A Very Special Heartversary – Remembering Leo

Today, Memorial Day, is the 2nd anniversary of Hana receiving her new heart, her gift of life. Yesterday, far away in Colorado, a family, Leo’s family, was remembering him on the two-year anniversary of the day he died. Leo was a toddler, full of life, who touched the hearts of those around him in a special way. He was, of course, cherished by his parents, Kelly and David and his extended family. His first word was “Dada”. He started walking at 10-months old and quickly started running after that. He loved ZZ top. He liked to eat goldfish crackers, puffs, potatoes and BBQ ribs.

Leo had a few unexplained seizures, the first one at six-months old after his six-month vaccinations. He was admitted overnight to the hospital. Then, a couple more after that, but everything checked out fine, so they figured it was something he would outgrow and put him on medication to prevent further seizures. Then, one day in May while sitting on his father’s lap he became unresponsive. They administered emergency medication, called 911 and he was rushed to the hospital where he had a grand mal seizure. Leo was life flighted to the children’s hospital in Denver and 12 hours later his seizure finally stopped but left him in a coma that he would never come out of. After 8 days in the hospital, he was gone.

When you have a child, your heart changes forever. You are never the same person again. So, I imagine when you lose that child, your heart gushes with so much grief, it must feel hard to ever stop or slow down. Your child is gone but you are still that changed person, never going back to being that child-less person you once were and now there is a piece of you so vital that is now missing. So, in the midst of all of that, David and Kelly, Leo’s parents made the incredibly selfless choice to donate Leo’s organs. His kidneys went to a recipient and his heart, his perfect heart, came to Hana. So sweet, sweet Leo was gone but his heart beats on as Hana’s gift of life.

On this day, I celebrate Hana’s second chance at life and remember and cherish Leo’s life. The boy he was, the people who loved him so much. Please, if you can, take a moment or more and say a prayer, spare a thought, send positive vibes to Leo’s family and remember what a precious gift he was to them.

At the end of January we received a letter from Leo’s parents. We replied with our own letter a couple weeks later. Then, a week or so ago we got a call from the nurse practitioner at Stanford saying that the family has requested a consent to release our personal information, so that we can contact each other without having to go through the donor network. I sent in the release but since I had found Leo’s mother, Kelly, on Facebook, I decided to send her a message. So, that’s how we’ve been communicating. I hope in the coming months, years we to get to know the family better and learn more about Leo.

In other news, things have been busier than ever. Corrina turned 1-year! Hana successfully weaned off steroids! Hana had another biopsy which came back good, a 1a, which they treat as no rejection. Her next biopsy will be in August for her annual cardiac catheterization and biopsy. We went back to Pennsylvania to see family for a week! I’ve been doing training and preparation to lead Tinkergarten classes this summer (outdoor, play-based, child-led nature activities). Both kids were pretty sick this last week but managed to recover enough for us to go camping this Memorial Day Weekend. Now, they are settling into some bad coughing, so hopefully this too can pass without any drastic measures.

We are in the final month before the Summer Scamper which support the children’s hospital at Stanford – Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. You can support Hana’s Heart team, especially in memory of Leo. With your help more children can get a second chance at life.

Lastly, please remember the importance of organ donation. If you haven’t already, register to be an organ donor.

Building A Team

Hello all! There are many things happening right now, in April, and much to look forward to in the next few months! I’ll tell you much more about them in just a bit. March, on the other hand, was a heavy month. The heaviness was caused by the passing of three people in a short span of time. It weighed heavily on my mind but even more on my heart. It started with the sudden passing of my 33-year old cousin. Then, about a week later, my uncle who had a single lung transplant last year, passed away as a result of an infection. Finally, a week later, another young child we knew from the hospital who had a heart transplant, passed away. I could say many, many more things about these three people and how each death affected me personally, as the words have been forming a web of thoughts in my mind, but the heaviness feels too much for this forum.

Amongst these dark clouds, life continues on. Hana had another check-up with the heart transplant team. She got a clean bill of health and they came up with a new steroid taper schedule. As I made the prescribed decreases in her steroid, Hana ate less, whined more, experienced intermittent diarrhea and seemed more tired. Finally, last Tuesday she just didn’t want to get out of bed. She would go to the bathroom and go right back to bed. She would sit up to take her medicines and go right back to sleep. The transplant team at Stanford decided they wanted her to come in. My heart always sinks when I hear this. It means the possibility that this is something serious.

