Monday, August 15, 2011

Cotton Balls and Big Words

Let me start this post by saying that I did nothing amazing. I didn't save a life, assist with surgery, or even help in any capacity. I am blessed to be able to travel with a team of amazing individuals who are doing all the work. My purpose for being here has yet to be revealed, as this team is so efficient with what they do that the work I was told to do while I'm here is being done by others. They are good. They are amazing. And there are being wonderful at tolerating me taking up space.

This morning we were on our way to the hospital at 8:00. As our first little patient was being prepped for surgery, we rolled cotton balls. You medical types out there - have you ever had to roll your own cotton balls? We had a big sheet of cotton that we took a piece off of, then pressed it into a closed fist. Pretty darn clever.

Our first surgery was for a little boy named Yeury - a 5 month old with TAPVR. Yah, I'm going to have to Google that one too. From what I understand, it was a pretty complex case.

After I got done rolling cotton balls I watched his surgery. Yes - I watched open-heart surgery. His chest had already been opened by the time I got in the OR. It's amazing to watch a beating heart then watch it stop when the bypass machine is on.
Heart and lung machine for your medical types. I understand it's a tad bigger than what's usually used.

On the left is Dr. Humberto Rodriguez.

At one point I asked one of the nurses what the surgeon was pushing to the side, almost lifting out of his chest. She told me it was his heart. What they needed to work on was on the back side of his heart. Wow.

It was very hard to see his tiny body on the table, but I knew this surgery was saving his life. I was told that with this case he would maybe live to be 3 or 4 and be miserable most of the time.

I stayed in the OR for the remainder of the surgery, including while they closed up his chest.

Here he is after being extubated in the ICU.

The most touching moment happened when his father was finally allowed in the room to check on him. One of the US nurses told him that it was OK to touch him. He was understandably cautious at first, but that changed quickly. Soon he was kissing him and asked if he was going to be alright. It was all of a 30-second interaction, but it was incredibly moving.

I just wanted to pick this little guy up and cuddle him. Maybe tomorrow.

After Yeury was settled in to the ICU, it was time for lunch. It's hard to be vegetarian. But maybe I pulled it off?
Beans and rice and beets.

After lunch I went in to observe the second surgery. I really wanted to watch the sternum being cut. This case was a 14 year old girl with VSD. Pretty simple surgery, from what I was told. Except that it's heart surgery and all.

I walked into the OR as they were starting to open her. When they got the saw out, everyone looked at me. "You going to be OK Karen? This part can be hard to watch." I watched as he cut her, then watched as the saw crapped out. Then I watched as they worked to get another saw. And I wondered why no one was panicking...

They finally got a saw that worked and again I was asked if I was going to be OK. I watched her be opened up and guess what? I was OK. No stars, no queasy feeling, nothing. It was absolutely fascinating. I stayed in for most of her surgery and left before she was being closed up.

I have no idea why, but I'm absolutely exhausted tonight. All I did was roll a few cotton balls and observe surgery. And this is what Karen looks like after:

Tomorrow will be busier as we'll have the two from today moving out of the ICU, then two more kids being operated on - ages 3 and 8.

While I had passion to support International Children's Heart Foundation before coming on this trip, being here has brought it to a new level. I can't do what they do. Heck, I don't understand what they're saying 90% of the time (and it's all in English!) But I can work really hard on making sure they have what they need to keep doing what they're doing. Saving someone else's precious child.


  1. You are my inspiration!! I am here cheering you on as you roll the cotton balls.

    Love you,

  2. You are amazing Karen! You have such a talent with words (among many things), and I truly enjoy reading your blog. You are good at what you do! My prayers are with you!!!

    Erin Nierenhausen

  3. You are amazing Karen! We are getting to live vicariously through you. Thank you for writing to everyone. I feel, as I read, that I am there. You're very descriptive. I'm with Kris. You're my inspiration too! Love you! Deb

  4. Karen~
    Thought I'd let you know your cats are doing fabulous, Squeaks has be fighting me all the way for a med free day, but I understand his meds don't taste good! I have gotten him every dose miraculously though. I hope you are doing well and all those recovering kids are well too. See you soon.

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