Wednesday, October 18, 2006

On May 28,2002, our precious baby girl, Holly, was born. She appeared to be perfectly healthy, and we were overjoyed. Our joy turned to shock; however, as we learned several hours later that Holly was born with a very serious heart defect. Her diagnosis consists of transposition of the great arteries, in which her pulmonary artery and aorta were reversed; a ventricular septal defect (a hole between her ventricles), an ASD (a hole between her atrium); and pulmonary atresia (underdevelopment of her pulmonary valve and artery). She was rushed to University of Alabama - Birmingham Hospital and was later flown to Children's Hospital Boston, due to the severity of her congenital heart defect. Holly had her first open-heart surgery at 10 days old. Dr. John Mayer, Jr. was her surgeon. We got to bring our baby home at 3 weeks old. We knew that she would eventually have to return for another surgery to further repair her heart.

When Holly reached 8 ½ months, we were told that it was time for her next surgery. We were then hit with the devastating news that she had "very little chance" of being a candidate for the Rastelli procedure that she so desperately needed. As her parents, we felt totally helpless. It seemed that there was nothing we could do to help our precious baby. We eventually realized that there was something that we could do for her we could pray for her and ask others to pray. We, along with Holly's grandparents, sent out hundreds of letters asking friends, family and even people we did not know to pray for a miracle for our sweet Holly. Literally thousands of people were praying for her allover the world!

We returned to Children's Hospital Boston when Holly was 10 months old. It was heart wrenching to sit back and watch as our baby underwent EKGs, ECHOs, chest x-rays, blood work, and a heart catheterization. Upon reviewing the test results, Dr. Mayer told us that he was a little over 50% sure that he could perform the surgery, but that he would not know until he got her in the operating room. The surgery that she needed would involve placing a conduit, which is an donor valve and artery, to replace her defective pulmonary valve and artery. We immediately began making telephone calls, sending out emails and Care Page messages asking everyone to pray even harder that Dr. Mayer would be able to perform this procedure.

The night before Holly's surgery, I was rocking Holly in her hospital room while waiting for my husband to return to her room so we could go to the chapel together to pray for Holly. While waiting for him, I had a strong urge to go ahead and go to the chapel. When Holly and I entered the chapel, I noticed someone I thought was a young man wearing a stocking cap and heavy jacket. He was kneeling at the front pew, praying. Holly and I slipped into the back pew, and I began praying for her. The next thing I knew someone's hands were on my shoulders. I looked up and saw that the person I noticed earlier was actually an elderly woman. With a Jamaican accent, she asked if she could pray with us. She put her hands on us and prayed. She said that God would heal my baby through her doctor and that I would go and tell others. After she prayed, she asked if she could hold Holly. She held her for a moment and prayed for her again. As she left she said, "It will be done. It will work." This woman had no way of knowing that we had been praying for something that wasn't supposed to "work". It was as if she knew of Holly's situation. A tremendous sense of peace came over me. I knew at that moment that Holly would be able to have the Rastelli procedure, and that she would be okay. I have no doubt that God sent an angel that night to reassure me and to comfort me.

The following morning was surgery day. The hardest thing I have ever had to do was to hand my baby over to a total stranger and watch him walk away with her. While Holly was in the operating room, we sent out even more pleas for prayers. So many people were praying for her at the very same moment. The feeling that we had when a nurse came out and told us that Dr. Mayer was indeed performing the Rastelli operation was indescribable. Our prayers had been answered, and God gave Holly her miracle! We truly feel that it was God's plan for Dr. Mayer to be assigned to her case. He is a world-renowned heart surgeon and was able to perform a complicated surgery that many said couldn't be done. God has blessed him with tremendous skill, and he has used this skill to save the lives of thousands of babies!

God was with us throughout our ordeal, and we continue to feel His presence in her life.Holly had complications following her surgery. She spiked a high fever (105.3) and developed fluid on her lungs. We again made many phone calls, sent out emails, and updated her CarePage to let everyone know specifically what to pray for. Each time God answered our prayers. There are many risks involved in open-heart surgery, including strokes, heart stoppage, infections, and blood clots. We are very thankful that Holly did not experience any of these.

Just as God had a plan for Dr. Mayer's life, we feel He has a plan for Holly's life and for ours. Upon returning home from Boston, my husband, my parents and I felt the urgent need to establish a foundation to raise money for research for treatment of congenital heart defects. As a result, the Hearts of Promise (formerly known as the Holly Turner Heart Research Foundation) was established in April of 2003. Many friends and other parents of children with congenital heart defects have gotten involved. So far, we have raised $110,000 for very promising research that Dr. Mayer and his team are conducting at Children's Hospital Boston, and we plan to work hard to raise much more. Although Congenital Heart Defects are the most common birth defect, funds for research in this area are severely lacking.

While Holly is thriving now, she will face multiple heart surgeries throughout her lifetime. This is because as she grows, her conduit will not grow with her. Even when she stops growing, her conduit will calcify since it is not made from her tissue. Dr. John Mayer, Jr. and his research team are making advances in the tissue engineering of heart valves and arteries for growing children. These new valves and arteries would be grown from the child's own tissue and could eliminate the need for multiple open-heart surgeries in many forms of congenital heart defects. Since the valve will come from the child's own tissue, it will grow with the child and not exhibit rejection issues.

Holly turned four years old on May 28th. We are so grateful that God blessed us with such a sweet and beautiful little girl. This precious redhead touches every heart she meets!

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