Thursday, July 26, 2007

Life and Death

I hope the readers of my blog (all three of you) will forgive me if I depart from my usual (though too infrequent) art posting this time around. Life has doused me with some pretty heavy doses of reality this last month that have made it difficult to concentrate on any sort of creative endeavor. The picture above is a photograph of my nephew’s heart that was taken last week when he underwent open heart surgery. My nephew was born with some severe heart defects for which he has had to undergo several major heart surgeries. His last surgery took place when he was about three years old, at which time they put in a pulmonary valve and artery from a donor to replace his own defective valve and artery. He is now fifteen years old and the valve and artery are too small to accommodate the blood-flow needs of a young adult. In the bottom half of the picture you can see where they have put in a new pulmonary artery which is made of a combination of bovine (cow) tissue and goretex. What can’t be seen is the new pig valve that they put in to replace the old one. Apparently a pig valve will last longer than a human valve… which is a good thing. The medical miracles that can be worked these days are all pretty amazing. In the twelve years since his last surgery my nephew has been able to live a relatively normal and healthy life (if you can call being active in drama and local theater groups normal ;) ). But in recent years, as he’s gotten older and bigger, his energy levels and his oxygen saturation levels have been steadily declining until this last spring when the doctors finally said, that’s enough, it’s time to fix you. It’s unheard of for this type of repair to last twelve years, but somehow that’s how long it’s been. I haven’t heard how long the doctors expect this latest repair to last, but naturally the family is hoping it will last as long as possible. Obviously, everyone in the family is concerned about my nephew and interested in his recovery, but my wife and I, perhaps, have a more profound interest in the outcome of my nephew’s surgery because we too have a son that was born with severe heart defects. My son is three years old now, and in terrific health, but he’s had to endure three major heart surgeries – two of them open heart surgeries – all by the time he was a year and a half old. Like I said, he’s doing great now, but we know that as he gets older and bigger, the parts that were used to repair his heart will start to stretch, and his valve will start to leak, and my son will start to feel more lethargic and tired. So as we watch my sister and her husband worry and stress over the health of their son, my wife and I can’t help but feel a little apprehensive about not only my nephew’s health, but also the health of my own son. Fortunately, my nephew’s surgery went perfectly and he’s recovering remarkably well. He had his surgery last Thursday morning and was released from the hospital on Sunday morning, which to me is just amazing.
Unfortunately, the stress surrounding my nephew’s heart surgery comes on the heels of another family tragedy of nightmarish proportions. Some of you may have seen the news stories last month about Samuel Ives, who was killed by a bear while he was camping with his family. Well, Sam was my nephew. Sam’s mom is my wife’s sister. Needless to say, the family has been pretty devastated by this whole event and we’re all struggling to try to wrap our brains around what happened. It’s difficult not to constantly think about Sam and the terrible way he died. Unfortunately, but understandably, Sam’s parents are having a very difficult time coping with their grief and will be in need of the support and prayers of family and friends for a long time to come. I guess if there’s any lesson to be learned from all of this it’s the old cliché that you shouldn’t take the ones you love for granted because you never know what life might decide to throw at you. I know I’ve been giving my own kids a lot more hugs lately. I can’t imagine what I would do if I lost one of them. Hopefully, that day will never come.