February 19th

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Health update – I’m doing well and making it through the last of this very cold winter.  I have had much fewer episodes of muscles cramps and pain in my feet.  We saw the doctor in mid-January and all my blood work along with other vitals are fine.  The next big date for me is March 19th.  I will have a CT scan, and, depending upon the results, my doctors will decide if they want to remove the two (2) remaining tumors in my right lung.
As I have discussed with several family members and close friends, the removal of these tumors – both of which are now less than a millimeter in size – would be similar to the needle biopsy I had back in August.  In other words, this would not be radical lung surgery.  Vicki and I will, of course, discuss the pros and cons of the procedure, but my doctor’s main concern is that sometime in the future these tumors may begin to resist the drug I’m currently taking and start to grow larger.  There may be several alternatives, so thoughts and prayers are greatly needed as we make our decision.
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Today (February 19th) is Emily’s 20th birthday!  I cannot believe that our daughter is twenty years old!  I have not shared much about Emily in this blog other than to say that she is away at college.  Her arrival in this world is a somewhat unique story that I want to share.  Many of you know some of the story, but most of you don’t know how Emily’s birth profoundly changed our lives, mine in particular, and not necessarily in the cliched way that one may think the birth of child changes a new parent.

First of all were the circumstances surrounding Emma’s birth.  Vicki was more than 8 months pregnant when the infamous Ice Storm ’94 slammed into Memphis.  (As it turns out, the night the ice began to hit here, I was stuck in Dallas dealing with the same icy weather.)  We were without power for almost a week.  Vicki was a bank branch manager and had to go to work regardless of the conditions.  Needless to say, it was a crazy and extremely stressful time for us.  As our power came back on and things began to get back to normal, Vicki kept complaining of back pains and just not feeling “right.”  We finally saw her ob/gyn who told us that her water had broken, and we were going to have a baby in the next 24 hours!

Now our world was really getting turned upside down.  We went to the hospital late Friday evening – Vicki was having serious labor pains at that point, and she spent almost the next twelve hours in labor.  She was exhausted when Emily was finally born.  (I was pretty tired, too.)  Everything seemed to be okay as Vicki rested and Emily was in the small incubator near our bed.  The neonatal doctor came in, did his examine, and matter-of-factly said he wanted to take Emily away to do some tests.  We were so tired we didn’t think anything about it.

After a while, however, we started to sense something was not right.  The nurses kept coming in to check on us and they kept saying things like, “Oh, they’ll be right back with the baby.  The doctor just needs to check on one more thing.”  The neonatal guy finally came back and basically said that Emma wasn’t “pinking up,” and he wasn’t sure why.  He called a couple of specialists who were on call that day – thank God – along with our ob/gyn.  Even though it’s been twenty years and a lot of these memories have begun to fade, I still remember – even now with so much dread – Vicki’s sad, sad face lying in that bed.  She began to cry.  I couldn’t believe this was happening to us…it was just one more incredible thing to pile on top of the ice storm and twelve hours of labor.

Stuart Birnbaum was a pediatric cardiologist, and, at the time, one of a handful of pediatric heart specialists who specialized in genetic heart defects.  We, Vicki and I, still believe – even when our faith continues to be tested, even when I have this tenuous relationship with God, even at the worst of times – that we were meant to be in Memphis, Tennessee because of Stuart Birnbaum and the surgeons at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

Recent pic of Emily playing in the snow at Maryland.

Dr. Birnbaum, who sadly died in a car wreck many years ago, quickly and gently explained to us what was wrong with Emily’s heart.  Emily had transposition of the great vessels, a genetic defect in which oxygenated blood does not cycle back into the body like it is supposed to.

Thus began our unimaginable three-week journey of getting our daughter to remain in this world.  The journey continues to this day – 20 year later – as Emily has annual and bi-annual heart check ups.  She wears a reminder of her surgery – only five days old! – with a scar down the middle of her chest.  Otherwise, she’s a normal, happy – sometimes – college student, who makes her parents proud each and every day.

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Obviously, there’s more to the story than I’ve shared so far.  It would probably take several “pages” to recall everything that happened on February 19, 1994 and the days and weeks that immediately followed.  But as I stated earlier in this post, Emily’s birth forced us to “grow up” in a hurry – me, especially.  I still remember coming home alone from the hospital, trying to get some things organized for the trip to Le Bonheur.  I was alone in the house, which was still a wreck after the ice storm.  I remember saying to myself, “You’ve got to be strong, you’ve got to keep it together…you’ve got to do this for Vicki and for Emily.”  I cried in the shower and I begged God to take care of my family…it was weird, that was the first time I thought about having a “family.”  It wasn’t just the two of us any longer.
So here we are twenty years later.  Incredible…like some of the other difficult memories from our lives, Emily’s birth almost seems like it happened to someone else.  It just seems so far away from our day-to-day world.  And to this day, Vicki refuses to step inside Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.  It’s not blame or anger…Le Bonheur did a wonderful job, and we donate money to them almost every year.  The memories still sting…she just doesn’t want to be reminded of them.
I think Emily’s birth was the epitome of bittersweet.  I love my daughter so much, and I am so very proud of her as a young woman – no longer a teenager!  But to this day, I wonder how our lives – her life in particular – were shaped by a tiny, tiny heart – no bigger than a walnut – and the doctors who fixed and cared for it.
Happy Birthday, Emily!  May we share many, many, many more.
Love, Dad