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!

The Donor Family Letter

Today, when my phone rang and when I saw the phone number come up, a little gulp of fear surged through me. It was Hana’s Nurse Practitioner and I was sure she was calling with biopsy results except that it seemed way to early, at 10am, to already have results. Nancy sounded cheerful and immediately said she had more good news. Hana’s biopsy result was a 1a, which is essentially no rejection. I felt incredibly relieved and said “whew!” Out loud. Her next biopsy is not until early May. We will begin to taper her steroids. We also discussed flu precautions, which has me slightly terrified this year. They had no additional precautions than the ones I’ve already implemented. Anyhow, we have reason to celebrate such good biopsy results!

On to the big news that Nancy gave me yesterday. After discussing Hana’s biopsy yesterday Nancy’s said she had more good news and then she said, “You have a letter from the donor family.” And then she handed me a plain white envelope, very thin, which appeared to have one sheet of a typed letter inside. I immediately started crying. I took the letter feeling like it was the most precious paper I had ever held in my hands.

I felt so many things at once that I can’t even really identify them all. They were just very very big emotions. Not since we received the call that there was a heart for Hana have I felt like this. I felt intense gratitude, relief, excitement. I felt the intensity of loss, grief, suffering. I even felt love and hope and desire. Of course, I did not open the letter until Paul was home. I cried on and off throughout the rest of the day. I waited. This is one reason why I did not mention this yesterday – I still had not opened the letter.

The letter was short and heartfelt. The donor was a boy, a little younger than Hana, who died unexpectedly. He had a contagious smile and was full of life – running, jumping, chasing. He was an only child. The parents said they think every day about the recipients who received his gifts and would love to hear how they are doing. We have decided that we are not going to post any identifying details that were shared by the donor family. As much as we love and appreciate all of the readers of this blog we want to respect the privacy and anonymity of the donor family.

It has been very emotional and we are still processing it all. I am incredibly grateful that the donor family reached out first. As much as I have wanted them to know our gratitude for their choice, it just never felt like it was the right time. Not just yet. Now, it feels like the right time! In a few days, after a bit more processing, Paul and I will write a reply. I hope we can somehow find that words that might begin to express how we feel. I hope we can perhaps offer some solace knowing that their son’s heart beats within Hana and explain how much she loves life. I hope we can continue to be the best stewards of this most incredible and amazing gift for Hana.

Thank you donor family. You are in our hearts every night.

With Love,

Kathleen

Finally, Another Biopsy

Today, Wednesday, Hana finally had her follow up biopsy to the 1b result she got back in November. They wanted her to have her follow-up biopsy a month later in December but Hana was sick and so it was canceled and couldn’t be rescheduled until the end of January. We got to go to the brand new hospital, which is right next door to the old hospital. It is beautiful and new and fun for the kids. Biopsy days are always exhausting for me. Its the preparing, getting up early, packing, figuring out care for Corrina and then there is the mental and emotional drain, which is probably the most exhausting. This time, my mom was here for the biopsy. She and Corrina came with us to the hospital, which makes things easier for us.

When Hana’s biopsy was over and she was in recovery but still asleep from her anesthesia, they called me back to the Consultation Room to talk to the surgeon who did the procedure. They almost never do this for routine biopsies so I started to get really worried that things had not gone well. I sat in the Consultation Room for a long time trying to calm my fears. I had Corrina with me while my mom went back to the recovery room where Hana was waking up. After 20 or so minutes someone finally came in to tell me they had talked to the surgeon and she had to go and would talk to me later. I was relieved because I was almost positive that this meant everything was fine. But for twenty minutes I was pretty stressed.

Hana’s Nurse Practitioner came out to talk to me and was looking for a private room, which made me nervous again because they don’t do that unless they have some kind of news. We found a empty sitting area and went over Hana’s results so far. Her heart pressures are improved since her last Cath Lab procedure and are in normal range of a transplanted heart. Her echocardiogram also looked fine. So that’s reassuring. That is all good news. Her biopsy results should be in tomorrow (Thursday) so we will know if they are seeing any rejection. Then, Nancy told me she had more good news. I couldn’t imagine what this could possibly be. Unfortunately, I will have to keep you all in suspense for now. More on that in the next day or so.

In the meantime, I want to introduce you to two special boys that are the sons’ of a childhood friend of mine.27605374_10155962716568830_1905743854_o

Michael and Jon Dougherty are participating in a fundraising event through the American Heart Association. They are doing a jump rope event where they learn to jump rope, learn about their heart and raise money to help kids with special hearts. Both boys have chosen to jump in honor of Hana. If you feel moved to do so, you can choose to support their fundraisers by following these links:

Michael: http://www2.heart.org/site/TR?px=6657997&pg=personal&fr_id=3191&et=9-2w0hbcXW7w9L1KXVB1_g

Jon: http://www2.heart.org/site/TR?px=9303519&pg=personal&fr_id=3191&et=dhLUceL_IFTUNNl2ChGSDw

Stay tuned!

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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Rejection

I wanted this next post to be about how great the Summer Scamper was (It was great) and how much fun we had (a lot) or how amazing our team was and how we can’t wait to do it again next year. But instead it’s about rejection. Yesterday Hana had her 1st annual biopsy. We got the results today and Hana has 3a rejection of her heart. It has been a real blow. The rejection scale is this: 0, 1a, 1b, 2, 3a, 3b, 4. 

Most often 3a rejection means that you are hospitalized while they treat you with steroids, but since Hana is doing great clinically, her echocardiogram looks good, the pressures in her heart are good and her coronary arteries look great they decided it’s better to treat her with oral steroids and keep her out of the hospital. So she starts back on steroids tonight and all the medications that go along with long term steroid use. She will be on steroids for 4-6 months. She will go back to the Heart clinic next week and will have another biopsy in two weeks. They also went up on some of her anti-rejection medications. I hope and pray her next biopsy will show no rejection and we can go on our first family trip in August!

With this news, all kinds of thoughts have bombarded my head. Many are dark and terrrible or very sad. I’m trying to stay positive and remember what’s happening in this moment. At this moment Hana is doing great! Please keep her and us in your thoughts and prayers. We are hanging in there, although I’m especially exhausted today!