

We took Ella to see her GI specialist in Dallas yesterday. It was a smooth trip and Ella did very well. She is still having some trouble eating, lots of stomach pain, her energy level has been a little bit low, and her bowels have still not been normal. She is on four medications/supplements and a special diet to help with this. We are excited we are going to be able to start weaning some of these medications and supplements as she tolerates it. One of Ella's biggest problems is that she doesn't go to the bathroom regularly, and has incredible bladder control. When we saw the doctor yesterday he told Ella she can't hold it like that anymore (we tell her that all the time, but I guess it's different coming from a doctor 😉)! Ella was able to repeat to us what the doctor said and has been doing very very well ever since then! This morning she told me that her stomach felt all better! It's amazing what being regular will do for ones tummy! Please keep praying that we are able to help her move in the right direction and that we are able to wean some of the medicine and lean more on natural sources! We will be heading back to Dallas to follow up with GI and to see cardiology in about 3 months if everything goes well between now and then! As always we are so very thankful for your continued prayers!! 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Just a quick update since it's been awhile! Ella is doing fairly well, but is having a few problems. We got a viral bug of some sort that has lasted what seems like forever, but Ella has handled it very well and we are so thankful.

 We are planning to head down to Dallas next week to hopefully figure a few things out. Please pray that the doctors have wisdom and that we are able to get some answers as to what is going on in Ella's body. She looks great most of the time, but Jon and I see it close up and we can tell it's just not quite right, so we just hope the doctors can see what we see and figure out a way to help her.

We would be honored if you would join us in praying for answers for Ella as well as safety from germs and safety in travels. This flu season has been so yucky and we are thankful that so far we have avoided most of the things going around. Also if you would remember our little heart friend "Emma" in your prayers as well as her mom and dad I know they would be grateful! She is having some more complications and it's so hard. You can follow her story on their blog

Here are a few recent pics of our sunshine girl!

         Dressing up like Queen Elsa

           Playing with the neighbors!

        Family walk on Valentine's Day!

These two silly loves on Valentine's Day! 

              Sick baby girl resting. 

            Out for a walk exploring!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Ella's famous ;)

Second post of the day! I'm on a roll! A while back we were contacted by the Dallas hospital where Ella is seen and were asked to share Her story for their annual report! We were honored for the opertunity! The report just came out today and we wanted to share the article  with all of you!! It's exciting to see a little bit of her amazing story published!

This is our family wearing red on the 6th! 

Ending CHD awareness week ❤️

Tomorrow is the end of CHD awareness week. We would encourage you to copy and paste the following link into your search bar to hear from other heart moms a little bit of what it is like to care for a child with a congenital heart defect! We thank you for your continued support to our family ❤️


Monday, February 9, 2015

CHD awareness

This post was written last year at this time. It still rings so true today. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The other 364 days. Why it matters.

It's not just about wearing red one day a year. 

Today is day 3 of CHD awareness week. Today I want to write a little bit about the life behind the red. 

On national wear red day, we dress in red and take cute pictures to post to bring awareness. We show off our warriors and remember the angels. We throw out statistics and ask you to join our cause. All of these things matter. They are important. They are good. These are all things that we should be doing, but that is it for many of the outside world. Now what? For you, it's over until next year. For a family affected by CHDs it is day in, day out, 24/7. It never ends. It never goes away. It is always there. 

Today I ask that as you read this post that you think about the other 364 days of the year. The other 364 days that we as parents of a heart warrior face the ugly reality of this life. If you had a child that you knew would be taken from you, but you had no idea when, wouldn't that be scary? If you had to, on multiple occasions, hold your child down while they cry in fear, wouldn't that haunt you? If you have been told that your child would have their heart stopped and restarted multiple times, wouldn't you want to hide from reality? If you knew your child would have delays, restrictions, and extra hurdles, wouldn't that make you wish you could take away the pain? Do you lay in bed at night and wonder if your child is still breathing? If their heart is still beating? Do you watch every day for things that aren't quite right in your child's body language, energy level, or skin color? Do you have medical equipment in your home? Does every decision about what you do, where you go, who you see, what you eat, etc... ultimately lead you to make a choice based on what is least likely to somehow land your child in a hospital or worse, lead to death. Imagine the pressure that comes with that territory. 

Congenital Heart Defects are hard to understand. They happen at random, and range from mild to severe. Some require only life long maintenance by a cardiologist. While others require multiple open heart surgeries and or heart transplant. In some cases they can even require a heart and lung transplant due to damaged lungs from lack of proper heart function. There is NO cure. Transplant is not a cure. In fact when Ella was a week old and we went through the process of getting her listed for transplant, we heard all the positives and negatives of a transplant and let me tell you, while transplant is AMAZING and many can live semi normal lives and thrive with a new heart, it is safe to say you want that to be your very last resort. It is truly a scary thing to face. We were blessed that Ella improved enough to keep her native heart at least for the time being. Going through that process was scary especially knowing we may still have to go that route someday in her future.

