When I answered the telephone on that cold January 3, 1997 afternoon, I listened intently to the Department of Social Services case worker give details about a 2 month old baby at the University of Michigan Hospital who needed a home to go to. The next words that came out of my mouth was “Yes, but let me check with Mark first and I’ll call you right back”. With excitement in my voice, I called Mark at his office (which is just walking distance from our home) and repeated the case workers words: “she’s two months old, five pounds, born with a severe congenital heart defect, already had one open heart surgery, her parents could not take care of her right now, she’s on a lot of medications, oxygen, a feeding tube, had arrested two times, and she could die in our home but was stable enough to go home.”
Early that morning after I had finished my devotion, I knelt down to pray in our living room. Our sons Brian, a senior in college majoring in Aviation and Jason a sophomore majoring in Criminal Justice had returned to college in South Carolina the day before. Our daughter Kimberly would be finishing up her senior year in high school after Christmas break and had already been accepted to the same college in South Carolina as a nursing student in the fall. Mark was in need of my help at our veterinary office because one of the receptionists had to take an early medical maternity leave. Since I had worked at the clinic before, he asked if I could fill in while she was off. We had been licensed foster parents in our county for three years and we didn’t have foster children in our home at that time. I prayed selfishly that “just maybe God would send a foster baby our way so I would not have to go back to work outside of the home”. I felt that God had answered my prayers but were we up to this new challenge?
Three years prior Mark and I became licensed foster parents in our county for babies under the age of 18 months. With our children getting older we felt God was giving us the desire to have young children in our home to love and nurture just like our own children. But by being foster parents, the caseworkers and probate judge in our area knew that our intentions were to be just that-“foster parents”. We had NO intentions on adopting any of our foster children because we knew there were so many loving parents that wanted to adopt children, and we didn’t want to rob them of that joy that we had with our three children. We would love the children as our own and then prepare them to go on to their adoptive parents—that’s called Tough Love!
The next 24 hours we learned all we could about this severe heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). When a child is born with HLHS, the left chamber of the heart is not developed and oxygenated blood can not get through the body. The parents are given 3 options for the baby: 1) compassionate care (in other words take the baby home and the baby will die within about two months because of lack of oxygen, 2) three corrective heart surgeries that are done over the next eighteen months, the first surgery done at about 2 days old or 3) heart transplantation. The last two options were not guarantees but they were hopeful.
On January 4th, 1997, Mark, Kimberly and I traveled the two hours down to University of Michigan to meet this precious little angel named Shelly Lynn. We were told that her Mom and Dad loved her but could not take care of her physical needs. U of M staff did not give us much hope. They thought that Shelly would die soon after we brought her home because she had already arrested two times in the hospital. Because heart transplantation was not available after Shelly was born, corrective surgeries were the plan.
What joy this little angel brought to our home. Continuing to have supervised visits with her biological parents for one hour each week, at the Department of Social Services, Shelly grew and became stronger each day. By the time she was five months old we were again traveling down the road to U of M for surgery number 2 in April 1997. As we walked down the hallway of the Pediatric Cardiac Unit, nurses that had cared for Shelly her first two months of life greeted us. With tears down their faces they were so happy to see Shelly and how well she had thrived. What a true miracle of God’s love!
As we began the hours of waiting in the family waiting room for updates by the staff on how surgery #2 was progressing, our hearts just ached to think that Shelly was to have to go through the healing process again from opening up her little chest. But also excited to think that after this surgery was completed, she no longer would have the supplemental oxygen and she only had one more surgery to endure which wouldn’t be until she was about fifteen months old. Shelly did make it through the surgery and came home with a lot of new medications and special care. Shelly improved and on November 5, 1998 we celebrated Shelly’s first birthday with family and friends. She began walking right after her birthday and was beginning a gabber continuously.
Visits with Shelly’s biological parents continued but there was concern by the Department of Social Services if they could care for Shelly’s medical needs. It was time once again to return to U of M for surgery #3. Shelly’s biological parents also came down and waited for the surgery to be completed. As the nurse took Shelly from my arms, Mark and I cried as she was wheeled down the hallway to the surgery room in a little red wagon. We had grown to love her as our daughter and we knew the feelings were mutual. After surgery was completed, Shelly’s biological parents went in to see Shelly in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and it was at the time they made the decision to sign off on all parental rights. They had given us a beautiful gold heart necklace and asked us to give it to Shelly. Several birthday pictures were taken with this heart necklace on.
Ironically we met a young Christian couple who worked at the hospital that could not have children of their own and had grown to love Shelly and showed a desire to adopt her if parental rights were terminated. Shelly again did so well after her surgery and we began looking towards this young couple adopting Shelly. During the process of adoption papers being approved by the state, one more surgical procedure had to be completed when Shelly was 18 months old. After this heart catherization surgery, the doctor came out with a tired disappointing look on his face and proceeded to tell us that the surgeries that were done on Shelly were not as successful as they had hoped and that Shelly would have to have a heart transplant. With tears in our eyes and shock on our faces, I looked at the doctor and said, “play God”. He said “What?” I again said, “play God”. “When could she have the transplant, will she live long enough to have the transplant, what do we do now because there is a young couple that wants to adopt Shelly”?
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