*For anyone who needs a recap, our little Sunley Summit has Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome (HRHS). Specifically, she has Double Inlet Left Ventricle (DILV) and Double Outlet Left Ventricle (DOLV), which is incredibly rare. What should have become a right ventricle is just a strip of tissue in her heart near her aortic valve. Her prognosis has many unknowns, but we are very hopeful for her future. We are getting care at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX, whose heart center is ranked number one in the nation. There is no real cure for Sunley’s condition, so the plan is to do a total of 3 heart surgeries (PA Band, Glenn/DKS, and Fontan). Our hope is that these surgeries will work well enough to avoid a heart transplant and she will lead a long, full life with only those 3 surgeries. We moved from Midland to Houston on March 7th, 2018 and Sunley was born the next month. Sunley spent her first 6 days in the NICU, went home (Houston home) for a while, and then spent 26 days in the hospital after her first surgery (PA Banding) at 6 weeks old. She had a one week hospitalization for dehydration at 4 months old, then went home for a month. At 5 months old, she was hospitalized for low saturations for 5 days, and underwent what I’ve officially termed a “doing-something cath” (atrial septostomy). On November 6th, Sunley had her second open heart surgery, which required bypass: a Bi-Directional Glenn and DKS procedure, and incredibly went home only six days after that. We had to stay in Houston until after her Glenn recovery. On January 7th, when Sunley was 8 months old and after exactly 10 months away from home, we returned to Midland with ALL 3 of our kids!
It is no coincidence that I haven’t updated the blog since our kids arrived in Houston. Life would be just completely insane with 3 healthy kids, let alone a heart kid, a move, a holiday trip, and two major illnesses. It has been a year since we started this CHD journey of ours, and what. a. journey. And we are just getting started!
After spending Thanksgiving apart from our kids, we were all FINALLY reunited in Houston in early December. The five of us had not been together since Labor Day weekend. That was, of course, not the plan. Originally, we had planned to bring the kids to Houston every other weekend. Every single time we made those plans we had some type of issue — either Sunley went to the ER, or one of the kids was too sick to let them be around Sunley — and we kept having to postpone the trips. While that period of time was heart wrenching for us, the kids really did great with it all. They lived with my mom and dad and really thrived in the routine that was set up for them, so that helped our momma and daddy hearts.
The biggest news is that we all were able to LEAVE Houston! We had planned on going to Midland the day after Christmas, but (long story) had to cancel that trip due to a scheduling issue for Sunley’s RSV shot, Synagis. This shot is only available for high risk babies like Sunley, who would be in a VERY dangerous spot if they contracted RSV. It is not a vaccine, so it doesn’t keep her from getting RSV, but would help her fight it if she caught the virus. I was told by one of the TCH doctors that RSV is one of the top killers for single ventricle babies after the Glenn. Needless to say, we did not feel comfortable leaving until she had that in her system.
A few days after her Synagis shot, we went to Oklahoma City for a short trip. Some of you may remember that we started our long diagnosis process just a few days before Christmas last year. We annually go to the New Year’s Meeting in Oklahoma, and it is always an incredibly encouraging experience. We haven’t missed a year since we met in 2006, and I look forward to it every year. The last night of the meeting is spent singing gorgeous a cappella hymns from memory, and it’s about the closest thing to heaven you’ll find on this side of reality. Last year, we attended with heavy hearts as we wondered what New Years would be the next time we were there. Would we even be able to go next year, or would we be in the hospital? Would our baby be delayed or brain damaged from her surgeries? Would we even have all three kids next year? The entirety of 2018 was spent focused on our kids and the impact that this diagnosis has had on our lives. I couldn’t help but have the goal of attending the meeting with our sweet heart warrior in our arms, and I was ecstatic that she was cleared to leave in time to attend. While her journey this year was very successful, we understandably had some low points. I will always remember long hours spent in the hospital trying desperately to console a baby in pain, while dealing with wires and tubes and following sternal precautions. It’s not easy trying to snuggle a baby in that position, and so sometimes I would just put an arm under her, my face by hers and sing, and picture us all together, singing at the New Year’s Meeting. It was really more to console me than for her, to make me feel like I was doing something to help. More often than not, the song I would sing is called “What the Lord Has Done in Me.” It has this gorgeous chorus that, for me, turned into a chant during some of our roughest days — some in the hospital, and some at the apartment missing my bigs and worrying about the future. This song became the anthem for my spirit over the last year.
