I kissed her sweet, velvety cheeks. When her tiny hand wrapped around my finger, she instantly wrapped around my heart. Having just witnessed the birth of my first granddaughter, I was simply ecstatic. Grace Elizabeth, a little thing with a mop of chestnut hair and raven eyes, reminded me of the sister I loss so long ago.
Not long after, our joy was short-lived. Apprehension and a staggering wave of fear suddenly replaced excitement and joy.
Her doctor ordered x-rays, ultrasounds, RSV, EKG, blood work and an echocardiogram. “She has three holes in her heart,” he announced. His foreign words invaded my head: “congenital heart defect . . . coarctation of the aorta . . . a ventricular septal defect . . . an arterial septal defect . . . a bicuspid aortic
valve . . .”
But three words snatched my breath away: “open-heart surgery.”
Surrounded by family, we waited. Watched. And prayed.
That night, my daughter Angela and I shared a couch that opened to a bed in Grace’s room. Dreams and visions overlapped, as I drifted in and out of a fitful slumber. Nurses routinely coming in to check on Grace’s vital signs, administered meds and prepared her feeding tube around the clock, interrupted sleep.
But tonight was different. At 3 a.m., a nurse instructed all residents to remain in their rooms behind closed doors. We couldn’t help but peek out of the window blinds. We watched in horror as the mother of the infant in Room 1704 ran inside, her hand over her mouth. Her wails carried across the hallway from inside. When other relatives arrived, they hold unto one another weeping, lamenting, and grieving.
Tears flowed down our faces. I gazed upon Angela—my baby girl who always wanted a baby girl—and grieved along with her. Though she carried unspoken heaviness, she remained strong for her household.
My eyes fixate upon our sick Grace. The doctors had said that Grace needed to gain weight, but she only grew weaker and tired more easily. Instead of eating, she slept during feedings. I watched her shallow, rapid breathing and listened to the heart monitor. Beep. A precious life. Beep. Hopelessness loomed. Beep. I said another prayer.
Beep, Beep, Beep. The rhythm of Grace’s heart monitor echoed louder in my head.
Come morning, more alarming reports:
“Murmur is louder.”
“Heart’s beating fast; enlarged, working too hard.”
We waited for the day; we waited for the hour, but when the time for her procedure arrived, tomorrow seemed much too soon!
In the morning, we huddled around Grace in a curtained room. Words failed to express our love for this precious twenty-nine day old child. We covered her with our tears, our kisses, and our prayers.
“Please Lord, bring her back to me,” my daughter whispered and cried.
In a moment’s time, they whisked her away to prep her and lay her on the operating table, surrounded by nine surgeons. We felt helpless but believed God while we prayed that He would return Grace to us alive . . . whole . . . and healthy.
After four hours in surgery, the cardiologist reported, “Grace’s heart is very sick,” and added, “We didn’t know how sick until actually seeing it.”
The pendulum swung. We sat and paced. Paced and sat.
A flood of questions crammed my mind: How do you silence the sobs that overtake you? How can you calm the waters and keep the dam from bursting from within the depths of your being? How do you say good-bye when someone has captured your very heart and soul?
Nine hours later we were told, “Her heart failed when taken off bypass.”
My gut tightened. “Please, Lord.”
We gathered in a quiet room to pray. I studied the faces of each family member. The women prayed openly as they cried out to God. The men, unable to trust their voices, did not open their mouths for fear of losing control.
After three hours, the doctor’s assistant entered and announced, “She’s made it, but she’s not out of the woods yet.”
We hugged one another. Tears of relief flow freely.
“The next forty-eight hours will be critical,” she cautioned. “You can briefly see her soon.”
Emotions raw, I lacked the courage to see Grace lying still, motionless, and heavily sedated. “I want to see my granddaughter when her beautiful eyes are open,” I said.
Angela understood. “Mom, go home and rest,” she urged. “I’ll keep you posted.”
Day One Post-Surgery, my daughter’s report via email:
Baby Grace remains heavily sedated, and has countless tubes and wires attached to her small frame. Mom, the list is endless: a breathing tube, pacemaker, rectal thermometer, catheter, and so much more. Arms and inner thighs are bruised due to multiple attempts to locate the main artery. The sides of her head are shaven. Her face is bloated from fluids. One lung has collapsed. Mom, I’m so scared!
Day Two Post-Surgery, another email:
No movement, still heavily sedated. I held Baby Grace’s little hand and said, “Mommy’s here.” Grace moved her head for me and I whispered in her ear, “Mommy loves you so much.” When her eyes opened for me, my heart skipped a beat!
Day Three Post-Surgery:
Mom, Grace is better and responding to touch. Her swelling has gone down. They re- installed her feeding tube today and are giving 5cc of my breast milk per hour. She is eating now and will gain weight again.
My first day to see Grace since her surgery. Overflows of emotions bombarded every nerve in my being. Hope crashed into fear. Joy into anxiety.
I must keep it together. My legs turned to putty. My daughter took me by the hand and led me into Grace’s room . . .
I see her! I reached down, caressed her face and gently placed my hand over her chest. The incision was the length of my index finger.
And then her eyes! Those familiar eyes sparkled and looked at me as if to say, “See Mimi. I’m here. I’ve made it.”
Seven years have passed.
Grace recently graduated to the first grade, grinning from ear to ear. She laughs and skips about, discovering her world. My precious granddaughter has been through so much. She won’t remember a thing about her ordeal. Nevertheless, I will forever hold onto the memories of those dark days and long nights. I will relish the story of this tiny girl who showed tenacity and never gave up.
I lift Grace, embrace her, and smother her with kisses. Her little heart beats next to mine; nothing short of a miracle.
© M.A. Perez, 2013, All Rights Reserved