When a parent receives the news of their child having a CHD, especially if it is one of the more complex ones, their world has forever been changed. Flipped upside down. That feeling that you get that day, that sinking feeling, that anxiety, that guilt that maybe you did something wrong, those emotions, those fears,... they never really go away after that. Sure, they become your "normal" you learn to deal with them and to hold them in and process them later. You do become somewhat desensitized to things that are your reality. You can say things like, my child is terminally ill, my child has had 4 open heart surgeries, my child is turning blue, etc... without bursting into tears. You've heard it, thought it, and said it so many times, that it's... normal?... Yet it feels so unnatural. It is unnatural for a parent to lose a child or to face it everyday, yet for many it is reality. There is a certain grief. The actual grieving process that you go through when you lose a loved one or when you have received news that you are losing a loved one. Maybe it's a long battle with Alzheimer's, maybe a rough bout with cancer, maybe a car accident and it's time to turn off the life support. However you face it, you grieve. I have lost many people in my life. I've been to more funerals then most. Some have been sudden, like our dear friend that we lost this last year, others have been dragged out painfully slow, like my sweet great granny who I helped care for day after day as she slipped away. Some lives seem gone too soon, yet others you know it was time and even have a small sense of rejoicing with their full life now fully lived. Yet you grieve. You grieve. In many ways, receiving news that you will be giving birth to a terminally ill child feels like a death. Though we have been blessed and Ella's life has already surpassed the expectation, we know that her heart is only good for a time, and so we grieve. This is Ella's life, but it is also a long drawn out process of her death. One might say that is the case of all life and they would be correct. No, no one is promised tomorrow, but I venture to say that if you were told your child would likely die from their sick heart vs. someone saying anyone could pass at anytime. You would understand the difference. It is different. So we grieve. The odd part about our grief is that we have long bouts of happiness and then boom the grief hits us like a soccer punch to the gut, taking away our breath. The stages of grief bounce around hitting us randomly over and over again. Grief is exhausting. While I'm not a grief expert, I speak from experience when I say grief does not only occur once the one you love has passed. The long years of leading up to it force you to face that reality and those fears time and time again. 

So family's facing CHDs ugly reality the other 364 days a year thank you for wearing red, why? Because you, someone who has the luxury of turning a blind eye to the pain of the heart world chose to embrace it, even if for one day. A choice to stand arm in arm with the weary heart families and bring hope for the future. It makes a difference. You make a difference. Not only does it show the heartbroken and the grieving that they are not alone or forgotten, but is shows the world that there is something out there that is stealing the lives of our children! While I don't like the comparison of CHD's to childhood cancer in the whole debate of which is worse, because lets face it, they both are horrible and both take far too many lives, I would like for CHD to be known by the world the way cancer is. If someone hears that a child is diagnosed with cancer, they instantly know what that means; however, if someone is diagnosed with a CHD people say "what?" Did you know that in the United States, twice as many children die from congenital heart defects each year than from ALL forms of childhood cancer combined? Does this take away from the horrible fact that cancer exists and that it takes these precious lives? Absolutely NOT! But doesn't it make you wonder why you haven't heard of Congenital Heart Defects before perhaps following Ella's story. It makes me wonder why I didn't know what that meant before Ella was diagnosed. If it is killing twice as many more children then all childhood cancers why didn't I know about it? If a doctor had looked at me and told me my child had cancer vs. being told she had a CHD I would have known what he was saying. Why? Because of lack of awareness. Again, I'm not in ANY way taking away from the pain of cancer, in fact, if cancer had been our diagnoses it would have been devastating. I'm only raising the question of why isn't CHD known? What can we do to change this? Why does it even matter? Well, it isn't known because of lack of funding and awareness, we can help change this by speaking about it, by wearing RED on national wear red day, by funding pediatric heart programs, It matters because kids are dying, mine included and truth be told it could be yours. Ultimately awareness leads to funding and then research and new surgeries and medications and treatments come into existence. That gives us hope. I have enjoyed watching the St. Jude specials since I was little, I would cry along with them. Did you know that public donations provide more than 75% of their funding? That is amazing! Such an wonderful gift for families facing that illness. I would love for there to be a place like St. Jude for Children with Congenital heart defects. We need someone to fight for them, to constantly research. A hospital with the sole focus being find a cure for CHD's. It doesn't exist. We need funding, we need support, we need awareness. That's why it matters if you wear red on national wear red day, that's why it matters if the people in your life are familiar with the term CHD. That's why congenital heart defect awareness week matters. 

Awareness and research are what turn this...

...Into this.

It matters, because If Ella had been born 5 or 6 years before she was, there would have been no chance for her at all. It matters because advancements are being made and lives are being saved. Let's keep bringing awareness to a disease that shouldn't steal away our beautiful children! 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Wear red February 6th!

February is CHD (congintal heart defect) awareness month. We will be wearing red for national wear red day this Friday the 6th (tomorrow)! We would be honord if you would wear red to support Ella and all the other heart warriors still fighting and the heart Angels that have gone too soon. Make sure to tell someone (or many people) about a heart warrior and CHDs tomorrow!