We’ve talked about our little firecracker of a niece, Laura Kate, before on our blog. She’s entertaining, brave, fun, often dramatic like her aunts, and a heart warrior. Laura Kate was born with a congenital heart defect, and a lot about her life was scary and unknown. However, she is living proof that miracles do happen, and they sometimes come in the form of little girls who love to wear glittery, light-up shoes.
Laura Kate is the daughter of our oldest sister, Saralyn. She was asked a few years ago to speak about their journey with Laura Kate at their church. That’s what you’ll be reading today. Laura Kate is 4 years old and is scheduled to have her third heart surgery this Friday, so we thought it was fitting to share this. It’s a little lengthy, but stick it out; you’ll be glad you did. Just to keep things clear so it all makes sense: Charles-her pastor, Michael-her husband, Charlie-Laura Kate’s brother. We hope you’ll enjoy reading about Laura Kate and be reminded of God’s faithfulness, how precious life is, and that blessings are all around us. We also would love for you to pray for her surgery, her doctors, and her recovery. Now, take it away, Saralyn.
Have you ever experienced a coincidence so astonishing that you
knew divine intervention was involved? Charles told me that he calls those
coincidences “God winks.” God sends a little nod your way reminding you
He is always there. I found God to be winking with both eyes throughout
my journey with Laura Kate. When I needed it most, He showed me His
faithfulness with soft whispers and loud shouts. I am honored to share
with you and hope you are blessed by this message. Psalms 86:17 “Give
me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to
shame, for you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.”
Charlie would often ask me, “When can we have a baby?”
On one day, he and I were swinging outside and he said,
“Mama, can’t we just go to the hospital and ask if anyone there does not
want their baby?” I told him that it doesn’t work that way, but as you can see,
Charlie really wanted a baby. When we finally found out I was expecting, I
was so thrilled that Charlie’s hopes were becoming a reality.
On January 31st , 2017, Michael and I headed to our 19-week
ultrasound. Within a minute we saw our sweet baby bouncing around on
the screen. The sonographer announced that it was a girl, and I was overcome
with joy. I began to tell her about Charlie and how we had wanted to wait
until this appointment before we told him we were expecting. I kept asking
her if everything was ok. She said, “Well, her little hand keeps blocking her
heart, but from what I can tell everything looks good.” She said that the doctor
may want us to see a specialist just for safe measure, or we might just
have a scan in a few weeks when the heart is bigger. I sent Michael home
and said that I would do the follow up check-up with the midwife.
The midwife came into the room and said, “I’m so sorry, but the
sonographer thinks there is a problem with the left ventricle.” My heart
stopped. Tears immediately flooded my face. She said, “I’m so sorry. I know
you wanted to tell Charlie, but we think you need to see a specialist.”
I called Michael, tried to stay upbeat, and spin this as any good lawyer
would. I told him there may be a problem, but we will get to a specialist and
find out everything. Patience is a virtue, and I don’t have it. I couldn’t wait
to meet the specialist in Athens my doctor recommended and had an
appointment the next day in Atlanta.
The doctor and sonographer scanned me for an hour. The doctor
leans over me and says, “I have some concerns. Let’s meet in my office.”
The man literally had me sit in the hall for 45 minutes while he met with
other patients. I was a basket case. When I finally got into his office, he
said, “Your baby’s heart did not form correctly.” The next words out of his
mouth were, “You need to ask yourself if you really need to bring this child
into the world.” He continued on showing me a scan of a “normal” heart and
pointing out the differences in my baby. He circled back and said, “You
seem very upset. You really need to ask yourself if you can handle bringing
a child like this into the world.” I looked at him and said, “Your questions are
not options for me. This baby’s life will not be ended by my decision.”
I was numb. I do not know how I drove home through rush hour
traffic. I cried, I prayed, and I was in a daze. This was a Wednesday, and all I
could do was think that I had to get to choir practice. There is no need to suffer in
silence when I have a church family that can lift us up. We needed all the
prayers we could get.
We head to Athens to Dr. Rosemond’s office the next day. He was
just as wonderful as many told me he would be and was the exact opposite
of the Atlanta nut I saw the day before. He said, “I’m going to do a lot of
looking then we will do a lot of talking.” He studied this wiggly baby that was
bouncing all around and finally said, “Your baby has hypoplastic right heart
syndrome. The right side of her heart did not develop properly. It’s too
small.” In other words, she has half a heart. This will require surgeries. I
asked if she could survive. “Absolutely!” he said. (God Wink). He was confident yet
compassionate. Tears were shed as he kept explaining the diagnosis.
For me, I want to hear survival stories. That is what keeps me going knowing
others were in this same boat and came out on the other side. The
sonographer immediately jumped in and said, “There is a five year old little
boy in my home town. He has the same condition, has been through all the
surgeries, and you would never know a thing is wrong with him.” (God Wink)
Isaiah 49:13 “Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you
mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on
his afflicted ones.”
