Today, February 11th, marks the 4-year anniversary that we found out about Hana’s heart. I think about that day, 4 years ago when our lives changed forever. Hana had a mild cough that had persisted over two months, and was progressively sounding worse, but not too bad. About a week before this, I was holding her and she suddenly vomited all over. Then it happened again a few days later and again a few days after that and then she was vomiting once a day or in the middle of the night. Then, sometimes, she started getting fussy while nursing and would stop after a couple of minutes and I remember her forehead felt sweaty. A couple days before she took a three hour nap which was so unusual for my difficult napper of a baby. But it was the vomiting that worried us most. The vomiting just seemed like it took a lot out of her. The night before, she vomited right when Paul got home from work and she looked terrible. She was very, very quiet and pale and I think she actually looked scared. Something didn’t feel right. But a mind has a way of explaining things away and logic has a way of quieting fears even when they should be heard.
Over the next few days, we would recall these things again and again for doctor after doctor. They would nod their heads knowingly, they had heard this story countless times. It’s a little uncanny how similar the stories are, when you’ve heard enough of them. Of course, parents think it’s something else. Even most pediatricians would think it’s something else, because it almost always is. But not this time and luckily, we got a pediatrician who wasn’t convinced it was something else. I remember hearing the nervousness in her voice when she told me to take Hana downstairs for a chest x-ray. I remember the x-ray tech looking at me after he took the image. He was solemn but said nothing. He knew that image didn’t look right. I remember the urgency in the doctor’s voice a little later when she called me back because the x-ray showed an enlarged heart. I remember crying on the phone when I called Paul to tell him. I knew an enlarged heart was bad, I just didn’t know any more than that. I remember back at the medical center, about twenty minutes later, the echo tech and the cardiologist staring intently at the image of Hana’s heart on that screen. The cardiologist asked me to wait in a room, not an exam room, just a nearby room until she came back. People had been rushing around and talking in low voices. I don’t even remember exactly what the pediatric cardiologist said – something like “she’s in heart failure”, “we don’t know yet how bad”, “yes your husband should come right away”, “yes you will definitely need to cancel your trip to Hawaii in two days”, “she will probably be in the hospital at least two weeks”, “she will be transferred out to UCSF”, “there is still a lot we don’t know… ”
I was surprised when the pediatric cardiologist walked with us next door to the Emergency Department at the hospital. She stayed until they had Hana hooked up to the monitor, my first of many, many experiences with this. She had explained that an ambulance would come as soon as possible to transfer Hana to UCSF hospital across town. It was the brand new hospital, only opened one week. The pediatrician came into the emergency department to talk with us too. She was just checking in with us and she gave me her personal cell phone number to call her if I ever had any question, I could call her at any time. I remember Paul getting there and staying with Hana so I could go outside to make a phone call (the reception in the emergency department is terrible. I remember telling my parents what was going on – it was an enlarged heart, they were transferring her to the big, prestigious hospital across town, we had to cancel our trip to Hawaii and could they let my sister know (we were going to Hawaii to visit her). My parents were sitting in their car in the parking lot outside of a restaurant, waiting to go inside to celebrate my grandmother’s 96th birthday. My dad asked if I needed my mom (the pediatric nurse) to fly out. I felt like a child – a scared, lost child who needed her mom. I always think “no” to those kinds of questions. Can Paul and I handle this ourselves? Of course we can. But should we? I croaked out a “yes”.
I remember seeing Judy and Neal through the doors of the Emergency Department. They were standing looking into our room. They would take our dog Poppy. I remember being relieved that someone local was near and ready to help. I remember watching Paul walk out of the Emergency Department with that empty stroller, so he could take it just four blocks back to our home and then meet us at UCSF. I remember texting a couple of people on the ambulance ride to the new hospital. My friend Lisa and my friend Rose. Hana was asleep in her carseat in the ambulance. I remember arriving at some back entrance to the hospital and going up to the CICU into a room no other patient had yet occupied in this new hospital. The staff was still trying to find the supply room. I remember the attending physician happened to be the head of pediatric cardiology at the hospital. She and a neonatologist worked to get IVs started and maybe an arterial line? Hana was crying and fussy and wouldn’t be still. They were having a very, very hard time even to get an IV going. Paul and I were bent over her bed for hours showing Hana her favorite book from home. We talked and whispered and sang and tried to keep her calm. It seemed very important, whatever the cardiologist and the neonatologist were doing. I remember the cardiologist taking out her phone and calling her friend to tell her she wasn’t going to make it to the big birthday dinner of their other friend that night, she had to stay at the hospital. Eventually they gave up and decided to go with the two IVs. We were supposed to rest. I remember looking down at Hana in a hospital bed and in a hospital gown with all the lines hooked up to her thinking, “How did this happen so fast? How did we wake up this morning thinking our baby was just a little sick?” I was exhausted and I wanted to sleep and yet, I didn’t. How could I sleep when my baby was like this? I remember thinking, “I hope this is the worst day of my life.” I think deep down I already knew the worst was yet to come.
