It was December 2001, and I was almost 8 years old. I bounced out of bed, got dressed in my favorite green velvet dress, and put my hair up in the fanciest scrunchy I could find. I was so excited because today was a very special day! Today was the day I was going to meet my new baby brother for the first time!
Andrew was born December 3, 2001. He had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) and underwent highly invasive open heart surgery (the Norwood procedure) at just a few days old. The surgery was successful, however, his heart was too weak to start back up on its own afterwards and he passed away at just 9 days old on December 12, 2001.
My family was heartbroken. It was difficult for me at such a young age to grasp the finality of death. As I got older, whenever I thought of Andrew, I wondered what kind of role he would have played in our family. I spent many days imagining what he would have looked like, what he would have enjoyed, how our family would have shifted to make room for the new baby of the family.
Fast forward 10 years.
John was born on July 19, 2011 with HLHS- just like Andrew. He underwent highly invasive open heart surgery (the Norwood procedure) at just a few days old. His surgery was successful, and he lived and grew stronger!
I met John during the most difficult time of my life. My mother had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and had passed away only 3 months after her diagnosis. My family was reeling from another life-shattering blow. A friend in high school asked for prayer for a family she nannied. She mentioned their little baby had a heart defect. With Andrew in mind, I immediately asked what the defect was. It was HLHS! I couldn't believe it. We set up a time with the family for me to meet John.
I remember walking through the door, in a lingering fog of grief, and seeing John for the first time. He was lying in a little bed, his cute little face covered with a nasal cannula so he could receive more oxygen, and a pulse-ox on his big toe. He was small and slightly blue, but perfect. My friend had warned me before we walked in that his mom never let anyone touch him because his immune system was so fragile. So, I was completely shocked when Gina lifted little, fragile John out of his bed and placed him in my arms.
I was deeply touched. I felt my heart expand as I remembered seeing Andrew 10 years before. I looked down into his precious, sleeping face and prayed for him. I thanked God for letting me meet him, and simultaneously let my heart ache for all I had lost. It would have meant so much to my Mom to meet John and Gina! She would have loved them so much. It would have filled a hole in her heart to hold him- it did mine.
The end of high school and the beginning of college was a hectic time for me and I lost touch with John and his family. I had only met them once, and though meeting John had been important to me, I couldn't have imagined anything continuing on from that.
But God had amazing plans in store...
I reconnected with John's family through babysitting. I had been watching another family's kids for over two years when they asked if I would be willing to watch their kids plus another family's so they could double date together. It was John's family! John's mom Gina remembered me and we talked before I left that night, and I agreed to babysit for them again.
I continued to watch the kids, and after about the third time I was there, they asked if I was interested in something more permanent. John's family had just been approved to receive respite care. I readily agreed, and soon after, began watching John on a regular basis. God had given me a precious gift!
Knowing John has healed me in ways I didn't know I was still broken. Having lost Andrew at such a young age, my grief was not completely realized. I knew I had missed out on so much and often wondered what life would have been like with him- I no longer have to imagine! It would have been Legos and games of CandyLand. It would have been jokes and tickle fights. It would have been tucking into bed with stories, prayer, and hugs. It would have been days at the park and first days of school and soccer practice and so much friendship and love.
Reconnecting with John and his family is one of the most serendipitous things I have ever experienced, and yet I know that it was so much more than good luck. God knew exactly what I needed and so He gave me John. Andrew belonged to the Lord. In God's mysterious way, He has used it for my good and growth. He continues to give me good gifts and I am thankful beyond words.