Mr. Nicholas Sparks,
As an avid reader of your novels, I would have suspected I would be contacting you to express my gratification rather than to express my definition of a hero. It is rather uncomfortable writing to someone that has spent his career working on correct grammar and forming wonderful stories into print only to worry more about you taking out a red pencil to correct all my grammar mistakes. But nonetheless, I will work around it.
I am a mom. A good one, I like to tell myself. We all claim we have been through it all. That we have suffered the worst and for that, our particular stories always seem to stand above the rest. Never fully understanding how difficult the path is for others.
I worked as an EMT for 13 years. Telling stories is what we do. We relied on humor and the experience to keep us going through all the pain. Sometimes the humor would lead to comparing stories, sometimes to tears but mostly to gaining strength around one another. There is something about working in that type of environment with someone with as much confidence and passion as you. It’s something that’s very hard to explain.
While I working in the ER at 8 months pregnant with our second child, I never knew that my surroundings would lead me to a place all the textbooks seemed to forget. All the words that were foreign to me and it felt as though it had erased every bit of training I fought hard to remember every night.
Throughout my pregnancy it was smooth sailing. All the check ups, checked out. The ultrasounds were routine and every bit of uncomfortable movements...well, check. I use to laugh at some women when they would say they loved being pregnant. Ok, maybe I did more than laugh. Imagine someone rolling their eyes and having a sarcastic laugh while saying it. That was me. The morning of August 10th, 1996 (my due date) was filled with excitement, anticipation, pain and overwhelming joy. The contractions began and continued to stay somewhat consistent throughout the afternoon. Once they began to get closer, we headed for the hospital. A place I knew all too well. I was placed in a gown and hooked up to the fetal monitor while the nurse placed the IV in my hand. I remember listening to the baby’s heart rate fainting in the background while I focused on my breathing. There was a feeling that came over me. A feeling that wasn’t contractions. It was the feeling of doubt and fear. The monitor would react to her heart rate spikes and then it would immediately drop and continue this pattern. I remember them expressing to me that I should get up and walk down the hallway to get the baby moving. (Insert bugged out eyes and crooked smile.) I did as they said and made my trek down the hall until it felt as though a bowling ball was about to fall out of me. Back in the bed and hooked up, we were ready to get things going. After what felt like an eternity of pushing, our baby girl was born.
I was in extreme pain after natural childbirth, but it didn’t bother me as much as the lack of crying I struggled to listen for from our miracle. I remember the doctor handing her to the nurse and immediately calling out for a stat chest x ray. I keep asking what what wrong and before you knew it, I lay in bed alone-with my legs still in the stirrups. My husband left to follow them to the nursery and as I lay trying to get caught up on my breathing, too many thoughts invade my mind. About 5 minutes go by and a nurse from another floor enters my room to clean the mess and get me comfortable in bed. At one point, she turns to me and asks me what to do with the placenta. I look back at her with a quizzical look and shake my head while saying, “I don’t know.” She had been called down from the Orthopedic floor to help out since all the OB nurses were in with my baby. Many minutes go by and I’m still alone, struggling to get answers. Finally, my husband enters the room looking as though he saw a ghost. That’s when my heart sank. He said they were having to fly her out to Denver Children’s Hospital because she developed a hernia. I immediately thought, oh that’s not that bad. A hernia is repairable and I shouldn’t get so worked up about it. At that moment, a nurse flies into my room and we maneuver into a wheelchair only to directly meet the flight nurses passing my doorway. I placed my hand in through the incubator hole and held her precious hand while we stared at each other. I will never forget that moment. Nor will anyone that was in that hospital that night. I screeched out a sound I never knew I could make. The tears flew down my face as they whisked her rapidly down the hallway to the helicopter and I sat in that spot hopeless.
They called to say she made it ok and she was stable. I was still a blubbering mess when I answered the phone, reaching for the right words..any words. The nurse on the other end pauses and then asks me, “so what is her name?” I proudly say, “her name is McKynna.” My husband left with my father in law the same time the helicopter left and made the 1 hour drive to Denver. I was alone again. Our oldest daughter was with my mother in law and I lay in the bed staring out the window. The doctor tried to give me something to help me sleep but it didn’t work. My adrenaline was in overtime.
Within hours I was let go. There was no way I was gonna stay there alone. I was on my way to Children’s Hospital where I would meet our baby and her fate. I make my way up to the NICU where inside I had 3 doctors waiting for me. I nearly faint while they reach for a chair to place me in. That’s when life changed. I was listening to percentages and statistics and words I never even heard of. We were told she had a Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia and she had a 6% chance of survival. Huh? What just happened I thought. She had undergone surgery before I got there and luckily my husband was there with her and held her. My walk to her bed in the NICU was like a dream. I knew all the sounds in the background of machines, the nurses communicating back and forth and the doctors barking orders. Once I found a spot next to her bed, that’s where I found myself for the following 3 months. Never leaving her side except to get something to eat, to go cry in the restroom, or to find myself passed out sleeping on a couch in the main waiting room, only to be woken to my name being heard overhead.
The 3 months she endured were the longest months of our lives. We tried so hard to be strong and to also be there for our oldest daughter Jordyn, all while fighting every emotion you can imagine. I learned many things about myself during that time. I learned I actually could sleep in a recliner. That whatever I knew about life wasn’t actually true until that moment. That life should never be taken for granted. That what I thought all those years leading up to that moment, were to never be normal again. And that the love that was formed within our little family, could never been explained to anyone. Not in the right light anyway.
She went home on oxygen and for us, that wasn’t anything. She was going home, and that meant everything. After going back to Children’s Hospital every 6 months until she turned 8 years old and receiving the “all clear”, we continued to live our lives. Many things changed around us and within us but we all learned from McKynna. She taught us how to survive and to fight. She taught us that quitting is never an option and giving back is the only way to live.
That moment on August 10th, 1996 helped define me. It defined us all. And no matter where you are in your life, there’s always a way out. Just ask her...she will tell you ALL about it and you will hear what a hero sounds like.
(Joe, Kim, Jordyn and McKynna)