Approximately 5 years ago, Lena and Cliff were blessed with the birth of a beautiful baby girl. As older, first-time parents -- both over 40 - they knew there was some chance of a complicated/risky pregnancy. As the pregnancy advanced, tests showed that the baby was suffering from congenital heart defects. A strong faith in God and a strong desire to deliver the baby sustained them during the hard, long months of the pregnancy.
Many hours of prayer took place, and many tears were shed, as doctors worked with the mother - counselors worked with the entire family - to prepare them for what they would be facing once the baby arrived. Despite the dire warnings of hardship, they remained strong in their conviction to carry the baby to term.
At 6 months of development, Olivia was born. The tests were shown to be accurate, and she was quickly diagnosed with congenital heart defects. The doctors assured the family that their baby would not live longer than 3 or 4 years, without a heart transplant. She was immediately placed on a transplant waiting list. What followed was several difficult years of trach tubes, dozens of medications every day, hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, and undying love for the beautiful little girl Olivia.
The years passed, and along with them came 3 calls from the transplant center, reporting the possibility of a compatible heart being available. Unfortunately, none of them were acceptable - much to the dismay of worried parents and family. Surely, time must be running out?
Eventually, on December 23, 2007, a call again came in - a heart was available, and it was the most viable one yet available. Dropping everything, the harried parents rushed, along with their now-four-year-old angel, to St. Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri. Tests were done, and it was found that the organ was a close enough match to allow transplant. The transplant team began the surgery early on Christmas Eve, and 16 hours later, it was done. Olivia was out of surgery with a new, fully functioning heart!
Many days of worry and many sleepless nights followed. Would her body reject the organ? Would it function adequately? Was this really a new chance at life for this sweet baby? As it turned out, despite several scary signs of rejection, the organ eventually began to work as expected, and Olivia began the long road to recovery.
How was such a thing even possible? That's where the patient that changed our lives comes into the story.
Despite all I've written, Olivia is not actually the real subject of this article - though she has certainly been a blessing to all of us. The real hero in this tale is the nameless angel who lost his or her life on December 23, 2007, and by doing so, made it possible for our family to enjoy many more years with our angel. We don't know his or her name, or the circumstances of their death, or indeed any other details. What we do know is that we were the beneficiaries of the sacrifice of this family.
It was brought to light, to all of us, as a family member led us in prayer during the surgery. The pastor immediately asked God to bless and comfort the family who had just lost their baby, enabling ours to have a chance at life. It was such a profound thing - we were all so wrapped up in our concern for Olivia that it was too easy to forget about the other party in our story. A family had just lost their child, at Christmas, and yet had the bravery and compassion to allow this organ donation! What an amazing family this must be. What a loss they had suffered! And still, they had the courage to give our baby another chance at life. How humbling it was.
We still don't know the patient's name, or history, or really much of anything at all. I got to visit with Olivia and her parents a month or so ago. She was running, playing, and laughing with my granddaughter - just as any 5-year-old baby would do. She no longer has trach tubes, no longer gets too tired to play, no longer lies around listless and exhausted and depressed. All because of a patient we never met. An angel - a family of angels - that changed our lives forever.