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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The heart

Last Thursday, June 3, I went somewhere. It took this long to talk about it because it was honestly a whirlwind of emotions and I had some thinking about it to do. Where did I go? I went to the lab at Loma Linda and saw Gabriella's first heart. Yes, the actual heart they removed from her on May 17, 2010.

What an experience. There was so much associated to why I wanted to go see it. Out of just plain intrigue and curiosity, I had a chance to see something most people don't get to see. I am a very curious person... so just based on that I needed to see it. But I also felt I NEEDED to see it, like it was my responsibility. That muscle in a jar was so much to me. It was what changed our lives. It caused her stroke and took Gabriella's speech, forced me to quit my job and cut our income in half, took our house, and made her feel crummy... it was killing her. But it is also what we so eagerly sought out on our first ultrasound of our first baby, grew her to be 5 years 4 months and 3 days old, allowed me to spend more time with my kids at home, brought family together, brought community together, led us to new friends, raised awareness for congenital heart defects, made more people sign up to be organ donors and best of all, led so many people to a deeper understanding of God and the miracles he performs.

One of the transplant coordinators, our social worker who has never gone in on viewing a heart before, and myself went into the lab where the doctor pulled out the jar labeled 'Gabriella Vega, Restrictive Cardiomyopathy'. He did something I wasn't prepared for and opened the jar and took it out. It was in 3 pieces because of the pathology study, so he gently placed them together. He showed me the diseased part of her heart, it was all white and thick looking inside her left ventricle, partially into her right and up into the part of the atrium that was remaining. He was unable to show me the enlarged areas because that is where the surgeons cut into to attach the donor heart, to pieces of her existing atria. (Here is a great diagram of how they attach the heart to the body:

I initially cried. That was the emotional side of me thinking about how that was my baby's heart. Getting past the thought that the heart I gave grew in my belly for her failed her is something I have struggled with, but it hit me harder at that moment. (My spirit knows it was the one God gave her and His plan... no worries on that.) It took a moment for my emotions to steady out, and I felt my anger at everything it had caused. But then, finally, the relief set in. Seeing the sick part of her heart confirmed so much, it was a visual reminder of how bad she was and how short her life could have been. It gave me a peace in knowing her heart now is SO strong and will hopefully keep her alive for a long and problem free life. I started asking a lot of questions as my curiosity settled in. My stomach was stronger than I anticipated, and never once felt grossed out. I was surprised at the coloring of the heart, lacking blood it was a pale muted color.

I walked away with closure, which is what I was hoping to get from it.

You are probably wondering where Paul was. After thinking about it for quite some time, he decided he did not want/need to see the heart, so he stayed with the kids. This didn't surprise me as him and I are much different thinkers, and I was ok with that. He had closure, and I needed it in a different way, you know, the complicated women's way of thinking. I needed the visual and he was ok without that. I took pictures, but after much thinking decided to not post them on here publicly. I don't want Paul to feel tempted to look at them when he doesn't want to, and I just feel awkward posting them. I did however put them into a private, password protected album to share with those that I know and feel comfortable sharing with and that request to see it. And I saved them just in case Gabriella wants to see them one day.

I hope this blog post made sense... between interruptions and my mind being in a bit of a fog lately, I am not sure if this all came out as I had wanted it to. Que sera, sera, right??


Tasha Gonce said...

I completely understand why you would need to see her "old" heart. It would be something that I would need to do if I was in your position. ((HUG)) to you. You wrote it beautifully.

Grace said...

I have never thought about it but I could see myself needing to see the heart. after all that was part of your baby. You described the your feelings well and I have a lump in my throat as I type this. Kristi you are so strong!

Dahlia said...

I totally understand! When I had cancer I wanted to see my tumor (all I got to see was pictures). Sometimes just seeing what is/was wrong helps, for some strange reason. I'm glad you got your closure. :)

Angies Support Team said...

WOW! I think that is SOOO awesome! :) My mom wanted to take my heart home, take it in the back yard and shoot it. ;P But that is just so.... I can't even think of a word! Like cool, just times a KUZILION!!!:D God is one really awesome dude! ;D THANK YOU JESUS! :D

Comfypjs said...

I admire the strength that it took for you to see her old heart. I probably wouldn't have thought about it but if the opportunity was presented I may have done the same thing.
For me I am choosing to see it as the something that was harmful to her so it is best that it be removed.
This post as many, many others that you have written was beautiful done. I can see a future for you as a comfort to other parents who are experiencing the same situation you are going through.
I pray that God will use you in a mighty way in the lives of others!

Katie Paripovich-Adan said...

That's awesome Kristi!! You always have the best way of looking at things-and writing them in such an artistic way. Both the good and the bad, and how amazing and God-sent it is! God bless you! I'm fascinated every day by little Gabriella, and your strength as her Mother! Hugs to you all! :)

Katie Adan

Coley said...

I think it is really beautiful that you did that.

I see it as a bittersweet thing. Her old heart did the best it could for Gabriella and gave her life for over 5 years, until it just grew too sick to do so anymore. And thankfully, miracle of miracles, another heart was found to take the place of the tattered one. But that old heart was a piece of Gabriella and I can empathize with your need to see it.

I'm glad you found closure and I'm glad that Gabriella has a new sparkly heart that has already imprinted itself upon her and will give her life for many, many years to come.

Unknown said...

Wow, you are an amazing woman Kristi! I admire your strength and gift for words. We will continue our prayers for you and her, well all of you.

Suzy said...

Kristi, you made me weep with your eloquence...I don't know what my own decision would have been, but you are a strong, strong lady and I am glad you were able to find peace with this. (hugs)