The early morning of Monday, October 1st, 2007 was one full of so many raw emotions. We had just left the operating room, where we watched our 5 month old daughter scream and cry with a small mask over her nose and mouth, but then drift off from the anesthesia. Tears freely falling, our hands sweaty with anxiety, our bodies shaking, and the sadness of having to watch our daughter being forced into a deep sleep for the 2nd time in a week. It was so much.. too much..to take in.
We collapsed into 2 seats in the narrow hall of a waiting room while a surgeon and his team prepared to open up our infant’s chest for the 1st time. No amount of preparation prepared us for this day. For this moment. But it was necessary and we never questioned why were going through this.
We had spent the evening prior bathing her and absorbing her smiles and giggles like sponges. We watched her splash and kick those chunky feet. Oh she smelled so good when we laid her down for bedtime. I still love sniffing her head.
In the waiting area, we started to feel claustrophobic. I kept thinking of the smell of her hair. She still smelled good when she was laying on the operating table. We went and grabbed something to drink and made way for our van. The novelty of our van’s DVD player was still new so we watched “Little Miss Sunshine” with our seats propped all the way back. I had to re-watch the movie a year or so later. I remembered nothing about it because all I could think about was Natalie. We both equate that movie with Natalie’s first open heart surgery.
Around 4pm we were called and told to come back to the building. We were very close since we never left the parking garage. They were finished! We rushed back to the waiting room and within about a minute or so we heard the squeaky wheels of a metal crib being wheeled from the OR. I jumped out my small chair. I almost didn’t recognize her.. she was so pink and milky-white. She looked like Snow White with blonde hair. It’s hard to not see the tubes and wires and rows of medications attached to your child, but I spent several moments just staring at her pink baby toes and ruby red lips. I had never seen her look so healthy since.. never. The crowd of people taking care of her followed her metal crib down the hall and behind them was the surgeon.
The man himself- Dr. Luca Vricella comes to talk to us. He told us how perfect everything went. While he spoke to us he teared up and then hugged my husband! I wish I had gotten a hug but I just stood there crying and attempting to smile. I wanted to smile but I was just so full of emotions. It’s all so bittersweet..that moment. Bitter because you have no clue what the recovery will be like for your infant. You have no clue what to expect. So sweet because this man just saved our daughter’s life and he’s standing right there with us and taking in this joyous moment with us. He oozed compassion. There’s a 4 minute video below which features Dr. Vricella and his heart transplant patient Olivia. It’s a really touching story.. he oozes compassion and hope in this video and he’s exactly like that when standing in front of you..
In the summer of 2008, ABC featured a 7 episode documentary titled “Hopkins”. It’s by the same creator of today’s “NY Med” Terrence Wrong. They featured our hero Dr. Vricella and just as shockingly, our pediatric cardiologist Dr. Ravekes! I remember shouting at the screen “OHMYGOD IT’S OUR DOCTOR YOU GUYS!!” when his face was there on our tv set. We saw Dr. Ravekes every six months right up until about a week or so before we moved here to Colorado in April of 2009. He also took great care of Natalie before her surgeries, keeping a really close eye on her when we’d take her for weekly weight checks at Johns Hopkins. We had the chance to mention the show to Dr. Ravekes and he was so cool about it.
And now Dr. Vricella is John Hopkins’ Director of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery! Totally not surprised. And it looks like our cardiologist is still there.
Those men…. that hospital… it couldn’t have gotten better. We were lucky to live where we did at the time because Natalie had the greatest minds in the world caring for her. What more could a Queen need…