She finally did get out of bed at 1pm in time to go to Stanford. Right before we were about to get in the car, Hana had a massive vomit. I haven’t seen anything like it since before her transplant. My heart sank again that day and I hoped it was just caused by the chocolate ice cream and glass of milk that she chugged. The first words out of Hana’s mouth when she woke up at 1pm was, “I want chocolate ice cream.” Now, this is such an unusual request that I decided to grant it. In addition, I rarely give Hana a glass of milk to drink. So there you have it.

They did an echocardiogram at Stanford and everything looks the same. This was very reassuring. Plus, she was eating a little bit and her energy was a little better. They decided that her symptoms were probably caused by weaning off the steroids. They could still be caused by an underlying GI virus, but time will tell if going back up on the steroids does not alleviate symptoms. It did not seem to be caused by rejection, which is what had everyone worried.

I am happy to report that in the last week Hana has greatly improved. Her energy and mood are much better. She is eating more. She has lost some weight and is looking a little skinnier than usual but I expect that to improve. We will try tapering again in a couple more weeks, but even more slowly. Hopefully she can be off the steroid in time for her next biopsy on May 7th. I guess they see an increase in rejection when patients go off steroids and since Hana has a history of this, we need to hope and pray that she can handle this with no more episodes of rejection.

Other than this fun, Hana has been enjoying Forest School two days a week, dance class and swimming. She also loves going to the playground, playing with friends and checking out tons of new books from the library. For the rest of the family we are all doing well. We got to enjoy a weekend near Lake Tahoe recently and Hana got to play in snow for the first time. Corrina is going to have her first birthday soon! Paul has been busy with work and some golf. I have been working on a few stealth projects.
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One of my not-so-stealth projects is building a team for the upcoming Summer Scamper on Sunday, June 24th in Palo Alto. This is the race event that benefits the hospital where Hana is treated. I have registered our team, Hana’s Heart. This year, we want to dedicate the race to the family and donor of Hana’s heart. Our whole family will be walking again in the 5K. I decided to stick with the family again this year instead of running. Hana will be participating in the Fun Run for 3-year olds! I think she is going to be very excited. If you want to join our team, please sign up by going to the Hana’s Heart team page and clicking on “Join Team”. This year, if I can get my act together, we are going to do t-shirts and hopefully a team picnic after the event. I have no excuse like last year (“I just had a newborn”) to get things done!

Look for more about the Summer Scamper and the Hana’s Heart team in the coming weeks.

April is National Donate Life Month! If you aren’t a registered organ donor, do it now!
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I’ve decided to make myself an advertisement for Donate Life and raising awareness about the importance of organ donation. I’ve made and am making some t-shirts to wear, especially when I am out for a jog. Check back for updates on how that is going!
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Here are some recent photos:

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And don’t forget, register to be an organ donor! Tell your friends and family too!

Happy New Year

I know, I know, this update is long overdue. I’m sorry. I’m tired. It must be having a baby that makes me too tired to keep my eyes open too long as soon as I sit down. Actually, I’ve been tired mostly because I spent almost the entire fall season sick. Since we got back from Hawaii in mid-September and we all contracted RSV, I’ve had a nearly non-stop flow of bad colds, with a week in between. Luckily, colds I got that the kids did not get first, I did not spread to them. Corrina got the croup right after Thanksgiving which spread to me and then Hana. It took me the longest to get well (five or six weeks), even Hana got better long before me. This is not bragging (but may sound like it) but I’ve had people say to me, “I don’t know how you do it. How do you do so much?” Well the answer is, I don’t, I hit a wall. Because my body obviously told me I was doing too much and I needed to take better care of myself. I also struggled a lot this fall with anxiety or maybe you would call it PTSD having to do with all we’ve had to deal with Hana. Dark thoughts kept creeping into my mind and it took a lot of energy to overcome them. Maybe I’ll say more about that later. This has been too much about me already. Now, more about Hana.

Hana is doing GREAT! She is LOVING life. Truly. She goes to Forest School two mornings a week for preschool. This is 100% outdoors in Golden Gate Park in the woods. They climb trees and play with sticks and dirt and pinecones. She loves it. I would have loved the idea of it even if she weren’t immune suppressed but its an added bonus that she is less at risk of exposure to other kids’ germs. The teachers are amazing too. If you are wondering what they do in the rain, they stay outside and play in the rain and mud! I dress her with a base layer of wool long underwear and she has good rain paints, raincoat and boots.

