I feel compelled to share my story of organ donation. I by no means call myself a writer, but if you’re reading this, I hope that my story can inspire you in some way.
It was a normal day of student teaching at Plano Elementary. I remember getting a text message from my mom asking me to call her after school. I remember the words clearly, “Steph, I’ve had a heart attack.” In that moment I was very confused. I packed my bags and headed home to see what was up. Mom was transferred from Methodist Hospital in Union County, to St. Mary’s in Evansville. The days before March 10th seem unreal to me. Mom was happy. She was smiling. She was offering visitors refreshments. She was allowed to move through her room freely as she saw fit. She was FINE.
On March 10, 2014 I turned 22. Mom was finally going to have a heart cath to see what next steps needed to be taken. My parents are divorced and my younger brother was then a senior in high school. My grandparents were with me that day. I remember being called to a waiting room to meet with the Doctor to hear the news. What I heard next was a blur. The doctor told me that mom’s heart showed damage caused before her recent episode. He told me my mom’s heart was dead. He told me he was surprised she was up and walking. That she should be dead. He told me that my mom- my biggest fan, the strongest woman I knew, and my constant support- would need a heart transplant.
And I didn’t believe him.
Have you ever seen a movie where the narrator was also a character in the story? It felt like a complete out of body experience. But I didn’t believe him. He was just a doctor in Evansville, IN. How could he say this? How had no one detected the heart attacks sooner? How had mom never felt anything?
By that time mom had become more awake and wanted to see me. I greeted her and tried to smile, but I couldn’t hide my overwhelming grief and pain. I tried to not tell her, I really did. But the words,”Your heart is dead, you need a transplant,” Poured out of me. Mom didn’t believe me either.
We decided that mom would go to Jewish Hospital in Louisville instead of one in Indianapolis. I called my brother and made him come to the hospital in person so I could tell him. And then I raced off. My grandpa drove me and I prayed and tried to hold it together the entire trip up.
When we got there, mom was admitted into the CVICU- the most intense place in Jewish Hospital. Again, it’s still my birthday. It seems strange to dwell on, but I just remember continuously getting text messages wishing me “The Best Day Ever.” And it was my absolute worst.
There was a lot of waiting over the next few days. I was taking on roles and learning more about my very private mother. In a matter of days I learned about insurance, utilities, and trying to keep everyone updated while maintaining my own sanity. I spent many of those days alone while people spread out until we found out more concrete information.
I was with mom one day and she started seizing. Before that she had been fine and was talking to me just like normal. A mom in the unit came over to me and told me I looked like I needed a mom hug. I was completely touched by her small act of kindness. Both of her children had cystic fibrosis and were in rejection from lung transplants.
Another family invited me to pray with them one day in the lobby. We all circled up and they lifted up our loved ones to the Lord. That will forever be one of my most comforting moments I’ve ever experienced.
I held mom’s hand when they told her the tests were true. The doctor in Evansville was right. They couldn’t believe that mom was functioning the way she was with so much damage. She cried. I hid my tears. We prayed. Mom’s surgery to implant the VAD went well.
Easter weekend 2014 I spent the day with mom before I left for my month of student teaching in Europe. It was a hard decision but mom told me she’d be mad if I didn’t go. I was scared to death but i knew if mom could endure, so could I.
Flash forward to Easter 2015- mom was back in the hospital and I spent my spring break in Jewish Hospital.
Flash forward to winter 2015-2016. I remember telling my principal that the time would be soon. Mom was on the priority list and her name had been considered for several hearts. Then a thyroid number threw away her chances for a while. I was worried it was cancer. I was worried she would lose hope. Then one day she called and she had been put back on the transplant list. One week later: Easter
Easter 2016 my brother and I were both home to celebrate with mom- our first Easter in 2 years that she wasn’t in the hospital. I got a call from an unknown number, but as usual I didn’t answer it. A few minutes later my brother got a call. When I noticed it was the same number I knew. I knew it was “The Call.” The hours that followed were a blur. We called loved ones. We packed. We threw everything into vehicles and we were off. Mom rode with me and I didn’t cry. I couldn’t.I needed to be brave for her.
We arrived at the hospital and we took a picture; thinking we were about to be separated from mom. Based on movies, I expected her to be whisked away and immediately taken into surgery. But we waited. All night actually. Dr. Chang had completed a transplant that morning and needed a nap before another 8 hour surgery.
At 4 am mom’s transplant finally started. Much of the procedure was removing the VAD. Then they went and harvested the heart and brought it back. I couldn’t sleep the entire night. I wanted to stay by mom’s side and soak up as much time as possible before the transplant. I was incredibly thankful, but incredibly scared and exhausted. The moment when the surgeon came and told me the heart was in place and beating by itself is one I will never forget. It was one of those pivotal moments in my life where I knew it was all going to be ok.
When she was in recovery, Hayden drove me to his house so I could shower and I could nap. I completely lost it. Hayden is the only one who knows that, and I’ve never told anyone, but it’s part of me. Part of my story. And I’m here to share it. Through this entire journey I tried to be the rock of my family. I don’t cry in front of my grandparents and I try not to in front of Chad. I’m the oldest and I need to be the example for my family.
In a matter of three years my life has completely changed. Today is the anniversary of mom’s transplant and it has been a day full of reflection and gratitude. Today I get my mom. She will get to witness me getting married and maybe having children someday. I know that I am lucky and that not everyone’s story plays out that way. I am grateful to serve a Heavenly Father who has a divine plan for me. I am grateful He provides me support through my friends and family. I am grateful He has given me Hayden- whom I rely on and lean on for strength. I am grateful that someone put their name on the transplant list and that they were a perfect match for mom. I think back on these years and I think how could anyone not believe in God? The perfect timing, how He’s provided for my family- that’s not just coincidence people. It’s by design and He knew when everything should be revealed.
So much grief, so much joy, so much hope. This is my life and I am now happy.