Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Change of Heart

My sister next in line to me was born just 15 months after me. My mom used to dress us alike at times because we were so close in age. We shared beds, rooms, clothes...everything sisters usually share. However, there are some distinct differences. She has curly hair; I have straight. She was always shy and soft spoken;  I was loud and more boisterous. She was deliberate, and careful; mostly I wasn't.

We had some doozies of fights, usually because I was mean to her or was teasing her. However, if anyone else came against her, they had to come through me to get to her. I remember well the time I went after another girl with a bat in a softball game in PE because she slid into my sister and flipped her over. I always considered myself her protector because of her sweet nature and gentle ways.

She also protected me. When I was going through the mother of all rebellions as a teen, my sister vehemently stood in my defense when others wanted to talk smack about me. No one could say a word against me in her presence. That was the first time I saw her spine of steel.

Ten years ago though, I couldn't protect her when she was diagnosed with cancer. I felt desperate to go after this bully with some kind of bat, but I couldn't.  It hurt to the core when I saw how much she went through in her uncomplaining way. She became a favorite of the nurses with the treats she'd bake for them on her chemo days, and her oncologists looked forward to seeing her because of her continual sunny outlook. When she was declared cancer free, it wasn't just family and friends who celebrated; the whole oncology staff threw a party.

She was the definition of fitness and ultra healthy nutrition. It was a shock several years later when we received the call that she'd had a massive heart attack at 42 years old. (Now thought to possibly be caused by her cancer treatment.) For weeks, it was a delicate tip toe between life and death. God's grace and her fitness level clamped onto her and she pulled back into life.

When her cardiologist told her she could retire from teaching with a medical disability because only 28% of her heart was working, she laughed, dragged herself back into the classroom, and won more teaching awards.

Now, though, even with a defibrillator and pacemaker augmenting her overtaxed heart, the fainting spells and bone crushing exhaustion are just some of the effects that linger. The time has come for a heart transplant.

Always before, when people talked of organ donation, I never thought of it in the context of myself. I was glad that it worked for others, but I could never put myself in the spot of signing the back of my driver's license or enrolling with a donor's registry.

I think differently now. It is sobering, because for my sister's restoration to life to happen, it will mean someone else will have lost theirs.

I never allowed myself to think that through, all the way to me being a donor. It was too morbid, too creepy. Now, though, I am delighted that things I will no longer have use for will go to help someone else.

I can think of no greater acts of grace and heroism than what is done by people who are able to reach through their anguish and grief and make the decision to donate their child's or loved one's organs.

My sweet blogging friend, Nancy Felt, recently lived through a parent's worst horror scenario when her healthy kindergartener, Spencer, was suddenly struck with a stomach ache that got worse and turned out to be a failing heart. He had to have a Berlin heart, which beats for the diseased heart, implanted just to buy time until a donor heart became available. Nancy writes so movingly of their journey and also of how in the time of relief and joy that a heart had been found for Spencer, the difficulty in knowing the pain of the family of the little one who donated the heart. Her compelling story is here: Felt So Fine . It is awe inspiring to see how sick Spencer was just a few short months ago and then to look at the videos Nancy has recently posted of him playing soccer with his team.

On May 1 my sister will head to Houston for her first appointment with the transplant team.

I'm so glad I had a change of heart about organ donation as we move towards her change of heart.

For more information on organ donation, click here: Donate Life


66 comments:

  1. Prayers for your sister. I signed the card years ago, never realizing that I would be the recipient whose continued sight would be the gift of another who also signed!

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    1. vanilla: Oh, I'm so thankful you were a recipient! Thank you for your prayers. I know God hears them.

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  2. That must have been tough to put down in words, Shelly. I hope that when my day comes they can use as much of me as possible to help others. I was once one step away from being a marrow donor (canceled at the last minute), but knowing that I came close to saving someone's life had a profound effect on me. I hope that your sister has a short wait and that they find her a match quickly.

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    1. laughingmom: Yes, this was one of the most difficult posts I've written just because it's hard to distill all the emotion down into words. I'm so proud of you that you are signed on to be a bone marrow donor. That's my next step. Thank you for your good wishes!

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  3. Shelly, what a beautiful, touching post. Thank you for sharing and for encouraging others to think about organ donation. How grateful we are for our sweet angel and her loving parents! Their selfless decision is a priceless gift that we give thanks for with every beat of Spencer's heart.

