Thursday, July 28, 2011

the spirit of generosity

The spirit of generosity. You either have it or you don't. Lucky for my family of four it surrounds us.

The last nine months have been eye opening for all of us. Was it a nightmare? At times, yes it was. Will I ever forget it? I'd like to, but no. Did I ever scream out of frustration? Absolutely. Did I ever crawl up into a ball & cry in the corner? No, that's not my style - I wasn't raised that way. What made the last nine months so manageable? What made our living with an LVAD so tolerable? Strength, love, and the spirit of generosity.

This spirit of generosity I speak of stems from our family, our friends, and our family at Cedars Sinai. It comes from our people. I have said thank you so many times. I have sat at this very computer and typed away just exactly how grateful I was for everyone's generosity. I have cried many a happy tear because I was just so overwhelmed at our people's generosity. To this day it amazes me.

This time around I want our people to hear my thanks, to see my thanks. This time around I want to spread the word about the spirit of generosity. I want my boys to know they were the force behind my strength. That I did what I had to do because Kevin is the love of my life. And that the spirit of generosity not only comes from our people but from our donor family.

The video below is for our people. It's for my boys, for Kevin, and it's for our donor family. Please share this video on twitter, on facebook, and with anyone you know. Please get the message out there that donating life DOES make a difference and by registering to become an organ donor, you DO have the power to change someone's life. And if they still don't believe you, just tell them a story about a little family of four........

Friday, July 15, 2011

LVAD exit here....

In order for you to truly understand the story of the day we "got the call"... well, I've got to rewind a couple of days......

Sunday July 3
Kevin's turn to sleep in this morning. Me and the boys in our pajamas on the sofa watching tv... I actually posted a blog entry on the morning of July 3.  Kevin wasn't feeling well, not himself. I let him sleep until just before noon. He didn't look good to me and he said he was indeed in pain. I made the call to our VAD coordinator. An hour later we were enroute to Cedars emergency room so that the doctors could take a look at Kevin. We arrive and let me just say that if you ever want to get seen quickly in an up with an LVAD'er not feeling well. People were falling all over us to get us in the door. He progressively got worse, something that could be compared to a 12 hour flu of sorts. Considering he had the LVAD and was listed as 1A on the transplant list...they kept him overnight for observation.

Monday July 4
I get the call from Kevin that he's perfectly healthy again. Must have been a little 12 hour something that hit  him really hard, he was being discharged. I arrived at Cedars by 1:30pm. One of our favorite nurses, Jimmy, was discharging us... just chatting it up and then walks over another favorite nurse of ours, Lea. I can't remember who said it but it was joked that "ha ha how funny would it be if you guys went home & you got the call to come back?" Between you & me I was laughing on the outside and secretly anxious on the inside because in three days Kevin's 30 day priority would be up and he'd be moving down to status 1B. This was probably the only discharge from Cedars that went off without a hitch. No issues at discharge. Very smooth. We were home by 3:30pm. Just in time to have family dinner with our boys. Red, White & Blue iced cupcakes for the fourth of July. Relaxing evening at home. Around 9pm my friend Gina called me from her husband's cell phone. "Hey Tracy my cell phone is dead, gotta charge it. If you guys get the call tonight, call this number or my home line." Gina is so cute... she lives the closest to us and she has family that lives close by so that when we got the call she could be to us in a pinch. She has been calling for the past couple of weeks telling me what number to call because her cell phone was dead or was being charged. She makes me smile. We were in bed by 10pm.

11:52pm my cell phone rings. I didn't look at the caller ID because I was THAT exhausted from not sleeping the night before. Here's the conversation:

"Hi, is this Tracy?"
Yes, this is Tracy. Who's this?
"This is Brian. I'm a Transplant Coordinator with Cedars Sinai and I'm calling to tell you that Dr. Trento just accepted an offer on a heart for your husband Kevin."
You're shitting me?!!!?????!!!!
Insert Brian laughing here
I'm sorry could you say that again? KEVIN WAKE UP!! They umm, they have a heart for you..

