Mom's Heart Transplant Story-Part 1
Dad: Kelly, (starts sobbing) Mom got the call, she’s getting a new heart.
14 years earlier, my mom had a life-changing diagnosis. It was Valentine’s Day when I was in the 7th grade… 12 years old, and my brother was 7. My mom had a doctors appointment after school (she had been having chest pain and fatigue for the last year and a half) and suddenly, my brother Kenton and I were taken to my grandparents. My mom was admitted to the hospital.
I remember not knowing what was going on. Did she have a heart attack? When will she be home? There were lots of questions and I was still very young. Long story short, she was in the hospital a week at UCLA, was diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy and told she had 5 years to live with her current heart and needed a heart transplant.
SHOCKED. Yesterday she was “fine” and today she needs a heart transplant. It was difficult to wrap my young brain around the severity of the situation while also going on with life with my “normal” mom.
A couple months after she was home from the hospital, she got a call. They had a heart for her. She had started to feel a bit better from the medicine they had started her on. Her reply, “I’m sorry, I have to pick up my kids from school, I can’t take the heart today.”
WHAT?! MOM! They have a heart for you!! You have to take it! She was still somewhat in shock of her diagnosis, and not prepared for that call so soon. She just had a gut feeling that this wasn’t the time to take the heart in addition to feeling better. I often think of the individual who ended up receiving that heart because my mom didn’t take it, I pray they are living a full life & what a divine intervention for them on my moms behalf.
Fast forward a little over 13 years later, LONG past the 5 that was anticipated… my mom was still alive and “well”, but things were slowing down. She had now had 3 ICD’s (pacemaker/defibrillators) implanted over the last 13 years, had been on COUNTLESS medications, monthly doctors appointments, many “scares” and divine interventions to save her life including passing out on an airplane and being revived by my DAD, and then having surgery in Maui for a defibrillator! (oh my word this woman’s life!) Her heart was tired, and so was mom. Mom had adapted incredibly well for how sick she actually was… and if you know her, you know that she NEVER complained and hardly anyone even knew she was sick!
Her doctor finally said that it was time to go on the transplant list again. There wasn’t much life in her heart and it was very large and very sick. She had raised her children, we were older now and on our own… and I think it was perfect timing for her to accept this new stage of life and unknowns. It was time to take care of HER after she had taken care of us and so many others.
She got on the transplant list. The daily was an unknown whirl of emotion. She couldn’t go farther than an hour outside of the hospital she’d have the transplant at, had to have her phone on her at all times, and be ready for the call today or in a year. So we waited.
That November, I let my parents in on some news. Stephen and I were expecting our first baby, the first grandbaby on both sides! My Grandma (my mom’s mom) passed away when I was 6 months old. I never knew her well, and I often wonder what that must have been like for my mom. She was a young mother, and her own mama passes away. The grief she must have gone through, all while raising an infant. Then the years to come, when many can easily pick up the phone to have their mom come over to help with the kids… she didn’t have that luxury. I really can’t imagine, and ache for those mama’s who don’t have the blessing of their mama at arms reach for whatever reason it may be. I often feared that life was repeating itself. That I too would be a young mom without my own mama to help and guide me in this new season. I shook that fear off and clung to the promises of Jesus… that He had good plans for not only me, but my mom… and whatever the outcome, He would see us through.
We waited 6 months and then we got “the call”. I was 12 ish weeks pregnant with Cade at this point. We had our friends Rachel and Luke over for dinner and to play my favorite game, Ticket to Ride. When my phone rang, I almost didn’t answer because if you know me, you know I love to win that game… but it was Dad… and I just knew I needed to answer. Stephen and our friends just looked at me as the news we had been praying for months about was here. I hung up the phone frantic… not sure really what to do… and Luke stops me and says, “Can we pray right now?”…. God, YES Luke please pray right now!
I rushed to gather my things, we didn’t know the timeline of the transplant or what was ahead. We drove to Cedars Sinai and met up with my family. Still waiting.
We waited a lot that night. I think we all thought it would happen a lot quicker… but the young woman that passed away was able to donate a lot of her organs and there were many people to coordinate for multiple transplants. We prayed. We prayed so much, we prayed for that family that lost a young woman…for their grief, for their healing. We praised, we praised God that even through such tragedy and loss, he makes all things new and was giving new life to so many. It’s the hardest thing to grasp…joy that your mom is getting a 2nd chance at life while grieving the life that was lost. All while still being uncertain if the transplant will even work, if I will see the doctor and he has good news for us, or that we lost her. Not sure you are prepared to deal with those types of feelings.
My mom was tired. You could tell she didn’t feel well. It was as if her heart had pumped as long as it could and knew it was time… the call had come and she could slow down. My moms legs were very purple and swollen, a sure sign of bad blood flow. Her heart was failing right in front of our eyes as we waited for her heart. But mom was ready. She said she knew it was time… when only days before she would say, '“I’m not sure I should even do this… I feel ok!”, a true Karen statement… such a fighter, such a warrior, never wanting anything for herself.
Every time a nurse walked in we would all perk up and await the news that the heart was ready for transplant, but every time we were left still waiting. We continued to pray, and wait, and we dozed off to sleep. Me in the bed with my mom, Dad at the foot of the bed, arms crossed head down awaiting the nurses as they entered and checked on my mom…Kenton in another chair and Stephen on the window sill (Stephen is 6’5”… so this was UNCOMFORTABLE haha) & my Aunt Karen who stayed with us til it was late. It wasn’t a very good night of sleep, but we stayed with her and waited.
Stay tuned for Part 2.