    Your sister is in our prayers, as are you! Love, Nancy

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    1. Nancy: You all are such an inspiration. Spencer is literally a miracle. You've given me so much hope with your wonderful posts. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  4. My prayers are also with your sister and with you, dear friend Shelly. Your story goes to show that intense dramas are often unfolding behind the scenes in the lives of our blog friends. Seldom do we know the extent of what they and their families are going through.

    I signed an organ donor card many years ago. My father could never be convinced to become a donor because he held onto an old school, irrational fear that it would somehow hurt him when it came time to harvest his organs.

    I know how it is with siblings. My older brother and I are polar opposites. We had a rough and rocky relationship early on. Yet, I'll never forget the time that he ran fast as the wind to rescue his little brother the time I was surrounded at a park by neighborhood bullies and beaten with rubber hoses.

    Again, Shelly, I am very sorry to learn that your sister has been in poor health. I pray that she gets the transplant and bounces back to full strength. I'm sure it lifts her spirits knowing that big sister has her back.

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    1. Shady: There's nothing like a sibling to have your back through the good and bad. I'm so glad you have your card signed- I should have done it long ago. Thank you for your prayers, my friend. As in Nancy's case, I know they make all the difference in the world.

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  5. Your blog today gave me the encouragement to use the link you
    had at the bottom. I registered as a donor and feel much better for it. Hope everything goes well for your sister.

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    1. Odie: Thank you, my friend. I appreciate all of it~

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  6. Dearest Shelly,
    So sorry about your sister's physical condition! Let me also send your sister and you my prayers, my friend.
    It sure was heartwarming to read the relationship between you two. How wonderful to have a sister close in age and support each other (you gave me a smile when I read the differences of characters).
    I always wished to have a sister and feeling envious for the two sister cousins.

    It sure must be hard for you to write this post considering the
    gravity of the situation. You send your message really well with your wonderful writing.
    Thank you very much for sharing this. Along with the story introduced in high school English textbook, you truly gave me an insight of the issue. Thinking of you two from far east.

    Love you always and blessing to all of your family, xoxo Miyako*

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    1. Orchid: Thank you, my dear friend, for your love, blessings, and good wishes. It's a long road ahead, but I know we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, this sister and myself are very different (my youngest sister is more like me) but we have each other through thick and thin.

      Thank you again!

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  7. Shelly:

    Like you, I follow little Spencer's progress at Felt So Fine. As you've written, it's amazing to consider all that this family has gone through and how much they've persevered. I'm so sorry to hear about your sister and can only hope the best for her. By way of comfort to you, let me say that both Mrs. C. and I are both donors along with our son. Maybe your post will convince others to sign up .

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    1. Stephen: I am still completely amazed at Spencer's progress. It gives me much hope. And thanks to you and your family for signing up. It takes so little to do it.

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  8. Shelly, this is a beautiful post. I'm deeply moved. I wish your sister the best.

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  9. First up I am a follower of Nancy's she is amazing but not as amazing as Spencer's progress. I have always been in favour of organ donation but hubby is not and I have always thought he would change his mind if someone close to him was in need of a transplant. When I go they can have anypart of my that would benfit someone else.....I hope all goes well for your sister and she doesn't have to wait to long for a heart

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    1. Jo-Anne: It isn't for some people, but I'm thankful, ever so thankful for those who say yes. Thank you~

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  10. I assume you are twins. Gosh I hate that for her she sounds like a wonderful woman. I lost my brother due to heart issues. Now I am an organ donor - but I am not sure what they would want out of my old body. It is hard to pray that she gets one soon because that means someone has to die - but I will pray for God's help and guidance. sandie

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    1. Sandie: We are almost twins- 15 months apart. Thank you for your prayers!

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  11. What a story, Shelly. I hope your sister gets approved for the transplant; she does sound like a fighter. Honestly, I don't think I ever heard of anyone baking cookies to take in with them to their chemo appts! We're all donors in our household, marked on our licenses. I find it amazing what God has allowed man to learn to do procedures like this.

    betty

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    1. betty: It is incredible to me, too, what can be done in these transplants. I am so glad all of you are donors. And thank you for the good wishes for my sister~

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  12. Oh, Shelly, through tears, I feel so much love in this post. I am so happy about the change of heart. It's a hard thing. Tom recently found out his partner's dad (also a partner in his business) needs a kidney transplant and he signed up right away to get checked out. I, at first, was like, "But, we have 6 kids, what if they need your kidney?" Then, quickly realized it's all in God's hands. If he's a match, it's meant to go. (he has to lose weight first though, so much, he says he hasn't been that thin since high school!)

