There is no job more difficult than being a mother. There is also no job as rewarding. And though I am not one to celebrate Hallmark occasions, Mother’s Day has many layers of importance to me. On my first Mother’s Day – May 8, 2011 – my newborn baby girl received a new heart.
Just three weeks prior, we had been sent home from the hospital with a perfectly healthy child after a perfectly normal pregnancy. Now we had a baby who was being kept alive by a heart-lung machine and waging a full-out war against time. It was terrifying and surreal. I knew the odds were not in our favour. At that time, the wait list for organs in BC was especially dismal and Addison’s condition was so precarious it was an hour-by-hour situation.
After just two days in the ICU, we were told the grim news – her only chance for survival was a heart transplant. Try digesting that shocking conversation, especially as first-time parents already reeling from our baby’s sudden heart failure and ensuing diagnosis of a rare congenital heart defect. Addison was listed for transplant the next day. Meanwhile, our medical team started making plans to get her stable enough for a surgery to implant a Berlin Heart – a mechanical heart pump that would hopefully keep her alive long enough for the wait. They told us to prepare for up to a year, or even longer.
Then on Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day and five days after our arrival in the ER, our surgeon called us in the ICU. He wanted to speak to me so my husband Aaron handed the phone over. “I have a Mother’s Day present for you,” said Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi. I kind of scoffed, thinking to myself, “What? Did our surgeon buy me chocolates or flowers???”
“I have a new heart for you.” Those magic words that changed everything. I couldn’t even process it and I just started shaking and repeating, “Are you sure? Is this a joke?”
Late that evening, we kissed our baby girl good-bye as she was wheeled into the operating room. We were so scared yet so hopeful. This was her chance. She had already showed us she was a fighter and she wasn’t ready to give up.
On Mother’s Day, Addison got her new heart.
Of course the story doesn’t end there with a “happily ever after”. Transplant is not a cure. It’s simply exchanging one deadly condition with another chronic condition that is more easily managed. The current survival rate at 10 years post transplant is still only around 50-60%. Addison has had her fair share of ups and downs on this transplant roller coaster ride. Before she even left the OR, her new heart stopped working, also known as primary graft failure. Many patients don’t survive this devastating setback. She had to go back on ECMO in the hopes her new heart just needed a rest. Amazingly that’s just what happened and we were able to take her home from the hospital three weeks later.
Addison has also dealt with a couple of nasty infections that sent us back to hospital, plus the usual crazy schedule of blood work, appointments, ECHOs, ECGs, scans and tests means we have spent far too many hours at our ‘second home’.
But there is so much we have learned along this journey. Not only have we grown stronger together, we have such deep appreciation for the time we do have with Addison. She has taught us to revel in the moment. We have also found a new passion, dedicating our spare time to raising money for transplant research through the Addison Fund at the Transplant Research Foundation of BC.
Every day we think of Audrey, the beautiful little girl who has made all of this possible. She was only six days old when her mom Felicia had to come to terms with the worst news a parent can ever face. Yet Felicia didn’t hesitate. She immediately said yes to organ donation, believing that saving lives was the reason Audrey had been born. We are so incredibly grateful.
So this Mother’s Day, we honour all the moms out there, and we pay special tribute to the moms of angels. Together, we celebrate what it means to be a mother. Strong, loving, giving, selfless, protective, brave, generous, courageous, resilient, compassionate.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Elaine, Aaron Addison and Charlie