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Why Was I Still Here?

Three times I nearly died from the same birth defect, once as an infant and twice as an adult. I had to wonder why I was still here when not everyone gets that second or third chance like I did. I’m no one special. Just an average person. But maybe I was an average person with a part in a plan that had yet to be carried out.

As a newborn, I was hospitalized several times because I couldn’t keep any type of sustenance down. I became very thin and my parents feared for my life. My mom nursed me, I threw it up, they tried formula, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and more but I threw it all up. Then one day, I didn’t throw it up. Whatever had caused the problem seemed to have resolved itself.

However, when I was about 30 years old, I began to have problems again. This time mostly with my breathing. In testing, the doctors found the birth defect that was causing my current problems and had caused the problems when I was an infant. The main artery to my right arm was supposed to branch off the aorta on the right side and go down. Mine branched off the left side of my aorta, wrapped my wind pipe and esophagus and then went down the right side.  My esophagus bent at about a 45-degree angle from the artery instead of being straight. That bend is what caused the problem as an infant. Food didn’t get past that bend and came back up. Somehow, it corrected enough for food to get past on its own.

When the defect was discovered, the specialist told me that if I did not have it corrected, it would eventually destroy my esophagus since food tended to rest at that angle. I was a single mom in college at that time. The surgery was a dangerous one. Dangerous enough I had to talk to my ex-husband about raising the children if I didn’t survive it.

Surgery consisted of opening me up from about six inches into my right front around my side and up my back about half way in a hook shape, removing a rib, stopping my heart and putting it on a bypass machine, cutting the artery on the left side, closing my aorta there, unwrapping the artery from the esophagus and wind pipe, then reattaching it to the right side of the aorta with a graft, a five-hour surgery.

I survived the defect as an infant. Would I survive the surgery to correct it as an adult? Obviously, I did but the surgery was not without problems. After surgery, my parents and brother who had been waiting, were told that I would be taken to ICU within an hour but instead it took five hours because they couldn’t bring me out of the anesthesia. I finally came out on a ventilator around 10:00 p.m. unable to breathe on my own and with six different catheters, chest drainage tubes, and IVs. Why did I survive when I could have just as easily died?

That night remains absolutely clear to me. I laid in that bed in ICU, on a ventilator, with my hands tied down so I didn’t remove the breathing tube in my mouth or the tube through my nose, watching the nurses scramble around me doing what needed to be done to sustain my life. After I had laid there a while, I watched my parents walk in the door to my room. I can’t imagine their shock seeing me in such a vulnerable place with all the tubes and needles in me. I watched their expressions closely to see if I could get an indication whether I was going to be OK or not. They did a good job keeping blank faces.

One of the most precious memories I have of both of them being there together for me in a time of need happened after they walked into my room that night. They both came over to my right side and my mom took my right hand and held on. I lifted my left hand as much as I could with the restraint on it and my dad walked over and held that hand. They stood there as long as they were allowed to holding my hands, one on each side of me, silently supporting and loving me. Still brings tears even after all these years.

I remember my dad saying the next day that I probably didn’t remember anything from the night before but I remembered every single minute. After they left me that night, the nurses kept telling me to try to sleep. I was now taking one breath for every three the ventilator was taking. But every time I started to fall asleep, I wouldn’t take my breath and the alarm would go off, nurses would come in, reset it and tell me to try to sleep. That happened all night long. I watched the hands on the clock move minute by minute through that long night. It’s a terrifying thought to know that without a machine doing your breathing for you, you would die. Not being able to ask for reassurance because of the breathing tube and because my hands were tied down was so difficult for me.

The next day I was able to get off the ventilator. I had chest tubes and IVs still when moved to a regular room. I was in the hospital for nine days. Then to Mom and Dad’s where they helped take care of me while my children stayed with my landlord so they could continue to attend school.

Back to school full-time myself at four weeks. Then at my six week follow up visit, the doctor realized something was wrong. The pulse in my right arm was weak instead of strong as it should have been with the repair he had done.

Back for another angiogram, this time going up my arm since I had bled so bad with the first one through my groin. I watched the radiologist guide the catheter up my arm on a screen. As I watched, I saw a black blob move but then move back. I heard a commotion to my right, when I looked, the radiologist was sitting on the floor with sweat pouring down his pale face. What I didn’t realize until later was that I was about 10 seconds from death. The artery that had been repaired had somehow kinked closed after surgery. When the radiologist opened it, he didn’t know there was a clot and pushed it into my aorta. Had he not been able to retrieve it, I would likely not have survived. That’s why he was sitting on the floor. Again, why was I still here?

Three times that one defect could have taken my life: as an infant, during surgery from the anesthesia, and from the clot. Yet, I survived all. Why? Growing up, I didn’t know any born-again Christians. I knew people who went to church but didn’t know any that were known as “Jesus Freaks.”  I attended a works based church as a child, where you had to do certain things to get to Heaven. As a 28 year old, I learned about God’s grace when I accepted Him as my Savior which was all I needed to be able to go to Heaven someday.

At the time of my surgery, my three children weren’t saved yet. If my kids didn’t live with me, who would tell them about God’s grace? Their father told me once that he didn’t believe in God. Yet, he would have been their spiritual leader. Instead, God kept me alive. Through my job, He moved us to a town where all three kids would eventually find their Savior. Now I see my daughter’s children also loving the Lord. My son’s children go to church with us and are learning about the Savior. My other daughter continues her relationship with the Lord.

Over the years there have been other health scares where I have wondered why I’m still here. God isn’t done with His plan for me yet. I may not always know what His plan is but I know He has one and until I finish all the work He has for me to do here, I believe I will remain. When my work is done, Home I will go.

We don’t always see God’s work in our lives until we look back. I didn’t know why He moved us to a town two hours away from everyone we knew. Looking back, salvation for my kids, a second marriage, they were part of His plan that He was working out. He had a plan for us to give us a hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 promises us this and Philippians 1:6 tells us the One who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.

If you are wondering why you are still here, God isn’t done with your plan for your life yet. Even if you aren’t aware of Him putting together your life, He is. Watch for Him to show up and His plan to work out. Sometimes scary but always good.

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