    It sure brings up a lot of emotions.

    I'll pray for your sister. I'll pray for the perfect heart to come her way. And for it to be the right time for that person giving his/her heart.

    I am just getting to know the Felt Family, wonderful mama there. She's wise beyond her years.

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    1. Jamie: Your husband is a jewel. I completely understand your thoughts, too, but like you, I've put it all in God's hands. Thank you so much for your prayers for my sister. I know God hears them.

      And yes, Nancy Felt is a terrific person- I', so glad you're getting to know her!

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  13. Dear Shelly,
    Thank you so much for writing about your sister, and about Spencer. I will keep your dear sister in my prayers as she goes through this scary next step. I will also register for organ donation. May you and your family be surrounded in peace and comfort though the entire process. Sending lots of love and hugs,
    Jenny

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    1. Jenny: Thank you, thank you- I know God hears these prayers and I'm so appreciative. I also appreciate the comfort, peace, love and hugs. It means so much!

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  14. Shelly I appreciate you sharing on your sister's situation. I always wished I had a sister. But, God has replaced that desire with Sisters-in-Christ. Blessings to you dear one and yes God does hear our prayers.

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    1. Just Be Real: So true, and thank you so very much.

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  15. What an amazing sister you have, and what a great, brave post about speaking up about organ donation. I'm a registered donor, and proud of it.

    Going to tweet this now.

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    1. Lydia: Thank you for helping to get the word out! It carries so much weight coming from a medical professional like you~

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  16. My husbands aunt has a new heart and kidney...almost a new person!!! MY aunt just had a kidney transplant! A kidney from her little sister.

    You are blessed to have a sister. I have a sister who is adopted but no siblings.

    I feel like I have troubles and your sister has been through so much. I love her LOVE for teaching. She inspires me.

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    1. Christine: Thank you for sharing about your aunt and your husband's- it helps to grow my hope. I'm believing all the best will come of this. I truly am blessed- you're so right~

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  17. Shelly, I am almost lost for words. It is true we don't realize some of the life events going on in our blogger friends' worlds. Events behind the scene of blogging. Please know I have just prayed here at my computer for you all and will continue to pray.

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    1. Cindy: Thank you so much- the prayers make all the difference and it is a comfort to know!

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  18. Oh, my goodness! Wow! This story is so moving. You have changed my outlook on organ donation. I am working at MD Anderson until May 7th. I will be really close to your sister while she is down there. I don't know where she is going, but I know St. Luke's is well-known for their heart care. I will be praying for her.

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    1. Kelly: Yes! She will be at St. Luke's on May 1. It could be a two day app't as they may want to run all the tests on the second day. She's supposed to find out more on Friday. I'm so glad you're changing your outlook, too, on organ donation- I had a major turn around on it!

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  19. I was like you for years, and didn't sign the donor card and put the sticker on my driver's license. Somewhere along the way, I came to a different way of thinking, and I can't think of too many other things that are a greater gift than being able to save one or multiple lives in death. I hope your sister is able to get her transplant, and I think the donating family must feel some comfort knowing that their loved one was able to give such a great gift to someone else. You can add my prayers for your sister to everyone else's. Pacemakers and ICSs are wonderful technology but sometimes the heart is just too sick. I imagine - other than the exhaustion - the hardest part for your sister is being inactive. She sounds amazing, and we're all rooting for her.

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    1. karen: Yes, her heart's gone for a lot longer than they thought it would and it just isn't enough any more. Thank you for your prayers- they mean so much!

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  20. Best wishes for your sister. My family's and my prayers arw with your sister and your family.
    I am always in favor of organ doners. Even with my bad health, I think if I am able to help someone after I die, I would like it.

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    1. Munir: Thank you, my friend, they are much appreciated.

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  21. oh I will pray for you sister and family. I worked as an ICU nurse with heart transplant patients...you will be amazed at the wonders and miracles of science. good luck as you all go through this process...

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    1. momto8: Thank you! That gives me comfort~

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  22. Oh dear sweet Shelly,
    I was off blogs for a bit between my wifi being so cranky and getting ready for a visit from baby Grace and her parents.I have pre-scheudled my posts for the A-Z challenge so I can spend time with my sweet ones. I did not see this post until tonight. I know just what you were describing about childhood fights with your sister. My Mom used to say they fight like cats and dogs amongst themselves but don't ever think you can go at one without the others uniting like an iron fist and coming after you.

