Wednesday, February 13, 2008

7 For 7: Strangers Who Saved My Daughter's Life

On September 4, 2006, my daughter Sadie entered this world with a bang - 17 minutes after we arrived at the hospital. She came out screaming, but immediately turned blue. Six hours later, she was diagnosed with Transposition of the Greater Arteries, ASD and VSD (holes in the heart) and pulmonary hypertension. During her first days, the actions of complete strangers were what kept her alive. So today I'd like to share a personal 7 for 7...

7 Strangers Who Saved My Daughter's Life

1. The Unknown Organ Donor.
Someone's life was lost, and because of him or her, my daughter's life was saved. A piece of his is now beating as part of Sadie's heart. It's almost too much to think about.

2. The Ambulance Driver. He was supposed to get off hours before he took my daughter on her life transport from the hospital she was born in to UVA, where she had a atrial septotomy that would keep her alive until she was viable for surgery. Before he left, I had to sign papers for him. As I signed them, I asked him to get her there safely. He squeezed my hand, and with tears in his eyes said he would. And he did.

3. The PICU Nurse. Actually, there was an entire parade of nurses that held my daughter's tiny life in their hands and saved her time and again. From the first nurse I met, who had been up all night with her, trying to get her vitals on an even keel, to the last one I said goodbye to, who hugged Sadie and wished us luck... they don't get enough credit for all they do.

4. The Unknown Blood Donors. Sadie had so many transfusions during her stay in the hospital that I lost track of them. I know there were a minimum of six. Because the blood bank requirements would not allow us to donate blood (we would need to have it screened prior to its use, and there was no time for it), we relied on the life that flows through other people.

5. The PICU Residents. Overworked, underpaid and sleep-deprived, they save lives every day in pursuit of their careers. I once watched 6 of them surround Sadie's incubator, trying to determine what cocktails they could concoct to save her life "this time" and was scared that there wasn't an attending present. I did not know a single person's name. I still don't. But they poured their hearts and minds into saving that little girl that night.

6. Dr. Albrecht, our cardiologist. No longer a stranger to us, he happened to be on call the night she was born. He diagnosed her, and sent her on her way to the life-saving procedure that she needed. It just so happened that his specialty is TGA. It just so happened that he was on call that night (we didn't have a NICU at the hospital she was born in). Even he is astounded by the way that it turned out that he was the person there, and right in the nick of time. Every time he sees Sadie, and comments on how the stars were aligned that night so that she could be with us today.

7. Jatene and Mustard. In 1975, Dr. Jatene succeeded with the first arterial switch operation for the type of defect Sadie had (Transposition of the Greater Arteries). The Jatene procedure, or arterial switch, was pioneered by Canadian cardiac surgeon William Mustard and it was named for Brazilian cardiac surgeon Adib Jatene, who was the first to use it successfully. Twenty five years later, my daughter is "fixed" because of their research. This is why advocacy is so important - because awareness of heart defects will lead the public, government and corporations to fund research. And research can and does lead to finding ways to repair more hearts.

There are so many other strangers out there, but these are the first 7 that came to mind. Want to share your story, comments or list of strangers? Email me at and I'll be happy to post for you!

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