A Rebuilt Heart

On February 25, 2008, my differently-abled daughter, or as she like to think, differently-capable, Jearmie Joy went to the University of Washington Medical Center for open heart surgery. When she was eleven-years-old she was diagnosed with Aortic Stenosis and Insufficiency, which means that when her aortic valve opened for blood to move through it didn’t close completely and let blood slip back out. She had a homographic valve. Little did they know that over the years the homographic valve would cause a build up of calcium in the heart. She was told when she had this operation at eleven that it would last about fifteen to twenty years. Her doctor was right in the ballpark. When it had narrowed sufficiently, it was time for another replacement. She chose a mechanical artificial heart valve because of the possibility that it would last for the rest of her life (no guarantee, however) rather than a tissue valve is commonly a “porcine” (pig) or “bovine” (cow) valve, which would have to be replaced in about fifteen to twenty years. This decision by her means that she will require lifelong treatment with a blood thinner, e.g. warfarin, which requires monthly blood tests to monitor.

When the doctor got inside to make the switch, he found that her heart was really calcified and it took him a long time to remove all the calcium so he could replace the homographic valve. Her overall time in the operating room was officially 10:59. She was about to come home the next weekend when she suffered Heart Block, which means that the top part of her heart stopped talking to the bottom of her heart. After watching to see if the communication would come back, she was faced with having a pace maker put in to regulate the beat of the heart. This procedure was done and she stayed in the hospital for a few more days before coming home. When she returned home, the first thing that occurred was that she wept as she said, “It’s so good to be home.”

Two small reflections on this thirteen day event. First, heart in the Bible is a metaphor for the whole of a human. We are not parts contrary to our propensity to be swayed by Plato even thought we don’t know that we are. It occurred to me that there are many folks whose lives are calcified, hardened by the hand they have been dealt in life. But hardened lives can be rebuilt. The hardness can be chipped away by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and for all purposes a “new heart” or new creation can occur. We are nothing more than mid-wives / caretakers in the process. Second, home, a place where one can feel secure and safe. In the Christian faith, home is usually thought of as heaven, a place where we go when we die, but that really isn’t the case. The final place for life after life after death is a new heaven and new earth which will replace the present one. At death, we go and rest in the presence of Jesus. He referred to it as Paradise. During this 13 day period of time, there were times when I pondered “resting” with Jesus if my daughter didn’t make it through this whole event. It was and is a comfort to believe that “resting” with Jesus is just a breath away. But, it’s not home. But, alas, she is still here with her mission to be partner with the creator of the Universe in his great “renewal project.” Life is worth every breath!

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