So fast forward to New Year’s at the meeting, which felt like an incredible victory lap for us. Last year we arrived in Oklahoma with a big belly and a scary diagnosis, and now we are here with an incredibly smiley, NOT delayed, gorgeous little baby, and our two big kids, all together again. I am already overwhelmed with thankfulness, but when we walked in to this auditorium of 900+ people it really hit me how MANY people care about my kids. We had complete strangers coming up to us just to tell us that they had been praying for her. Tons of young kids wanted to see her, several sweet friends that we haven’t seen in a year, and even family members that hadn’t met her until then. Of course, we were unbelievable germaphobes while we were there, only went to the last service of the meeting, and only let 3 or 4 family members hold her. Remember the a cappella singing I mentioned on the last night of the meeting? It’s always very old, very traditional hymns because it’s all from memory. Two friends of ours, Tara and Jeremy, printed out copies of “What the Lord Has Done in Me” and passed them out to all 900+ people there, and we sang it that night. I shouldn’t say “we.” The auditorium sang while Derek and I boo-hooed through the whole thing. At the top of the sheet music was a paragraph about how this was Sunley’s song all year, and I just about fell on the floor when I heard that chorus. It’s hard to explain to people because it’s just such a unique experience that we’ve had, but I truly think that was probably the happiest, most victorious, spiritually deepest moment of my life. Everything felt very full circle, and I felt so incredibly loved and humbled that so many people genuinely care about Sunley and our whole family. I know I will never have another experience like that, and I know I will close my eyes and relive that moment over and over for the rest of my life. The sheet music is now framed in my house (Thanks Mom!), and it will always hang proudly on my wall.
Because I haven’t cried enough, our church in Houston also very sneakily learned this song without us knowing, and sang it for us on what should have been our last Sunday in Houston…Unfortunately, we didn’t go to church that day because Sunley had a bad cough. They recorded it for us and just sent me the file today. I have no words. These people are just amazing.
The thing about having a baby like Sunley is that heaven just feels closer now. I constantly feel like we are “almost there,” even though I actually have no idea how much longer we all have in this life. It’s a wonderful feeling to have. Since being removed from the world for so long, we have really slowed down our pace and focused on really simple things. I can honestly say that life is better now than when I thought all 3 of my babies were healthy. That’s crazy right? A year ago, I would have looked at a heart mom and felt sorry for her, but trust me when I say I do not need any pity. I’m a happier person, a better mom and wife, and most importantly I’m closer to God all because of some really terrible circumstances. We are definitely not done with Sunley’s heart journey, and I don’t know how or when it will end, but we are officially done with phase one, and it feels good!
After Oklahoma, we went back to Houston for a few days to start the packing for the move to Midland. We wanted to space out the trips a little bit to give us a break, but also to be back in Houston just in case Sunley caught anything at the meeting. We had our heart buddies over one last time on Saturday night for what I now call a “half-hearted breakfast feast,” and it felt bittersweet. We miss them so much, and we are all anxious for those two babies to go home. This year would have been VERY different without these other parents, and by different I mean about 1,000% less fun. The only down side to having our kids back with us (if there really was a down side) was that we couldn’t just get together with them anytime, and we have really missed that connection. God absolutely wanted our paths to cross, I have no doubt, and I’m so very happy that they did. We had a really great “Last Supper” with everyone, and I DIDN’T EVEN CRY. Later that evening, Sunley started coughing.
A week before the meeting, I had come down with a horrible cold. I did my best to keep away from Sunley, but any mom understands, when you’re sick, you don’t really get to be sick because you’re a mom. Long story short, Sunley definitely caught it. We left for Midland on Monday January 7th, even though Sunley had a cough, and we hoped it wouldn’t turn into anything serious. Thursday, I finally took her to the pediatrician because it was getting worse and worse, and looked like we may need to head to the ER over the weekend. Turns out, Sunley has RSV — The one specific virus we were warned about. The pediatrician told me not to panic, and I laughed out loud and said, “You don’t understand; I don’t panic anymore. My brain is so far past panic, all I have left is a calm ‘Let’s see what happens’ shrug.”
Praise the Lord Sunley had the Synagis shot before we left Houston, because she has amazingly stayed out of the hospital throughout the virus. I can’t get people to understand how amazing that is. I don’t think I know a heart baby, especially single ventricle, who has managed to get through RSV without the help of a hospital visit. I actually don’t know many HEALTHY babies who can stay out of the hospital with RSV. We are pretty ecstatic that she managed to do it, and very thankful for the prayers and especially for the advice to get the RSV shot! You better believe we will never miss a dose of that liquid gold. Ruger and Derek now have the same bad cold that Sunley has, but those two have, like, WHOLE HEARTS, so they’re doing just fine :)
We have been in Midland now for one week, which has flown by already. Driving into Midland and seeing all the familiar places was a little tougher than we thought — I think it just was the first time we really had to look at and confront what we lost when we joined the CHD world. We are so happy that we get to move forward with some sort of new normal, but the emotions are complicated. It’s not exactly like returning home, because of course we aren’t in our house and we just aren’t the same people who left. It feels so good to be near family and our church family again, but we also really miss Houston, and mostly I think it’s just hard to move forward when there will always be so many unknowns for our future as a whole family. I think because SO much has changed in our lives, we both still feel a little misplaced, and it will take time to find a new groove yet again. I’ve driven by our old house a few times which just really tugs at my heart strings — I REALLY loved that house. But, duh, we have SO much to be grateful for, and that’s what we choose to focus on each day. All of 2019 will be a rebuilding year for us, and we are taking everything one step at a time!