And I handed the phone to Kevin on speakerphone. We received our instructions, he hung up the phone, and I remember us looking at each other with blank faces... Kevin said "what the fuck do we now?" And then we snapped back into reality and started frantically getting dressed, he was switching from plug to battery, and I dialed Gina. No answer on her cell phone. Kevin reminded me to call Sean's phone. Nothing. I dial again. Both of the numbers. Then the home number and left a message. (Clearly she was just as exhausted as I was that night. She was at my house the entire day prior with our boys while Kevin & I were at Cedars.) I look at my phone and dialed Kristy. Third ring and Kristy picked up...she said hello, I said hello, and she asked "did you get the...?" I said "YES Cedars has a heart!!!" She replied with "I'm coming right over" and hung up on me. We woke up the boys, gave hugs & kisses...... Kevin had a private moment with each of them and we were on our way at 12:35am on Tuesday July 5....

12:38am Who the hell stops to put gas in their car when Cedars Sinai, the top transplant facility in the U.S., calls to tell you they have a heart for you!!!??? I'll tell you who... Tracy & Kevin do... it's how we roll. As hysterical as it sounds...we never would have made it to Cedars... the gas tank was on freaking empty and in the red.

This is a reflection in the 6th floor windows at Cedars of us..
I made him stop so we could remember it forever...
second to last picture of Kevin living with an LVAD..
1:15am we arrive at Cedars, get admitted, and the transplant process begins. It really was like a whirlwind. Nurses in and out, taking blood, hanging units of plasma to reverse his INR before the actual transplant, putting in needles for IV's, sign this, don't eat or drink, sign that, and then the morning nurse shift came in. I can't tell you what a relief it was to see all of our favorite nurses from 6th floor northeast taking care of us... how fantastic it felt to see their smiling faces, the hugs, the tears of happiness ... all from the nurses who really have become our "Cedars family" ... the people that have seen us through the worst and they were here taking care of us at such a pivotal moment in this journey.

1:30pm and they were coming to take Kevin to the OR. I was allowed to walk down the hallway with them towards the OR. They were kind enough to let me come inside the door, about 15 feet in. I was told at this point I could go no further and to say my goodbye. And at that, the OR team turned around to give us a private moment.... It was for sure the kiss of a lifetime, one I will never forget. As tears flowed down our faces, we said we loved each other. As I walked out of the door, I stared at him being wheeled further away... I was standing in the middle of the 6th floor hallway, my heart was racing and not knowing if he could even hear me I yelled "I LOVE YOU KEVIN!!!" He raised his hand up and yelled "I LOVE YOU".... he heard me.
Last picture of US, living with an LVAD

3:30pm my first update from the OR: Kevin's chest was open, the LVAD was turned off and he was on pulmonary bypass. His new heart was enroute .....

4:00pm his new heart was in the building...

5:30pm Melissa, the perfusionist in the OR with Kevin..whom by the way has been with Kevin in the OR before.... she came out to give me an update... Kevin's new heart was beating on its own. My friends Claire & Gina told me I must've asked her at least 25 times if she was sure that his heart was beating on its own .... her answer was yes every time. It had been nine very long months since that had happened and I can only tell you that for the next few minutes I cried in the arms of Claire & Gina. As the tears of happiness flowed I took great joy in telling both of Kevin's parents this fabulous news. After a few more phone calls, a swig of Scotch from a flask, and a happy dance in the 6th floor hallway...I ran to tell the  6th floor nurses, saw Jimmy, told him the good news, and he shared with everyone else.

7:15pm The doctor came out to tell me Kevin did wonderful, was on his way to the CSICU, and I said thank you and gave him a really BIG hug!

From start to finish, they were by my side.

About two hours later I saw Kevin in the CSICU, still sedated of course from surgery, and it was the first time he was without the LVAD. He had color in his face. He was doing wonderful. The surgery went really well. I walked into the waiting room to see all of my dear friends that have been on this journey with us... the ones that started this LVAD journey in the ICU waiting room back in October... how wonderful to end it with the exact same people. It was, without a doubt, a moment to remember. And from that moment perspective of living with an LVAD ended.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Dolly Parton

Thank you to our donor family for re-gifting life to my husband in your time of mourning.  

