When most people look at me, they see a healthy, young mommy to our sweet six-year-old daughter, Reagan. What they don’t see is someone who was fighting for her life just a few years ago, and who endures a daily struggle for stable health and a longer life. I may look normal and healthy on the outside, but, unfortunately, I’m not. I’m 34-years-old, and I’m in heart failure. Honestly, knowing that scares me to death. All I want is to grow old with my amazing husband and best friend. All I want is to watch Reagan grow up. Yet, I fear everyday that I won’t have that privilege. Let me take you back a few years to better understand what has happened.
I was born with a hole in my heart. From the time I was two months old until I was 15, I had four open-heart surgeries and multiple cardiac catheterizations. Thankfully, all of those procedures went as planned. On August 16, 2011, my life changed forever. You see, what was supposed to be a minimally invasive valve replacement via a catheter and a one-night hospitalization, led to an almost four-month battle for my life. Complications during the heart procedure obstructed my left-main coronary artery resulting in the equivalent of a massive, devastating heart attack.
That led to emergency open-heart surgery, ECMO life support, a second open-heart surgery with a delayed closure, ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) a mere 18 hours after an initial discharge from the hospital, a second round of ECMO life support (this time for two weeks), a tracheotomy, and a multitude of other things that went very wrong. When things were bad, they were very bad. There were many days and nights in the hospital where I just wanted to close my eyes and not wake up. I was tired of hurting emotionally and physically, and tired of being in the hospital. I didn’t want to burden my family anymore. I didn’t want to bear the thought of not being able to see our daughter one more minute. I just wanted to be back at home, living a normal life, and enjoying everyday routines with Reagan and Zak. Well, I did finally make it home, but just for a short time. Less than two months after being home, I was back in the hospital with a sternal infection that required surgery. I had three sternal infections in 2012, with two requiring surgery. After roughly nine weeks of daily Hyperbaric Oxygenation Therapy, along with long-term antibiotic therapy, my sternal infections seem to finally be at bay. Complications from the initial hospitalization also meant that I couldn’t drive throughout 2012. That meant I needed lots of help from family to drive me to cardiac rehab, physical therapy, hyperbaric oxygenation therapy, and Reagan’s activities. It wasn’t easy for any of us.
My life, and that of my family, has changed forever, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not reminded of everything that has taken place. I am reminded of it every time I take one of the 23 pills now necessary to keep me alive, every time I have to write down each sip of my fluid intake so I can stay under my fluid restriction, each time I have to make the smart low-sodium meal choice instead of what I may be craving at the moment, and each time I have to check my daily weight to make sure I’m not starting to retain fluid. I have to be extra careful to avoid sick people, since the smallest cold can now veer dangerously towards pneumonia and a stomach bug can easily land me in the hospital. I have experienced the darkest days of my life with all that has happened, but it’s the darkest times that often help one recognize the most precious of blessings. The love and support from my family was incredible, but yet I still had a difficult time adjusting to my new reality. I began going to counseling in late 2013, and it has helped tremendously. That being said, I am incredibly blessed and forever grateful for all that my family and friends have sacrificed to help me heal. I’m alive, I did survive, and I’m blessed to be able to experience everyday life with my precious family as much as I can. It’s not always easy, and there are many days that I just want to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head. But I don’t. I was given a second chance at life, and I’m going to take advantage of that, because I’m not sure how much longer I have – none of us are. Hug your family tight. Tell them you love them. Cherish each day. Laugh. Laugh a lot. Without the help from family, especially my husband, I wouldn’t have survived. We have wonderful church friends that have helped us in more ways than one, and I am eternally grateful for a Heavenly Father that makes it possible for my family to be together forever, no matter what challenges occur during my time here. Finally, I’m thankful for every day I have here with my family. None of us know exactly what our future holds, but now I really appreciate how important it is to cherish each and every day, because no one is promised tomorrow.
Written by: Kim Lowe
This story appeared first on Real Imprints.