February 1st. As I wake up and check my Facebook news feed, I see posts of many of my beautiful friends smiling brightly in their red lipsticked selfies, in red shirts, red dresses, and bright red heels. Many for themselves…others for loved ones. And still others for those they don’t even know. Why?
Today is the American Heart Association’s National Wear Red Day to kick off Heart month. ♥️ The nation is coming together to raise awareness about cardiovascular and heart disease in order to save lives. It’s an awesome movement that raises the much needed funds to eliminate heart disease and stroke. I figured it would be the perfect time to share with you why this day is important to me and our family…
Meet Riley. My son.
Riley MatthewOur story is long and difficult. Emotional and heartwrenching. And unfortunately doesn’t have a happy ending. Riley was admitted into the hospital on a cold October afternoon and never came home. You see, after a healthy and thriving 3 1/2 months of life, our son’s heart was failing. Riley needed a new heart. And our lives were changed forever.
He was placed on ECMO (day Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), which provides prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to those whose heart is unable to provide perfusion to sustain life. In layman’s terms? Our son’s heart was tired. It was enlarged, beating erratically, and way too fast. It wasn’t strong enough anymore to support his little body. Out of NOWHERE, Riley was dying.
He was placed on a heart transplant list the day after he was admitted. Our heads were spinning. It didn’t even seem possible. How could this have happened to our baby boy? He was growing…thriving, and then overnight he wasn’t. To add more anguish to what was an already impossible situation, we now had to play the waiting game…but what we were waiting for seemed implausible. We literally were waiting for another infant to pass away so Riley could have their heart for a chance to live. What we were praying for meant another mom and dad’s devastation. This plagued us and yet it was the only way he could survive. That and the fact that we couldn’t fix it. We couldn’t “make it all better”, kiss it away, or comfort him until it passed. After all, isn’t that a mommy’s job? It was all out of our hands…and we hated it.
To make a very long story short, sadly, nothing was able to fix it. Our son passed away on November 11, 2004. I have no recollection of Thanksgiving that year or even Christmas. I was numb. I CAN however, still remember very vividly until this day, the first snow we had that winter. Normally, I get giddy about the first fluffy snow of the season…it’s beautiful and serene and gets me into the spirit of Christmas. This time, as I looked out the window to see the grass covered in a thick layer of snow, I panicked. I immediately went into hysterical crying…uncontrollable and irrational tears…”Riley is cold! He’s cold!”, I screamed. “He shouldn’t be in the ground! He should be in my arms…I HAVE to warm him up! I HAVE to hold him!”
That first year without him was beyond tough. But God provided me healing in the form of two precious girls. Hannah Grace, Riley’s twin sister kept me going on a daily basis. She needed me in every way possible and her smiles and monthly milestones were my motivation to heal myself from the inside out. She was a living breathing reminder of her brother and without her, I’m quite sure I would have faded off into a dark space far beyond emotional recovery.
And then in April of 2005, just 5 short months after our loss…I miraculously became pregnant with our Hailey Noel (her name is a combination of Hannah and Riley’s btw…HA + ILEY). 🙂 This little blessing from God was a true miracle. After 5 years of infertility and treatments (Hannah and Riley were our in vitro babies), Hailey came to us naturally. And if we weren’t already convinced that this pregnancy was a true gift from God, at our first obgyn appointment, we learned that she was due on Christmas Day. At exactly 18 months apart, the girls have grown up virtually the best of friends. And while there could NEVER be a replacement for Riley, Hailey sure did put a light back into our lives that we thought would never shine again.
The HEART. /hart/ Noun.
It has a myriad of definitions if you open your dictionary. It is not only the muscular organ that pumps blood through the circulatory system…it is also regarded as the centre of a person’s thoughts and emotions. Especially love or compassion. It stands for courage or enthusiasm, and portrays one’s mood or feeling. And in ALL of these examples, it also refers to the innermost part of something.
Whatever YOUR definition of “heart” may be, can you consider using it today to make a difference? Not only by proudly wearing the brightest red you possibly can today, but by donating to Go Red For Women. Your gift will continue to support lifesaving research, education and health impact initiatives to help eradicate heart disease. You have read my story and now know firsthand how heart disease can change the course of a life. If you didn’t previously think that this was a cause near and dear to you, maybe reading about my son Riley changes your viewpoint a bit. Maybe, it made you stop and think about how in the blink of an eye life can change…including your child’s, your spouse’s, your parent’s, or your own.
Your donation can help. Follow the link to make a change. Happy Friday. #wearredandgive
P.S. Louisville residents, consider attending the annual Heart Ball on February 9, 2019 at the Louisville Marriott downtown for a night of amazing auction items, an incredible dinner, drinks, and dancing. Helping to raise money for heart disease and stroke. Click below for more information!