Hana started swim lessons this fall too. She also really loves swimming and is so excited that she is will to sit poolside for 30 minutes (with a stack of library books), while I take Corrina in for her lesson first. I think its amazing that, after nearly nine months of not being able to even take a bath submerged in water, that she loves swimming so much.

Lastly, the latest addition is that Hana started taking dance class. I was not going to add another activity but she was asking to dance all the time and when I showed her a few preschool dance videos (check out Petite Feet on Amazon streaming video) she fell in love. So she started a ballet/tap/tumbling class with just the right mix of structure and age-appropriate fun and she loves it! She is very motivated and driven all on her own. I think she actually would enjoy a more focused class, which surprised me, considering her age, but its more than good enough for now.

In between all these things we try to make it to the playground, the beach, the Children’s Creativity Museum (if you go, check out their Sketchtown exhibit, its amazing), the Bay Area Discovery Museum, the San Francisco Zoo, and the California Academy of Sciences. We keep fairly busy. I think I may be trying to overcompensate for all the time Hana has had to spend stuck in the hospital. But its now winter/rainy season here in San Francisco during one of the worst cold & flu seasons in a long time and we are hibernating a little bit to keep away from the germs. So, I think we will have plenty of inside play time.

Unfortunately, the last cold caused Hana’s biopsy in December to be rescheduled. She got a 1b, which Stanford treats as mild rejection (other transplant programs treat it as no rejection) in November and was supposed to get another follow up biopsy in December. Now, that’s rescheduled for the end of January. The theorize that the 1b was a reaction to the RSV in September. This is why it is so important for her to stay healthy.

Okay, now I’m frustrated because the rest of this post got deleted somehow. Oh well, I think you got the main points! Happy New Year!

Gratitude

I realize it has been a couple months since I last posted. We have been busy going on two vacations (hooray!), recovering from vacations and getting sick. I can be guilty of making “Perfect the enemy of good”, maybe not perfect, but at least “great” and that makes me slow to post because I want a well thought out post and to share some great pictures of Hana on vacation because I know how much people want to see them (and they are pretty awesome, if I say so myself).

In this post I am not going to tell you about our vacation or how we all got RSV and Hana spent two nights in the hospital. I will share that in the next few days (I promise). In this post I want to share the letter I wrote for the Gallery of Gratitude for the new children’s hospital that is almost completed at Stanford. They requested anyone who wished, to submit letters, notes, pictures or art work expressing their gratitude. Gratitude for the hospital and its staff is something I feel every single day but I hadn’t given it the time to really express it other than out loud at home. It was really rewarding putting it down in words, especially with the thought that someone who I am expressing gratitude for might actually read it. I came to learn later that the letter was passed around, to whom I don’t know, but when we ran into Hana’s primary transplant cardiologist he thanked me for writing it. Of course, I didn’t know what he was talking about at first because I think my brain is just a little too busy and a lot too tired.

So, now I will share with all of you the letter, just in case you might want to read it too:

Every day I say, out loud, “Thank you for another day with Hana.” Often, its just a whisper at bedtime, as Hana is wrapping her 3-year old arms around me and saying, “I love you mama.” Every single day I am so grateful that Hana got to see this day, another day, another chance. At six-months old we thought we might lose her when we got the shock of our lives with her sudden diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy and severe heart failure. But she was treated at your hospital for three weeks and we miraculously got to go home with talk about an eventual heart transplant. I remember bending over her in the CVICU sending out whispered “thank yous” to everyone I could think of, the life flight team, the doctors, the nurses, the nurse practitioners, the social worker and child life specialist, the pharmacists, case managers, the woman who spontaneously grabbed me a stack of napkins in the cafeteria when I started crying uncontrollably from all the stress and shock and emotion.

At 15-months, Hana’s left lung collapsed and we were back in the hospital, this time for an unknown amount of time, while Hana was placed on the Berlin Heart to help her heart pump blood until a donor heart became available. It ended up being seven months while your hospital became our home where we slept, ate, and raised our only child.

After Hana got her donor heart and was recovering, she was in a funk. She really didn’t want to sit up or walk around or play, she just seemed in a very down mood.  We were warned that this often happens to patients after their heart transplant. Her nurse, Jay, thought it would be good to take her on a wagon ride to see the fountain outside of the Stanford adult hospital next door. Hana had never seen it before, despite being in the hospital for so long, as she was never able to travel that far while attached to the Berlin Heart.

