On September 5, 2009, my daughter, Kimberly, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Reagan, but unlike most uneventful pregnancies, Kimberly faced life-threatening challenges to her and her baby and she needed the best of care.
Let me take you back a bit in time. On April 6, 1981, at the age of 21, I gave birth to my second daughter, Kimberly, at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. Her birth was going to be the most difficult emotional experience of my life. Kimberly was born with Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) a hole between her right and left ventrical, and for the tiny baby that she was, born 4 weeks early, any hole was a big one. Hers was about the size of a dime, but with a heart no bigger than a half-dollar, that almost cost her her life. She was blue and immediately rushed to the NICU where they monitored her condition. I held her in my arms for a mere 1 minute before she was wisked away. My heart sunk, my temperature spiked. My daughter and I were not faring very well.
The next day I was able to visit Kimberly in the NICU and I breast fed her for the first time. She didn't do very well with that and I had to pump every day and feed her. Mother's milk was the best for baby, and I knew it might make the difference between life and death for her. She had tubes and connections, but holding her close was all that made such deep maternal love possible. As I looked into her precious blue eyes and felt her tiny fingers wrapped around my index finger, I knew that together, Kimberly and I, would survive, and that she would teach me much about motherhood, mothering, caring, and love - and almost 30 years later I now know those things are true.
When Kim was 3 months old, she had her first open-heart surgery to repair the hole in her heart. Dr. Head placed a dacron patch over the hole in her heart and Kim quickly grew. She was pink and healthy and chubby too. She bounced back like a charm.
When she was 4 years old, doctors discovered Kim had aortic stenosis and needed to correct the obstruction in her aortic valve as soon as possible. So, during Christmas of 1985, Kim had open-heart surgery again, shortly after this picture was taken.
Kim did great, and I put up a Christmas tree in her room with presents and all. Santa was going to visit Kimberly in Walter Reed, and he did. More than anything, Kimberly wanted to go with me each time I left her room to go to the cafeteria for an ice cream. She couldn't leave the ward because of her tubes and connections. She didn't like that one bit and would cry every time I left to get her an ice cream. Shortly after Christmas, her cardiologist came into the room and said "Kim, would you like me to take out those nasty tubes?" Kim looked at me with a twinkle of apprehension in her eyes and said "yes." I asked if I could hold her hand and the doctor said "yes."
Kim was so brave. Braver than any child I've ever known. Her doctor pulled out multiple tubes one at a time from her chest and sides. I cried. I was a complete mess and I held Kimberly's face to mine and we both cried - but Kim was the braver of the both of us, by miles.
The doctor said cheerfully "Kimberly! I'm all done! You are such a brave girl!" and I popped up my head and smiled at Kim, red eyes and all, and said "He's all done! Yay! Are you okay?" I looked at Kim with a lot of concern in my eyes and she said rather coyly, "Mom, does this mean I can go with you to get ice cream now?" Her doctor and I both laughed and said "yep, you want to go right now?" She said "Yes!" and with wheelchair and Kim in hand, I strolled her to the cafeteria for her first ice cream out of her room.
The day she was discharged, Kimberly had a room full of balloons, and being the sweet angel with a heart of gold that she is, Kimberly asked if we could give her balloons to the children on the pediatric unit. I wish I had pictures, but imagine Kimberly with about 20+ balloons in both hands being strolled through the pediatric ward. I took her into each room one-by-one and she would give a child a balloon or tie one on a crib and she would say "I hope you feel better soon." It was a touching moment in my life, seeing so much compassion from such a young child.
When Kim was 10 y/o, she needed surgery again, but this time it was to replace her aortic valve. Her valve was leaking and she wasn't getting the oxygenated blood that she needed. She successfully had her valve replaced with a human valve.
When Kim was 15 y/o, she had her 4th open-heart surgery to replace the aortic valve again, only this time they performed a double-valve replacement at the Oklahoma City Children's Hospital, just weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing. We stayed in the Ronald McDonald House close by during Kim's stay and surgery. The doctors took her healthy pulmonary valve and replaced her aortic valve that was leaking again, then, they took a pig's valve and replaced her pulmonary valve. They did this because they knew that her healthy pulmonary valve was a perfect valve to replace her aortic valve, and they knew that her pulmonary, being a secondary valve, would grow with her and not require replacement for about 15 years. It would also be a less risky and invasive surgery to correct any complications with her pulmonary valve going forward.
So here we are nearly 15 years later, and Kimberly has grown up into the most beautiful young woman, wife, and mother. In 2009, when Kim gave birth to Reagan, it nearly cost her her life. She had developed gestational diabetes and a number of other complications during her pregnancy and needed to have her heart condition monitored every 2 weeks for the duration of her pregnancy. The last weeks were the toughest for her and she needed an emergency c-section to save her and her baby.
Kim's healthcare has always been critical to her life and health since her birth, and the care she received at Lehigh Valley Health Network during her pregnancy was exceptional in keeping her and her baby healthy.
Her story is so remarkable that Lehigh Valley contacted Kim and her husband, Zak, about doing a video story about the care she received during her pregnancy and her heart condition. The result? This beautiful video and story - below. I hope you will watch the video. It is wonderful, and it brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it.
I am so proud of my daughter, Kimberly, and the woman she has become. She is beautiful, inside and out. She has a heart of gold. She is a good mother and a loving wife. She is my angel and has taught me much that is good and precious about being a mother. She loves her daughter like I love her, and this Christmas I will thank the Lord she is alive, she is a part of my life, and that I have a healthy granddaughter too.
This is Kim's story.
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