Lindsay Gauger – Gifts
Lindsay and her husband have been married for 10 years and have two amazing children. They live in mid-Michigan with two dogs, cats, and several chickens on the family farm with plenty of space to play. She loves making memories with her family and traveling up north to the family cabin and taking her kids riding in the summer to enjoy nature.
It’s easy this time of year to reflect on all that we have. Just a short five years ago we were introduced to the world of congenital heart defects. We had no idea that babies could be born with defects requiring immediate intervention, highly trained surgeons and specialized care from doctors, nurses and several health care professionals. All working together to give my daughter and others a chance at life.
I used to think heart disease only affected adults and then came my daughter, Gemma. Gemma was born with a heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. This meant she had little to no left ventricle of her heart. Her defect requires a minimum of three stages of surgery. She breezed through two of the open-heart surgeries by the time she was six months old, and she did it all with a smile on her face. Then at eight months old, a common cold became too much, and Gemma suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.
It was 25 minutes before the staff at Mott Children’s Hospital could restart our daughter’s heart. Her heart had always been stopped for the surgery, but never on its own. They were able to save her, but the damage was done. A couple of months and a valve replacement later, Gemma was no longer a candidate for the third surgery. Unfortunately, her heart was getting too tired. Doctors had run out of options to save Gemma’s born heart- a transplant was our next option.
Hearts aren’t stored on a shelf and sometimes hearts don’t come soon enough. We also had to understand that a child’s heart would have to save our daughter. Medical options would have to run out for another child and a family would have to make a hard, selfless choice during the hardest tragedy you can endure. We listed Gemma just after her first birthday and settled into life at the hospital.
It has been four years since Gemma’s gift of life came. A gift that we can never say thank you enough for. It has allowed our daughter the ability to come home and go to school, enjoy dance class and be with her family. It has given life to our daughter and to our family. Gemma’s donor heart has given her more than her born heart ever could. Every day, every milestone, every holiday and every year we get with Gemma is because of a precious gift.
Every holiday comes with the wonder of what Gemma’s donor enjoyed about their holidays. When we trick or treat and sort out candy, I always wonder what their favorite candy was. Who did they like to dress up as? Every December I think of our donor family more than ever. We think of them all year long, but every Christmas and New Year’s we realize that another family was going through something very difficult at that time.
Congenital heart defect awareness week maybe one week out of the year, but for our family and others, along with the 40,000 new families each year, awareness is every day. Each of our stories is different. Surgeries are not always perfect and crystal clear or the “fix” we had hoped for. Our children’s hearts require extra care and sometimes we wait for someone else to save our children because there are no more options.
We wipe away tears and make tough decisions and watch our kids fight. Every day we learn to cherish the day we’ve been given with our kids. We count our days we spend at home waiting for the next hospital visit or admission. We celebrate every milestone and every victory a little bit more. We push for more funding for research and we shout from the rooftops for more awareness and public knowledge. We read every research article and study that might be the next greatest step in saving our children and the children to follow. And we hope that one day a child and their parents won’t have to fight alongside them anymore