Loving Mother and Infant Heart Surgery

“Each Difficult Moment Has The Potential To Open My Eyes And Open My Heart.”   Myla Kabat-Zinn

In reflecting upon my life I’ve come to realize that Chronic Conditions have been woven throughout it since I was a very little girl.  From the age of fifteen months, I became the big sister to the tiniest and most fragile of infant brothers.  He was born barely weighing four pounds at full term with a hole in his heart.   Deemed a Blue Baby, due to lack of oxygen, he was ripped from my poor mother’s arms, a young girl-wife of only 21.  The physicians needed to treat him immediately while determining the extent of his illness.

Eventually, my baby brother was sent to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital http://www.mottchildren.org/in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Heart surgery on an infant was rarely done in the 1950’s.  Never on a baby so small, not even at one of the best children’s hospitals in the country.  For the next three years, my parent’s were told to, “watch and wait.”  Every six weeks my little family drove several hours from our home, a 600 square foot, pink-shingled doll house, to Ann Arbor for my infant brother’s check-up.  The roads were two lanes, hilly and curvy.  I remember being dropped off at my maternal grandparents along the way.  There I stood, small and brave, on the outside of my parents white 1950’s sedan, waving, “Good-by.”

Today, doctors would diagnose my brother, as a failure to thrive baby during those first years of life, all due to his heart condition.  He little body was unable to produce the correct amount of oxygen it needed in order to thrive and grow. Finally, at the age of three, he was able to have his surgery.  A slice was made the whole length of his chest, where the skill of the greatest surgeon’s hands sewed up the most fragile of holes in one of the tiniest hearts.  My brother was one of the first pediatric patients to have open heart surgery at C.S. Mott children’s Hospital in the early ’60’s.  It was deemed a great success.  My parents felt blessed.

Today, babies with my brother’s condition are operated on soon after birth.  Technology has changed for the better.  Doctors have learned and medicine has improved.  My brother was never quite able to make up for precious time lost.  He struggled in schools that passed him before any kind of special help was put into place for kids who needed it.  Relentlessly, he was bullied before the term became the “buzz” word for intimidation.

In spite of it all, my brother, David is a proud war veteran who has seen more than most people can imagine.  He’s worked hard to support himself, has a great sense of humor, goes to church regularly, is loving and caring, and beyond smart in many, many ways.  I can’t imagine life without him.  He always will be my baby brother.

The three years that my mother, the young girl-wife who deeply loved and cared for two babies (not knowing day-to-day the health of the younger) took a tremendous toll on her own budding mind.  Although she kept it hidden, she was tormented greatly from demons waiting to unlock hidden doors she never knew existed.  Looking back, I understand it now.  I have no doubt this period of her life helped trigger many years of inner turmoil.  No one in our family talked about her condition or even had words to describe it.  Not then, not for decades.

Our family never kept a  pact to keep secrets.  The truth is, no one was educated about my mother’s condition.  Not even she.  There were no names for what she suffered from, no doctors we could talk to, no symptoms to describe.  We didn’t know any better, nor did she.  It breaks my heart that she suffered so.  And, it’s difficult for me to press these letters on my keyboard.  I have stopped and started back up again several times.

My father told me that sometime in my mother’s early to mid-twenties, she had what would be the first of many nervous breakdowns.  This fits the timeline for what I believe happened to her in life.  It’s no one’s fault.  Not hers, anyone’s.  It’s life…….part of God’s plan.

From my heart to my baby brother’s to my mother’s and back again.  I know this to be true.

A mother's hands . . .

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