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!

Better Today

Hana’s fever is down to normal range. They still have her on the cooling blanket. She is still getting two broad spectrum antibiotics, although they switched out the zosyn for something easier on the kidneys. The attending doctors don’t feel like the fever was caused by infection. Attending doctors seem so much more calm about these things than fellows, or at least the newer fellows.

Hana’s CVP is down to about 10, which is where they want it. She is starting to have good urine output. They are still pacing her heart. Her blood pressure has been good. They took out her femoral line and the Foley catheter. Her sedation seems to be in a good place. They started her on Prilosec since she is not getting anything in her stomach.

They will do another echocardiogram today. Her X-ray this morning looked good – a lot less fluid. It’s actually amazing to see her X-ray now, her new heart is so much smaller and doesn’t take up almost the entire left side!

They will most likely not extubate today. Unless they can wean the vent more and if her echocardiogram looks amazing, than maybe. But it’s a holiday and Hana’s had three failed extubations so maybe it’s better to wait until tomorrow when all the normal staff is back and close by.

Overall, they think she is doing really well!


193 days in the hospital, 1 full day with her new heart!

4:30 OR Time

So, all of a sudden things are moving along quickly. Blood is drawn and IV is placed. IV fluids are started. Hana is finally napping. 

OR time is scheduled for 4:30, pacific time. Of course, that could always change. They want to move Hana to the CVICU right before surgery to secure a bed for her there. The hospital is completely full so we have to vacate the room as quickly as possible too!

Half A Year

It’s been a great week and a half! We’ve hit a lot of milestones too. First, we passed the half a year mark since Hana was first admitted to the hospital (this time around). Hana turned 21-months. I celebrated a birthday too.

Unfortunately, Paul was pretty sick most of last week and kept himself and his germs away and at home. We really missed him a lot but we tried to make the best of it too by doing a lot of activities. It was hard and I had a lot of tension headaches, but Hana and I had a lot of fun. 

Hana is still climbing a lot but now she is better at it and I don’t worry quite as much. She has also climbed most things in the room and has moved on to identifying letters and numbers (no, this does not mean she is a genius, she’s just watched a lot of YouTube cartoons!)

Watching our dog Poppy in the PoppOlympics

We continue to go to the music concerts on the adult side of the hospital. Hana loved dancing to the Latin jazz!

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We had a very special treat in that Poppy came for a short visit. Hana had the delight of feeding her treats!

The whole family together!

A few hours free of her NG tube!

Preparing for her dressing change.

Living on the edge!

We are trying to get better at habitual hand washing but Hana turned it into a bath!

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Below is Hana saying some letters and numbers.


This is what happens (many times a day) when Hana kinks her Berlin Heart pump.


Going to check out the hospital prom decorations
Trying to scale the side of her crib!
Watching Jeff, the guitarist, at preschool
This is what Hana’s bathtime looks like

This week Hana’s been throwing up more. I hope she is not getting sick! We are grateful that she has been doing so well. Not everyone is as fortunate and it makes our hearts ache for them. In a lot of ways things are easier here than at home – I don’t have to get up to start feeds in the middle of the night, turn off feeds, give late night meds, wash as many bottles, I don’t wash syringes or draw up meds, I don’t fortify milk or mix formula, there’s no running to the pharmacy or lots of appointments, I don’t order medical supplies, I don’t have to do laundry other than our clothes, I can’t cook dinner or walk Poppy. Ok, the last two I wish were different. Another thing, there is always someone around to help when you need an extra set of hands! We are grateful!
188 days in the hospital, 170 days post-Berlin Heart, 162 days on the transplant list.

Climbing

This post is long overdue. I’ve been wanting to post about something really special that happened last week, but I’m waiting on something, so I’ll just leave you in anticipation. In the meantime, I thought I’d better send out an update.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. My sister and brother-in-law were here the first week of May and we had a really great visit, which included the excitement of the News Media Event. I’ll post more links as they become available. We’ve gotten some nice feedback so I’m really glad we decided to do it and I really hope it helps raise awareness on the importance of organ donation.

Hana also had another IVIG treatment on Monday and Tuesday of their visit. They had to poke her four times to get their blood draw and to get the IV started. It was awful and I hated seeing the fear in Hana’s eyes, it really hit me hard this time around. They ended up putting the IV in her foot and then another, better IV in the other foot. So, Hana was not able to walk or stand for 24 hours, or even leave the room which was HARD. Thankfully, their were three adults, full-time, to keep her occupied!
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Getting silly during IVIG

We already got the results of her IVIG therapy and she dropped another antibody (If I’m even saying that correctly). So now she is down to 2, which I guess mathematically means she would not be able to accept an organ from 22% of the population because of her antibodies.