    My Grandmother Bet convinced me at an early age to be a donor and I have been for a long time. Her way of putting it was humorous but sincere. She said. "if my old body can help anyone else then they are welcome to it and if just young practicing Dr's need it...well I think they need all the practice they can get!"

    I will be praying for you and your sister and all your family. Hang in there dear one and know you are loved.
    Hugs~

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    1. Sush: Oh, thank you, my friend- your prayers are greatly appreciated.

      Your Grandmother Bet sounds delightful, as does your mom; I would have enjoyed meeting them.

      I hope you got lots of hugs and kisses with Baby Grace and her mom and dad. She's a beautiful baby!

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  23. I strongly believe in organ donation. Thank you for sharing this and I hope the best for your sister.

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    1. Crack You Whip: Thank you- it is truly such a great cause.

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  24. Your sister has been one of your greatest cheerleaders but you have also been her's. I'm with you on organ donation. There is something beautiful knowing that through sadness, more lives are save. Praying for your sister to have great news with the transplant doctors.

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    1. Simone: It's one of those paradoxes: death begets life. Thank you for your prayers!

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  25. You tell a wonderful story, Shelly. I've been a (potential) organ donor since my first driver's license and certainly hope that what they find they can use when I go.

    All of my best to your sister and your friend Nancy.

    Pearl

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    1. Pearl: Thank you so much for the good wishes, and thank you for remaining on the donor list. It can make all the difference in the world.

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  26. Shelly, my heart goes out to you and your family. I will be praying for you and your sister as you take this trying journey together. The bond between sisters is something I know a great deal about. My sisters are my best friends. Were I in your shoes I would be a wreck!

    Your sister is obviously a fighter. I love her strong spirit and determination.

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    1. Crystal: As gentle and sweet as she always is, she has such a fighting spirit. She's going to need every bit of it. Thank you so much for your prayers. They really do turn the tide.

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  27. If your sister's story inspires some people to agree to organ donation, that will be a big bonus.I hope things work out well for her. I agree, it's a dilemma that nobody can solve. The only way to look at it is that the person would have died anyway.

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    1. Jenny: That's how I look at it- if it's inevitable, then at least have as much good come from it as you can. Thank you~

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  28. Your family is in my prayers. Your sister sounds amazing. I am a registered organ donor.

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    1. Jenn: Thank you for your prayers and thank you for being registered!

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  29. I'll keep your sister and your whole family in my thoughts and prayers, Shelly, that through the tragedy and generosity of another family, your sister will have a new lease on life.

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  30. Dr. Kathy: Thank you so much- I just have to believe the best~

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  31. Hi Shelly. I am SO sorry that I am late in commenting on this post. What a beautiful post it was too. Your sister is obviously such a special person in your life, and I will certainly be remembering her in my prayers. I have always carried a Donor Card, as I really do think it is so important. I agree with Shady, that we do not always know what our blogging friends are going through with their families or friends, although I think most of us do share our thoughts here, which is good, because our bloggy friends are such an awesome, supportive and encouraging bunch of people. I wouldn't want to be without them in my life now, certainly. Take care my friend. I know that this must be a very worrying time for you at the moment. When I was having a major back operation a few years back, I received a text from a friend, which simply said "in quietness and trust is your strength" and that actually helped me quite a lot.

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    1. Thisisme: Oh, I appreciate your words so much. "In quietness and trust is your strength" truly resonates with me. I am going to share it with my sister. Thank you also for your prayers.

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  32. I will be praying for your sister, Shelly. She has been through a lot in her life. I pray God's hand will be upon her. My older sister and I are opposites, but she used to protect me also. I also believe in the donor program. God bless.

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    1. Belle: Thank you so much. I've told her- no more dread diseases- she's had enough!

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  33. OMG, so harrowing. My thoughts and prayers for your sister and her family.

    Riya

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  34. Dear Shelly, . . . my cousin has two kidney transplants because of her diabetes. One transplant failed after a few days; the other gave her a new life for several years. It was her need that helped me begin to fill out the donor section on the driver's license.

    I will keep your sister and her family and you in my prayers. I will see you all surrounded by the white light of the protective love and health of Oneness in which we are all a part.

    Peace.

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    1. Dee: I am so glad your cousin was able to find health in the second transplant. I am awed by how much can be done these days in this field. Thank you so much for your good wishes and prayers.

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