Six years ago today, my family and I were preparing to spend Thanksgiving in the hospital. My youngest daughter, Lily, was recovering from open heart surgery. It was eerily quiet on the floor, and you could see it in every parent’s eyes that no one wanted to be there. As with most things in life, the toughest of situations brought out the best in people.
Our journey began in Summer 2007 when I had trouble rousing then 4-year-old Lily from an afternoon nap. We’d been frequent flyers at Children’s since she was 2 years old, but something was different this time. Her skin had always had gray undertones, but the gray had become especially prominent. After an ambulance ride to the hospital (Lily’s second in just two years), we spent the night at Scottish Rite and awoke to news no parent wants to hear. Lily had not one but two serious heart defects and needed open heart surgery.
When her cardiologist, Dr. Sutherland, came to break this news, he asked to talk to Lily directly. I watched tearfully as this grown man sat down next to my tiny, gray daughter and began drawing a picture of Big Bird. He then drew Big Bird’s heart and described why it wasn’t working like it should. His gentleness made it easier not only for Lily, but for all of us. On one of our family’s grayest days, he brought a sliver of sunshine.
With her open heart surgery scheduled for mid-November, we knew early on that my husband, two older daughters, Natalie and I would spend the holiday in the hospital.
On Thanksgiving Day, the family of a former cardiac patient arrived with a beautiful Thanksgiving spread for families and staff to share. It was so special. There we were surrounded by families, like us, who would give anything to be home with a healthy child. On that day, everyone—from nurses in scrubs to patients in pajamas to parents in days-old jeans—became family.
I’ll always be thankful to everyone who made that Thanksgiving the best it could be, but they weren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last to hold a special place in our family’s history. The stressful conditions under which you meet people in the hospital make it hard to remember names, but the kindness of those people will never be forgotten.
To the ambulance driver who kept me distracted in the front seat and had his entire family praying for my kid: Thank you. To the CICU nurses who sat beside my child and kept a watchful eye when I was unable: Thank you. To the volunteers who came by with video and toy carts at just the right time: Thank you. To the cafeteria worker who sensed Lily was having a rough day and brought her a cookie: Thank you. To the janitor who went out of his way to give Lily a high five every time we passed him in the hallway: Thank you. To the orthopaedics team that mailed Lily’s knee braces all the way to Austria: Thank you. To the doctors and surgeons who made my gray daughter pink: Thank you. To the team who made it possible for my little aspiring actress to star in this video: Thank you.
Lily is now 10, and our journey is far from finished. Orthopaedics, cardiology, endocrinology … there are many more visits to plan between now and her 21st birthday. Until then, I look forward to 11 more years of hallway high fives for my beautifully pink daughter!