Weekends here are generally slow and boring. The nurses are staffed short so they are usually a little too busy to take Hana outside, maybe she can go out once a day. Strangely, we get most of our visitors during the week too so it makes for long days on Saturday and Sunday. It is nice to get visitors to break that up! Sunday (Mother’s Day, we will double celebrate next year when Hana is not in the hospital) and Monday felt like really, really long days. Then on Tuesday we started to get visitors all the way through Saturday.

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A little bored!

Thank you to everyone who visits, it really makes a difference!

Hana continues to go to the music concerts on the adult side of the hospital. It has been really great. She has started to squeal with delight when she realizes that we are walking in that direction. Her favorite performer is still Jeff, the guitarist that plays at preschool on Wednesdays. Sometimes we see him at the concerts in the audience and Hana will stare at him like he’s a rock star.

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Staring at Jeff the guitarist.

One of Hana’s nurses has taken it upon herself to make cloth wraps with velcro to use over Hana’s abdominal dressing. This is to replace the ace wrap that we’ve been using. We are experimenting with what she’s made so far and she is perfecting her pattern based off of our experiences. I am so grateful and honored that she is taking so much time and energy out of her personal life to do this. They have been working out great! Jenny is amazing!

May 11, 2016
Replacing the Ace Wrap!

The big news of the week (other than the special announcement that will come in another post) is just that Hana has been climbing everything. She is climbing up her crib, on chairs and stools and on top of the table and on the stuffed chair and couches and up the slide. It was inevitable. I’m glad she is climbing but I can’t turn my back on her for a second! Because of all the blood thinners Hana is on it is really dangerous if she fell, not to mention her pump that goes into her heart! But it is really fun to see her go at it, I fully support it as long as we can keep her safe and she doesn’t irritate the cannula insertion site into her chest.

May 9, 2016

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I also learned how to give Hana her Lovenox shot, which is just a subcutaneous injection, so its not a big deal. I want to be able to give it if the nurse is really busy, especially at night and I want to get Hana to bed.

The waiting has been getting to me a little bit. It takes vigilance on my part to continuously adjust my attitude about it. We are stuck here and we are waiting for a heart, but it doesn’t mean we can enjoy every day and every minute, not that I don’t, but I don’t need to be getting down because we’ve been waiting for five months. That’s right! Hana has been on the transplant list for five months, as of today.

Here are a few more pictures of some activity!

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Cinco de Mayo celebration

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Watching the ants go marching one by one.

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178 days in the hospital, 160 days post-Berlin Heart, 152 days on the transplant list.

Putting Your Heart On Ice

Saturday morning I had the rare pleasure of driving in the car. I was listening to West Coast Live, which is a local San Francisco radio show that is broadcast on public radio. They were interviewing Eleanor Coppola (yes, the wife of Francis Ford). One thing she talked about was something Francis had read in a book and it was the phrase, “Putting your heart on ice”. She described it as meaning a time in your life when you are frustrated and you aren’t doing what you want to be doing, what you were meant to be doing and you were just slogging through, maybe to just make it through a difficult phase.

Some would say that right now we are “putting our hearts on ice”, as we wait. I’ve heard people say that our lives are “on hold” until we can get back home. Certainly, this is true in many ways. But, life goes on no matter what and we’ve tried to live it as fully as we can, even when we are stuck in a hospital. Or, you could we have the privilege of being cared for by an amazing group of nurses and medical staff at an amazing hospital on an incredible life saving device. Because of this, Hana has a chance. We get to watch her grow and develop and really be an incredible joy in our lives. So, our lives do have a lot of joy. Maybe we are exactly where we need to be.

It also really struck me how ironic the phrase “putting your heart of ice” was in that it is exactly this that will happen when Hana gets her chance, her gift of life. A donor heart for Hana will arrive on ice. I hope we can always honor that gift with lives full of joy and gratitude.

It is with gratitude that I’d like to show a couple of things, that Hana has received lately. A couple of nurses made some things for Hana (and one thing is in the works).

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Custom made window cling!
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Hot air balloon decoration!

Then, I’m very excited because an artist I first discovered years ago in Sackets Harbor, New York, when my sister lived there, heard of Hana’s story. She was inspired to paint one day and realized she was painting Hana. She shared this painting with us while it was in the works, but it recently was completed. Its been very exciting and we are really in love with the final work! I feel it really captures a certain part of Hana. When I showed Hana a picture of the painting, she said, “Hana! Hana!”

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by Eugenia Mancini Horan

To see some of her other work, you can follow her Facebook page, The Art of ima.GINA.tion. Or you can visit her website.

Lastly, Hana is still doing great! She did slip and fall and hit her head the other day. This is always a big deal because she is on so many blood thinners. They do neuro checks every hour for the first four hours and then every four hours. She is fine. Tomorrow she has another round of IVIG therapy. She had two play dates in the last week that really made her day! Monday, another one of my sisters and her husband arrive. We are really looking forward to the visit!

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164 Days in the hospital, 146 days post-Berlin Heart, 138 days on the transplant list.