At 11:52 pm July 4, 2011 we got "the call." 

On July 5, 2011 my husband Kevin received his new heart. 

I am still floating on a cloud of excitement and happiness. I really don't want to come down from it just yet but when I do I WILL blog about the entire experience. I WILL blog about everyone and everything that happened that magical day.  Until then I leave you with this quote from Dolly Parton:

"If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."

We've had nine months of rain and our freaking rainbow looks pretty fantastic right about now. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

LVAD's and 4 yr-olds

Being an LVAD caregiver is tough enough but add a 4-yr old into that equation....wait, add twin 4 yr-olds and well that's our life. I would absolutely not have it any other way. Having said that, it is nice to commiserate with other people in the same situation. Thus far I have only met one other LVAD caregiver who has a young child as well. Hey Jamie, WHOOOOOP!!

I always wondered if I was doing the right thing for our boys when Kevin was first in the hospital. By telling our boys that "Daddy's heart was sick" because they needed to know where he was. That first morning after my inlaws, Kevin's sister, and my brother were in our house...I remember someone asking what or who was going to watch the boys. My first reaction was "they're going to preschool like they have been." And so that's what I did. Figuring that keeping their lives as consistent as possible, preschool & the teachers there became our boys' "constant."The teachers barely knew me or my family (it was only one month into the school year) but they pulled together to make Kaeden & Quinton's life as normal as possible. For this, I am forever grateful to them.

Before Kevin got discharged I remember buying this book to read to our boys. "My Body" by Angela Royston and Sally Hewitt. This book helped our boys understand more about their body. Their hearts, blood vessels, lungs, etc, etc, and even has childlike drawings to help them understand better. I somehow worked "Daddy's LVAD" into this equation so that they understood "Daddy's LVAD pumped the blood through his body for him." It's a great book. If you're a parent & are new to this LVAD roller-coaster ride, get the book.

Both our boys have always been gentle with Kevin around his LVAD.....they know not to pull wires, they're not allowed to touch the PBU or his system controller. They do help Kevin change out his batteries during the day. They help him take his temperature & blood pressure in the morning sometimes. One told me recently that "Daddy has a night light all the time".... LOL he was referring to the green light that's always glowing on the system controller. They know whenever they hear Daddy's iphone alarm go off that it's time for Daddy to take his medicine. They are like this because we've taught them from the very beginning. We've been honest with them and with the help of the nurses at the hospital (before discharge), we all educated our boys.

I'm hoping Kevin and I have prepared them enough to understand the next step, heart transplant. We haven't used the word "transplant" to them but I'm certain they've heard us say it around the house. We've told them that Daddy simply needs a new heart. Naturally you can imagine the questions that followed after this statement.....One asked why? And his brother told him because Daddy's heart is sick(he said this while throwing his hands in the air out of frustration with his brother because apparently to him this was a silly question). One asked who gets you a new heart and how? We told them that Daddy's doctors take out his old one, remove the LVAD, and put in a new one. They were thrilled to hear Daddy wouldn't have an LVAD anymore.....our one son immediately cheered in excitement saying Daddy can wrestle with us when the LVAD is gone! Yes, he will be able to do that again.  Another question where do you get a new heart? insert a long pause here as both Kevin & I were stumped for a bit. Our answer.....when someone is done with their heart, then they'll give it to Daddy, but it's got to be a perfect match.

Our boys have been rather strong during this whole living with an LVAD. Tough cookies yet delicate like china our boys. They've been exposed to more than the average 4 yr-old. I think the key is being honest with them. Being as consistent as possible. Explaining things in ways that they'll understand.

In the end I'm hoping our boys remember that this LVAD roller-coaster ride wasn't a nightmare....that it was a time when friends & family came together as one to support us, to surround us with positive energy, and that Mommy & Daddy love them more than they'll ever know.

I'll end this blog entry with a recent discussion between my son & a friend of his....

K: Hey, did you know my Daddy is getting a new heart?
T: yea?
K: Yup. His doctors are gonna take out his old heart (motioning a scissor like motion up his own chest while talking), put in a new one and then he won't need batteries anymore!
T: oh.