Two years ago my sister underwent life changing heart surgery. Having had multiple surgeries already, this was not something new to her or to us, but the difference now was that she was going in to it as an adult. Her awareness of every step was much greater, but also were the implications on her future and life choices. When I originally wrote this blog post, it was a way for me to process what I was feeling and deal with the whole experience. It took a long while to be able to process this into words and be comfortable sharing it, and what I wasn’t prepared for was the impact it would have on those who read it. Two years on and I’m now beginning to help others share their own unique experiences; it is more important to me than ever that we open this channel of support and conversation, and so I share this post once again in the hope that others find comfort in what we experienced…

 

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In late 2015 my sister, our mum and I travelled to London to have a consultation at the heart & lung hospital in London. My sister was a young 18 but had already had 2 lots of heart surgery so these trips have become somewhat of a normality for our family. Though this time we would be meeting with her surgeon, Dr Sethia. As funny as it sounds, he feels somewhat a part of the family already, her own private surgeon. He has been her surgeon through each operation so far and so it was a strange comfort to be seeing him rather than another consultant. That was, until he told us that she will need to have one of her valves replaced with a donor valve. In that moment my heart sank, and I could tell that my sisters had too. Her previous surgeries would be nothing compared to this. She is now a woman! It would mean numerous other operations in the future, not to mention potential complications later in life when starting a family. I just couldn’t understand why she, at a young and fit 18, would be dragged through such a huge and evasive operation just as her life was beginning.

In every day that followed the same thought held in my mind. Why? I would pray consistently, asking for answers, for her to not have to go through it and sometimes even questioning if I was selfish for pushing my own feelings on the situation. Now anyone that knows me will agree that I am fiercely loyal to my instinct. In any situation, I always trust what my gut is telling me. It has brought me some truly amazing experiences and is really all I’ve ever known. Except on this occasion my emotion was so overwhelming that it masked any sense of direction I felt. It was just too close to home this time. All I knew was that something didn’t feel right.

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Fast forward to July 2016 and it was time. Her surgery date had arrived and as a family we drove to London, united in our love but also our anticipation. We waited forever for a bed to become clear for her and we were once again greeted by the surgeon who told us that the op may need to be postponed as there was an infection in intensive care which would be too risky for her. Though despite my internal hopes, it did go ahead. We arrived early in the morning to be with her before she went down, and I will never forget that morning. Braiding her hair has become a tradition between us and it Is a ritual I enjoy so much, but as I braided her hair in preparation for surgery my hands trembled like crazy. And then when the time came for her to go down, I will never forget how she gripped my hands as if her life depended on it. I remember so vividly the look of sheer panic on her face and I knew that anything I said or did in that moment would be inadequate.

In general I am a strong person, as my sister is also. But we are both equally sensitive. The next 5 hours were the toughest hours we as a family have ever experienced. It seems silly, being only an operation, but the strain was so real. The feeling of your heart no longer being in its place, having to rely on faith to get you through when you feel that everything that is precious to you is held in the hands of something greater. In these 5 hours I questioned, and I felt completely let down. So many months of prayer and hope now came to nothing as she was left in the hands of the surgeons. Nothing could have prepared us for the result..

When she returned to us in Intensive Care (or their alternative to avoid the infected areas), I just remember her looking so beautiful. Even with the tubes and wires, she looked peaceful. The relief was HUGE! And fortunately it was only a short while until a doctor came to relay the result of the operation to us.

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You know those moments when life flashes before you- moments that are so miraculous that they take your breath away and yet affirm everything in an instant? The doctor told us that, despite having planned the big valve replacement surgery that we were all afraid of, they didn’t feel it necessary. In the moment, instead, they had made the decision to mend her own valve. No donor valve, no guaranteed surgery every 8-12 years, no guaranteed complication with future life choices. A much clearer heart and the hope that this may be the last of her surgeries. Every prayer that was given and doubted, was suddenly made clear. There were no words enough for what we felt in that moment.

It was in this moment that I made a realisation. I live with a lot of faith generally, but this occasion had me stumped. I wasn’t able to make it all the way and I lost faith in everything being okay. But right at the last hurdle a miracle was granted. Every prayer that I had made and that those who love her had made was not in vain. Even in the darkest of times, when things seem to be out of our control and not going the way we had hoped, we must remember that things are exactly as they should be.

I must also applaud my sister for her strength and courage. She is the most remarkable young woman who really is an inspiration to those around her. Her spirit, even through such a tough period, has shone through. I will not forget the little jokes she would make, her cheeky grin as she administered herself an extra dose of morphine (powerful stuff!), or the way she pointed at our brother in excitement to see him when she first woke up again. Moo, you are a very special lady indeed, and your willingness to share what was a hugely personal experience is admirable.

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I have always been taught that everything happens for a reason and, though this was by far the hardest thing I have ever been through, this whole experience strengthens my faith in life. My sister is still very much in recovery and will be for some time. And we also don’t know if this really will be the last surgery (though if my gut is anything to go by then I have a very good feeling about it!) For what we do not yet know, but I feel there was a greater purpose to all that we have experienced this past month. For hers is not just one story. It is one of many. And my hope is that her experience and her suffering may bring strength to others.

But what I want to emphasise more than anything – no matter how hard the road, have faith. When things look their worst, something truly miraculous is round the corner.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