That was February 11, 2015.
The flood gates had been opened and water gushed so fast I didn’t know if I would ever be able to get another breath again. The next morning, the same pediatric cardiologist, the head of her department, sat us in her office and told us that Hana was going to need a heart transplant and she was transferring her to Stanford. We were stunned speechless. Hana seemed to really decline rapidly. I remember my mom, the pediatric nurse who had spent years in the trenches of a pediatric intensive care unit, arrive that morning and within minutes she was calling my dad to fly out too – things were much worse than she thought. I don’t remember too much of that day – they were going to send Hana to the cath lab but then decided it was too risky. They decided to intubate her. We sat in the parent lounge trying to eat food our friends Lisa and Chris had brought. They got Hana ready for her life flight to Stanford. A helicopter? Really? The staff prepped us for how different it would be at Stanford. The helicopter pilot questioned me on how suitable I would be to sit in the helicopter with him. I said goodbye to Paul and my mom who were driving down to Stanford. I got into the helicopter. It floated up into the night sky. The take off was complicated because it was the first time they had transferred a patient out of this new hospital and also the air space was restricted because President Obama was arriving at San Francisco airport. Twelve minutes later we landed at Stanford. The rushed her inside and into the CVICU where a team of people were ready. I stayed out of the room because it was too crowded and busy, there was no place for the mom right now. It was late and it was otherwise very, very quiet on the unit. One of the cardiology fellows pulled up a chair for me outside the room. I sat in it and my whole body ached, it ached so bad I would have a hard time getting to sleep that night, after not sleeping for two days.
I remember trying to make a deal with God, knowing full well that it didn’t work that way. I remember thinking, “This only happens to people in the movies and those movie-parents are amazing and inspiring. Paul and I aren’t that special. We are not those parents. How is that we are now those parents that are doing this?” But our lives changed and our hearts and our minds. And those flood gates that opened? They never close, maybe they just trickle, but they never close. And that sigh of relief at the end of the day? It never comes. And that dream of “I’m going to do this crazy, hard, scary, intense thing of having and raising a child that I will love like I never knew I could love”? That dream is changed, forever. All those thoughts I had about raising a child and what it was to be a parent, they changed forever on February 11th. I can never “unknow” what I know now. There is a peace of mind that I will never know again. I struggled with that for a long time. But now I don’t even remember what it feels like to have it any more. The only thing certain is Uncertainty.
But there is more love than you know. I asked for it, I did. For once in my life, I asked for it because I knew this was more than just me and Paul and Hana. This was about people and community and humanity and love and even more. I think of Kelly and David and their son, Leo, who would become Hana’s heart donor, her angel. I think of their sacrifice and pain and choice and their love. In the face of pain, there is still love.
Thank you all, for being part of that. You have been an incredible force of goodwill and love.
And what about today, February 11, 2019? Hana is going to Forest School and swim and dance. She underwent some neuropsych testing this fall and everything came back great. They wanted to test her because she has been on cardiac bypass which can cause oxygen deprivation and sometimes they see some delays or learning disabilities. We will test her again in three years. We have been very busy. We toured some schools for potentially starting Kindergarten in the fall, although we are still inclined to wait another year. Hana is eligible to start, although she will just be turning 5 on the first day of school.
What we are battling now are Hana’s GI issues. She has had chronic diarrhea since the summer and over the past week she has been increasingly complaining of stomach pain. As a parent, it’s hard to swallow. No one wants to see their child suffering. We did some food elimination diets including dairy free and then two weeks of no sweet (no sugar, no fruit, no artificial sweetener) but nothing helped. Hana complied like a champ. She is so good, it makes my heart melt. So, now we are left blaming her one immunosuppression medication – Cellcept. There has been talk about switching her to another medication but we had to decide a little while ago if we wanted to make that switch and we decided to wait. If we switch her medication we have to do it 4-6 weeks before her next biopsy so that they can check for any rejection with a new immune suppressing drug. Hana’s next biopsy is in a couple days on Wednesday, February 13th. So now, we will have to wait until the summer when she has her next biopsy. That is, of course, assuming that Wednesday’s biopsy results will show No Rejection and she will not need another biopsy until the summer. So, maybe we should have done the switch. I don’t know.
Please keep Hana in your thoughts and prayers on Wednesday for her biopsy. We will update you when we get results!