It has been seven years since I shared my daughter Lana’s story with you. Like the son of Jimmy Kimmel, the popular late-night show host and writer, Lana had a major heart defect at birth that resulted in her being rushed to two different hospitals away from me shortly after birth. She then experienced surgeries when she was six days old, then six months, then 1 1/2 years old. She received a pacemaker in second grade, and, when Lana was in junior high, we moved to Northwest Arkansas from Florida–a decision that would change our family forever.
Within a few visits at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, her doctors, with their fresh pairs of eyes, knew that she needed a transplant. Amazingly, while she was a freshman at Bentonville High School, she got one! We spent her freshman year preparing for the surgery, going through with it, and then recovering from the shock and awe of that experience. My beautiful girl took it all in stride, never complaining–unless it was about the hospital food, understandably! Through it all, she continued to strengthen her relationship with God. It was amazing to watch. By her sophomore year, she was able to start back at school with all of her friends, and was able to be a normal teenager. She went to every homecoming dance, participated in Miss Bentonville High School, cheered at football games, danced at proms, participated in cotillion, bonfires, sleepovers and all the general fun that makes up high school.
She eventually graduated from BHS, and we were able to share her success story with her heart donor’s family via letters once she had her “heart-iversary,” a year after her transplant. Her heart donor was a 13-year-old boy from Indiana, who was a funny, charismatic child (much like Lana) named Timothy. He had been struck in a hit-and-run accident, and that amazing family gave my sweet angel the greatest gift she could ever receive: life. I still carry a picture of him in my wallet as a constant reminder of the greatest gift I ever received as a mother, for the greatest gift God ever gave me: Lana.
After graduation, Lana was then accepted to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, so we loaded up our cars and headed down to get her all settled. It was so fun! We got to enjoy the beach, and food, and laugh at the life that is southern Florida. We loved our time there, but, in the end, she was too far from home, and wanted so badly to be back with her family. So, her dad went down to Boca, packed her up, and brought her home. That was one of the best things that happened to her, quite honestly. She then changed her major to behavioral therapy/social work, and started back to school at NWACC. She’d drive down to Ft. Smith regularly to visit her friends from high school, and was able to enjoy the normal pace of life back in NWA.
Soon, she got a job at Thrive working with autistic children, in addition to a job working with some of our friends’ kids, and was really happy. She had such a great outlook on life, didn’t put up with anything, and would call you out if you needed it! She was hilarious, and, most importantly, a child of God, and spread his word every chance she got. Shortly after starting with Thrive, the week of Easter in 2015, she got sick. They thought it was the flu, then that it was some weird thing with her gallbladder. We all knew that there was something wrong, but had no clue as to what was actually happening. They sent her home from both the ER and doctors’ offices three times before she was life-flighted to ACH in Little Rock. Our greatest fear, five whole years after her transplant, came true with almost no notice. She was experiencing rejection of the heart that had saved her life.
This is abnormal five years out. You probably think this could be the end of our story, but it’s not. I drove all through the night to get to Lana, stay with her, and pray with her. Within a few hours of me getting to the hospital, it was apparent that she was not doing well. They put her on an ECMO, which is a very specific life support system, plus a ventilator, and then, eventually, dialysis as well because her organs were failing. I have never felt more terrified in my life, since the day she was born–all because someone thought she had the “flu” and sent her home! We spent three months in Little Rock that year, while Lana fought back, even dancing to Kirk Franklin’s “Revolution” while on a ventilator, with another resident. In fact, she told me when she woke up that she wanted a gyro to eat–while still on a ventilator–because that was one of the last meals she’d had with her best friend before this all started. Funnily enough, that was the first meal we got for her when she could finally eat. She made it back to health, she made it to an apartment in Little Rock, and she made it home, all by the grace of God. She still had work to do!
After those months, things went back to normal. I moved to Boston, while she went back to work for Thrive, went back to school, and eventually moved into an apartment with her sister, who is 11 months younger than her and was also going to work and to school full-time. She planned her sister’s 21st birthday party, and flew out here several times. We had plans for her to come for Christmas, even though her sister couldn’t. We looked forward to the holidays together. It would, however, end up being my first Christmas without all four of my sweet kids together.
Her birthday was October 6th, and on October 16th I got a call that put me on my knees. My sweet angel had been at the gym and died, suddenly and completely unexpectedly. She was dead before she got to the hospital across the street–only about 200 feet from the gym. She didn’t want to go back into the hospital–she didn’t want to go back on life support, and she most definitely didn’t want to go through another transplant. As strong as she was in faith, God knew her heart, and blessed her by letting her go home. Even in death, my sweet girl gave back to everyone, and donated as many organs and tissues as she could. She helped 75 to 100 people that needed corneas, tissue, bone, etc. Our hearts here on Earth are still breaking, missing her unbelievably, but she got her Christmas wish. She is whole and healthy, and wouldn’t give a million dollars to come back. She has a million babies she’s taking care of that she couldn’t take care of here on Earth. As much as I wish she was here, I know those streets of gold are covered in snow, and she’s waiting on us to get there. She’s watching over all her siblings, and loving watching them grow up. She is with us in our hearts, and will be with each one at their graduations, weddings, and births of their babies. So, even now, her legacy lives on in how much she gave back, and will continue to for years and years to come.
One thing I learned from this is how to be a good friend, because we had so many help us. If you know someone who is going through a crisis it is the littlest things that matter the most. Go to their house and pack their bags for them… I managed to help Lana get some things together and to get things for the little ones, but my bag was horrendous. I had a bunch of single socks that didn’t match, one pair of underwear and clothes that were in such disarray… It eventually all worked out, but the initial crisis bag should be packed by someone other than the one in crisis.