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No one patches pants, but hearts are another story

Dr. Spector and physician assistant Kristen Breedlove get to catch up with Bekah and the Plants one year after her heart surgery.

Dr. Spector and physician assistant Kristen Breedlove get to catch up with Bekah and the Plants one year after her heart surgery.

March 5, 2012, was a long day. We knew that the next morning we’d be taking Bekah to Akron Children’s Hospital for open heart surgery.

It seemed like we spent the entire day just watching the clock, calculating how much time we had to spend with our baby girl before we needed to leave for the hospital.

Bekah on the day of surgery

Bekah on the day of her surgery in 2012

While Chris and I were as ready as parents possibly can be, we still spent a very wakeful night. We gave Bekah a bath and admired her perfect little chest, leaving the monitor wires off for a little longer than usual.

We packed, repacked, and repacked again, making sure we had everything we thought we’d need for an indefinite stay.

Dr. Smith, one of Bekah’s heart surgeons, had assured us that most children having fairly simple ASD/VSD closures barely need a PICU stay, but that Bekah’s history in the NICU may prove that she was an exception to that.

We packed bags for before surgery, bags for during surgery, and LOTS of bags for the days after surgery. I don’t remember what we packed, but I know that a lot of it we ended up just bringing home unused because we never really left Bekah’s side for the 10 days she was recovering.

In the early morning hours of March 6, 2012, Chris packed everything in the back of the car, and we quietly strapped Bekah into her infant carrier. She slept most of the way, with me sitting in the back behind her, just watching her breathe.

Drs. Phil Smith and Michael Spector repair Bekah's heart

Drs. Phil Smith and Michael Spector repair Bekah’s heart

We registered Bekah and went through the morning-of-surgery details—a few last minute questions, blood pressure, weight check, temperature, etc.

We met with her anesthesiologist and with Dr. Spector, another one of Bekah’s heart surgeons.

Dr. Spector brought the final paperwork for us to sign, and asked if we had any last questions. I’m not sure what we asked, but I remember his reply.

Dr. Spector told us that patching a heart like Bekah’s was just like patching a pair of pants. Then he added that no one really does that anymore…everyone just wears pants with holes. We laughed.

It was the BEST thing anyone said to us all morning, and it’s something that we’ll always be thankful for. In the minutes before the nurses came to take our baby away for heart surgery, her doctor made us smile, and we still laugh every time we see people with holes in their jeans.

Oh how things have changed in a year.

March 6, 2013, was also a long day. We found ourselves once again making a trip to Akron. Chris once again loaded the car, and we strapped Bekah into a much bigger car seat.

She slept most of the way again, but that was because she had refused to nap until she was stuck in the car with nothing else to do.

Sarah and Bekah in the Heart Center waiting room

Sarah and Bekah in the Heart Center waiting room

There was one big difference though—instead of bags, we had boxes of cupcakes, and instead of a child with a very sick heart, we had a child with a very happy heart.

We were still nervous, but instead of being worried about the life of our child, we were worried about her behavior. She is usually friendly, sweet, and a little silly, but sometimes…well, sometimes she is like every other child—a little cranky.

Once in Akron, we stopped to visit everyone in the Heart Center, where we were happy to have the chance to thank Dr. Spector for his perfectly timed pants-patching story.

We also stopped by the PACU (Post Anesthesia Care Unit), a place we never saw a year ago, but a place filled with people who work hard to bring comfort to patients and their families during a very scary time.

In 2011 we spent part of the Christmas Eve service with some of the nurses from the PACU (while Bekah was in the NICU) and we were happy to have had the chance to talk with them about what happens behind the scenes before they hurried back to bring a patient out of surgery.

The PICU staff also received treats from the Plants.

The PICU staff also received treats from the Plants.

From there we made a quick visit to the PICU where we saw Misti, a nurse who spent hours just patting Bekah’s little bum because she did better when she was being patted, and Dr. Bigham, an incredible doctor who often returned to Bekah’s room after rounds to answer our myriad questions and show us Bekah’s most recent chest x-rays and explain her blood work.

It’s amazing to me that although they see thousands of patients every year, they still treat each and every one with tremendous and personalized care.

We planned to stop to visit some of the people who work in the Public Relations office. It’s the people in PR who work diligently to spread the word about all of the incredible things that are going on here at Akron Children’s, and Chris and I feel that often their jobs are ones that no one notices.

sarah-bekah-and-chrisI guess this trip we, too, fell into this category, because as we were leaving the hospital the smallest person in our family apparently had other plans and we ended up just dropping the last of our cupcakes at the Ronald McDonald House and getting out of town before anyone realized who the crabby 16 month old belonged to.

Thankfully, this year, we left the same day we came but I wouldn’t trade the 10 days we spent watching Bekah recover last year for anything. Those difficult days a year ago are what enabled us to celebrate a beautifully patched heart, and a wonderful (even if a little irritable now and then!) little girl today.

Read the rest of Sarah and Rebekah’s story through her blog, Following Your Heart.

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About Sarah Plant, Patient Family

Sarah Plant and her husband, Christopher, live in Mineral Ridge, Ohio, with their daughter, Bekah, and a rabbit named Gussie. She enjoys bike riding and spending time with friends, family and her fellow church members. Sarah is a stay-at-home mom and former high school English teacher. In her "Following Your Heart" blog, Sarah shares her experiences as a first-time mom whose baby was born with a congenital heart defect as well as a mom of a healthy boy.

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