And then came Amanda Raquel. She was born on January 18th 2000, the Y2K year. The year the millennium started...or did it? Amanda was a beautiful pink chubby little girl. One week into her life, she began throwing up everything we fed her. She could not keep anything down. Her lips would turn blue and she quit gaining weight. We took her to a Pediatrician to find out what was wrong, hoping it was something we could cure with herbs. The Doctor listened to her heart for a few minutes and then sat down at his chair with a serious look on his face.
"I hate to have to tell you this, but your daughter has severe heart problems and needs to see a heart surgeon at once," he said sympathetically. "I would recommend the Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City. They have some of the worlds best heart specialists," he continued. "There is a hole between the two main chambers in her heart and it is mixing the oxygenated blood with the un-oxygenated blood. This is why she is turning blue around her lips. You should leave immediately, it is serious."
My heart was now in my throat as I sat there listening. We definitely were not expecting this tragic news. My wife made a few calls and arranged to have our kids taken care of while we were away. So, with heavy hearts and a precious child, we headed north to Salt Lake City.
Arriving in Salt Lake we were invited to stay at my brother's place. My wife made an appointment for the next day and we went and checked Amanda in. They did a sonogram and sure enough, they found a hole between the two chambers and also a main artery had grown in the wrong place. She would need major heart surgery to correct the problem. Her surgery was scheduled for the following week so we had time to contemplate and pray for a miracle.
The scene in the hospital surgery hall was one I will never forget. We were both crying as we handed our precious three week old child over to the nurses and watched as they disappeared behind swinging doors. It was a feeling of total helplessness and despair; a feeling of letting our little child down.
In the waiting room, two surgeons came in and introduced themselves. They sat down and explained what they had to do. She would be hooked up to a special machine that would totally stop the blood from flowing while they operated on her heart. Thus she would actually die for a few minutes.
"We were just wondering if you had a preference on who performed the operation," continued the youngest doctor after explaining what they had to do. "I would like to perform the operation...but it's up to you...huh, to be honest, I don't have as much experience as Dr. Hawkins here, but he will be my assistant and I'm confident it will be fine.
"How many of these operations have you performed?" I asked turning to Dr. Hawkins.
"Over a thousand...but it's up to you."
"Well, no offense but I would prefer the experience."
"OK, that's no problem," they said getting up to leave. "We have to tell you there is a fair chance your child could die from complications as this is a very difficult process."
The next six hours were the longest six hours of our lives. We could not eat, talk,or hardly think. Each tick of the clock was counted agonizingly. Time seemed to stand still. The thoughts that went through our minds tormented our soul. Finally a nurse came in. "The operation was a success, thank the Lord," she said. "We have her in the ICU now. I will be back soon to let you come see her."
I'll never forget the moment we walked into the ICU and saw our precious child lying lifeless and naked on the bed with countless wires and tubes hooked up to her tiny body. Tears flowed freely as I took her seemingly lifeless little hand and whispered in her ear, "Daddy and Mommy are here now and we love you little angel. We will never leave you again."
Her grasp tightened around my finger as if she would never let go, and I knew she heard me and was comforted. All of the nurses were like angels from heaven. They treated us like gold. Even the Doctors were considerate of our opinion. What an incredible difference from other hospitals I had been in. They gave us our own little room with a small bed so one of us could sleep while the other was with Amanda.
Every day the nurses had to take a blood sample from her. This was extremely difficult since her veins were so small. Usually they would call a special nurse in and she still had a hard time finding the vein. Amanda would scream in agony all the while, so much so, that my wife could not stand it and would walk into the hallway and cry. One particular day just after this ordeal, I came in for my turn to be with her and found the nurse holding her in her arms and sobbing silently, as the tears cascaded down her cheeks. She wiped them from her eyes and explained she had fallen in love with little Amanda and just couldn't stand to see her in pain. A week after the operation, it was time to unhook her from the heart monitor and let her heart beat on its own. They turned it off but her heart would not pump without it so they had to leave it on. The doctor said that if her heart would not start working within the next week, he would have to install a permanent Pacemaker. Every morning they would try to unhook it but with no luck. For five consecutive days, they tried to get her heart to beat on its own, but it would not. We were very worried and praying with all our might. Early the sixth day, I was sleeping in my truck when Mom came out and woke me up with the good news. Here tiny heart was now working on its own.
When my first son was born, we were treated worse than animals and I vowed to avoid hospitals at all costs. But with Amanda's experience, I must admit it changed my attitude towards some doctors and hospitals. The whole staff was genuinely concerned about our welfare and the well being of our child. During the long hours of the night in the ICU, I would sit and visit with the nurse as she cradled Amanda in her arms and took special care of her. We even became good friends with some of them.
It was an experience we will never forget.