Back in my younger days when the end of summer approached I always worried about whether I had squeezed enough fun into my vacation. Was I taking every day and wringing all possible enjoyment out of it? And as Labor Day weekend got closer, my effort increased with the return to school right around the corner.
Later in life, as a wife and children (four of them) appeared, that all changed. My focus became ensuring that my family had an adventure-packed summer that would carry them at least through Columbus Day. And each summer, in some small way, we succeeded. We tried to make school vacations in December, February, and April entertaining as well. But in 2009, during the kid’s Christmas vacation, that all changed.
My wife, Tracie, developed a severe pain in her right shoulder so I took her to the Emergency Room at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton, MA. As she was being treated in an examination room, Tracie went into cardiac arrest.
Doctors and nurses rushed her into a trauma room and worked hard to keep her alive. They performed CPR and
twice shocked her with a defibrillator as I sat in the hallway and watched. Earlier in the evening we had dropped
my daughters, ages 2 and 10 off at my mom’s. Now, I called my mom’s to ask if someone could go to our home and pick up our sons, ages 18 and 13, and bring them to her house, too.
Once Tracie was stabilized and rushed to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, the ER doctor was able to bring me up to date. Tracie had suffered a massive myocardial infarction and was barely hanging on. The lab found some blockages that they were able to clear by placing two stents in her left anterior descending artery. She was brought to the
Cardiac Care Unit where I was finally able to see her. The room was full of IV’s, monitors, and other machines that were keeping her alive. The doctors explained the damage and told me that if she could survive the next 12 hours, there were some options. They talked about Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVAD) and ultimately a heart transplant. Tracie was 44 at the time.
Tracie did survive the next 12 hours and was transferred Tuft’s Medical Center in downtown Boston for further care.
The staff at St. Elizabeth’s had done all that they could, and they had done a fantastic job from our point of view. I went to my mom’s house and performed the most difficult task of my life: I told our children that their mom might die.
Take my word for it; you never want to hurt your kids this way.
After 11 days on life support, Tracie was finally able to breathe on her own. It took some time to bring her up to date on what happened while she was “away.” I showed her all of the text messages, e-mails, and Facebook messages I received during this ordeal. She was overwhelmed. Knowing that so many people cared for us and were willing to do so much for us was an incredible relief. Finally, after three weeks in the hospital, Tracie was able to come home.
I wish I could say that everything went well from there on, but I can’t. One day, while Tracie and I were out together, she suffered an episode of heart failure. Fortunately, we were close to Massachusetts General Hospital and I headed straight over. We got to the emergency room just in time. It was there that we met Dr. Stephanie Moore, who worked in the Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Program at MGH, and was the on-call cardiologist that day. During her three week stay, she and Dr. Moore really connected, and they have had a fantastic doctor/patient relationship for nearly three years. Meeting Dr. Moore was a life-changing moment for us.
In total, Tracie suffered three heart attacks and eight incidents of heart failure in less than two years. Each time, Tracie spent at least one week of in the hospital, often more. After her most recent heart attack last December, Tracie had an LVAD implanted. The LVAD does the work of the left side of the heart, pushing oxygenated blood back into circulation.
I watched our children closely during all of this, looking for signs of trouble. Tracie and I were open and honest with them at each step. We kept them up to date with all that was going on. They knew that Tracie needed a heart transplant, and all that went along with it. Our youngest child was in pre-school last year and she told her class, “my mommy’s heart is broken and she needs a new one.” It’s nice that she understands it, but it’s horrible that she has
Throughout it all, I never stopped to think about how my nieces were dealing with Tracie’s illness. My mom watches Caragh and Jamie every day. Many times I’ve had to leave our kids at mom’s while Tracie was hospitalized and Caragh and Jamie saw all of this. I remember my mom telling me on New Year’s Eve in 2009 that Caragh said to her, “Tracie must be really sick; Bobby isn’t teasing me.”
It had a deep effect on Caragh, as I found when I read her Facebook post during this past Labor Day weekend. Caragh posted that she was having a fund raiser at Whit’s End Campground in West Ossipee, NH. Caragh made a sign saying that she was selling lemonade and snow cones to raise money for the Boston Heart Walk for her aunt who needs a heart transplant. She planned to donate what she raised to our team, Hearts and Soles.
All those years ago when I was 10, I worked hard to have fun in my last few days of freedom before school. This little girl gave up her time for us. She had her lemonade stand open for two hours and raised over $300. My sister sent me a text later that evening with the news, and I was in tears reading it. Imagine a little girll with such a big heart, giving her time and effort for others. Caragh has our deepest gratitude.
The campers at Whit’s End also deserve kudos for helping the big-hearted little girl raise the money she did. To give to a cause in the name of a family you don’t know, and probably never heard of, is giving of the highest degree. We are grateful to each and every one of you. Thank you, and thank you Caragh for reminding us what love is all about.
To donate to Hearts and Soles, go to www.bostonheartwalk.org and click on Find a Team and look for our team name.