When Hana got outside and she saw that fountain she started climbing out of the wagon! Then, she started walking for the first time in almost two weeks! Then, it dawned on her that she was walking, for the very first time, unattached to the six foot drive line that had connected her to the 200-pound Berlin Heart. That’s when she started a very wobbly RUN around the perimeter of the fountain. Finally, she was free. Finally, she had gotten her second chance at life.

Although she still didn’t appear joyful or happy, somehow the gravity of this moment was beyond that. It was the earnestness in her steps, the resolve in her chosen path, and the determination on her face that were so compelling. The rawness of her condition – so soon after open heart surgery, and the innocence of her age – just under two-years old, uplifted all of us who witnessed this and brought tears to our eyes (including Jay).

Thank you, all of you, all of the hundreds of people that make this moment possible and all the other moments that follow it. I know its more than just the hours of face-time with medical staff, its the hours of work from people behind the scenes and the hours of research and study and thought and its all brought to us with compassionate hearts and caring minds. Thank you for another day with Hana.

The letter from the Gallery of Gratitude
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Hana at the fountain after her transplant.

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Why We Scamper

The Summer Scamper is just a couple days away! This big fundraising event for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital has the slogan “Why We Scamper” and this week I’ve been taking that to heart and really contemplating, more than usual, what that means to me, especially one year post-transplant.

When you have a baby your life changes, you change, and parents everywhere know this. The person they were before that baby was born is not the same person afterwards, you can never unknow what it is like to be a parent. It was the same when we so suddenly learned about Hana’s heart condition. Bam! All of a sudden, in an instant, our lives changed forever. I have changed from the person I was before, I can never unknow what it is like to have a child with a life-threatening condition. Maybe if you know me fairly well you may not necessarily see these changes, but something fundamental shifts deep inside. I can’t even really explain, with words, what this means. What I can explain is that amazing people were able to save Hana and give her a second chance at life. So, when asked, “Why we scamper?” its because for me, that second chance and the amazing people who gave that to her, touches a place deep down inside where the shift occurred, a “something” I can never unknow.

The Summer Scamper is about kids, of course, but behind all that are the people that save the kids. Some of these people are the amazing doctors, at the top of their game, in an elite class. If they were professional athletes they probably would be famous and get paid lots of money. They have dedicated so much of their lives to saving the lives of kids. It has been a very humbling experience watching (of what I get to see) them work. So, I Scamper for them too – so I can support their dedication to saving the lives of kids.

Lastly, I Scamper for all the kids who are no longer here with us. Well, for the families too, because if there is anything that might create another fundamental shift deep within a person, it might be losing your child. I have seen these parents (and grandparents) and the pain in their eyes shows that it runs to a deep, deep place. So in what small way I can, this is my show of support for them. To honor their pain, I feel like we should not take for granted the life we have. So, I Scamper in gratitude for life.

Please consider supporting our Scampering by donating to Hana’s Heart Scamper team:
https://my.supportlpch.org/fundraise/team?ftid=116471

Here are some images from this past week:

Our amazing Hana’s Heart Scamper team, besides me and Paul, includes: my best-friend Suzanne and her two kids, Delphi and Travers (they are doing the kids Fun Run), our friend Megan who came to the hospital every week to play with Hana, our friend Katie whose daughter, Maya, also has dilated cardiomyopathy and lastly, my friend Brenna who I’ve known since I was a little kid, is participating as a virtual runner!

To sum up Why We Scamper, its for videos like this (Hana leaving the hospital after her transplant. After seven months in that building, she finally got to walk away and leave it behind her):

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Hana’s breathing tube came out! It went very smoothly! Hopefully they can continue to wean her ventilation so she can start getting tube feeds. Her echocardiogram looked about the same as yesterday. They may even take a few chest tubes out today. 

Just a tidbit of information – her donor heart matched her A+ blood type.


She’s not actually this awake quite yet. I did get to listen to her new heart with a stethoscope, it was AMAZING. Let’s hope the rest of the day goes smoothly!

194 days in the hospital, 2 full days with her new heart!

She’s Done!

Hana’s heart transplant is done! It went very smoothly with no surprises. The surgeon told us the new heart is working very well. Hana just came up from the OR and is getting settled in the CVICU. We will get to see her in about 30-45 minutes.

We did see her as she was wheeled out of the elevator.

I am on the brink of very overwhelming emotions.

After we see her we are going to try to SLEEP. Hana will be very sedated for awhile. Tonight they will just let her be. She has a breathing tube and will have it for about 24 hours. 

We are so incredibly grateful for this gift of life!



192 days in the hospital, day of transplant!