The pair of pink ballet shoes sat on the dining room table. I saw them, sighed to myself, and picked them up to return them to my daughter’s room.
Then, for the first time in 16-years, I remembered.
Off in a corner of the neonatal ICU in a Reno hospital, a the pediatric cardiologist was drawing us a picture of our daughter’s flawed heart, trying to explain the unimaginable. An hour before, we had been about to leave the hospital when a pediatrician thought she heard a little murmur, and called for an echocardiogram, just to be safe. Probably nothing, she said.
It wasn’t nothing.
The young technician doing the echo had gasped, the pediatric cardiologist came, and then, after an eternity of whispers and calls among somber doctors, he told us.
“Your daughter has a serious heart defect. Sometimes they can fix it in San Francisco, and a plane is on the way to take her there.”
Then, while the world fell apart, he tried to explain what was wrong with Madeline’s heart. He drew pictures. He talked about three surgeries she would need, about how many children survived. About how many did not.
“If she lives,” I asked, “what would her quality of life be like?”
His face shifted to a smile, the first one I had seen since our world collapsed.
“She won’t be an Olympic runner,” he said.
“But maybe she’ll take ballet.”
And just like that, the door opened to hope.
For years, the monster of hypoplastic left heart syndrome would try to slam that door shut again. Four times we would wait and pray while surgeons worked to make her heart work. But hope, bolstered by prayers and friendship and a team of medical geniuses, would fight back.
Last night, I watched Madeline dance in her ballet class open house, spinning across the floor strong and graceful. I wrote the doctor, the first to look beyond the problems and see the possible, and thanked him.
Then I went back to dancing with hope.