Michael was visibly and understandably shaken when we left. After
the experience I had the day before, I was in a better place mentally. While
I knew this doctor could not predict the future and promise me a particular
outcome, he gave me hope. His office told me about survival.
The rest of the day was a roller coaster of emotions but God was far
from finished helping me cope with our baby’s diagnosis.
Do you know what story was on Fox 5 news that night? A couple
in Athens found out at their 20 week ultrasound their baby girl had a
hypoplastic heart syndrome. The baby was delivered in Athens, transferred to
Egleston, and had under gone successful surgery. (God Wink) This was the
exact plan Dr. Rosemond said we would experience.
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the
world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
A few days later I was sitting in Panera having breakfast before an
OB appointment. I opened up Facebook and a friend from high school I
hadn’t talked to in 20 years shared a story about a little girl in Gray, Ga with
a hypoplastic heart. She was 8 years old and doing great. (God Wink)
I had never in my life heard of this heart condition. In a matter of a
week, on three different occasions I not only learn about three children with
the condition, but I learn they are all thriving.
Our next step was to head to Atlanta to Sibley Heart Center for a
pediatric cardiologist to do an echo-cardiogram- an ultrasound of her heart.
Dr. Rosemond told us that this would likely give us a complete diagnosis. I
prayed and prayed begging God to perform a miracle. I wanted with all my
might to hear that a mistake had been made and our baby’s heart was
perfect. Michael and I arrived at Egleston. I prayed during the entire scan.
Two nurse practitioners came in to talk to us as we waited on the doctor.
They made small talk asking if we were excited about having a girl and said,
“What is her name?” Finally, a doctor came into the room to provide a
diagnosis. The doctor went to a board and started to draw a diagram of a
“normal” heart. She then started to draw our baby’s heart. She stated that
the baby had significant congenital heart disease. Words like tricuspid, atresia,
transposed great arteries, and hypo-plastic aorta spilled from her mouth.
My baby had not one serious problem like we thought but three
major deformities. All I could do was stare at the floor and sob. I felt like I
had been punched in the stomach. She wanted us to ask questions, she
wanted to keep explaining, and all I could do was sob. One of the nurse
practitioners finally chimed in. She said, “So you have three options. 1. You
can terminate now. 2. Some families choose not to put their babies through
surgery and you can give birth then we can set up hospice for her 3. Or you
can do the surgeries.”
All I could do was shake my head no. I could only form one thought
at that moment. You just asked me my baby’s name and my first option is
to terminate now? Michael softly said, “Terminate is not for us.”
The nurse practitioner told us that Atlanta had just acquired a remarkable
surgeon that was highly recruited from Texas Children’s Hospital, a top
heart program in the country. She said, “He is really great.”
The doctor finally spoke and said, “I seem to have overwhelmed you.
We will give you some time.” They all left Michael and I alone. At that
moment a slew of ugly words came from my mouth. Rage filled my body. I
kept repeating that she just asked what was her name and her first solution was
just throw her away. I was so upset. I felt hopeless. I texted
friends….”horrible diagnosis I can’t talk. Too upset.”
My mom kept Charlie for the weekend. I got in the bed and did not get
out for two days. I would cry and sleep. I had ordered a “big brother” shirt a
few weeks before, and all I could think was that he will never be a big brother.
Throughout the weekend, Michael and I talked about what we should
do about Charlie. Should we tell him about the baby? Should we keep her
a secret? We did not know what to do. Devastated was the only way to
describe how we felt.
Michael convinced me to get out of the bed Sunday afternoon and for
us to take Charlie to eat. On the way home from the backseat we hear,
“Well I’m just going to say it. We need a baby”. (God Wink) I looked at
Michael and said that was our sign we are supposed to tell him. We got
home, I pulled out the big brother shirt and we told Charlie about his little
He was so excited. He asked what’s her name was going to be. We gave him a list
of choices, and the moment I said “Laura Kate,” he said that was the one.
name. He and I were lying in bed after we read stories and I said, “Let’s pray
for the baby.” He said , “Thank you God for sending us a baby girl. Thank
you God for Laura Kate.” He said mama we have to buy her a Barbie house
girls love Barbie houses. For the first time that weekend, I smiled.
Charlie’s excitement was what I needed. Charlie’s instant love for his sister
gave me hope. On Tuesday, I went to see Charles. I said, “Charles, I don’t know why
I’m here, but for some reason I feel like I’m supposed to be.” I told him about
the diagnosis. Charles wanted to pray with me and before he did, he said, “I
hope God speaks to you through Charlie.”
The next morning, Charlie was up eating breakfast before school. I
came down the stairs as he was popping a blueberry muffin into his mouth.
He said, “Mama, God is in heaven and God is in you.” And then he just walked
off. (God wink) I burst into tears. God was with me, and He created this baby.
Michael and I were so angry and upset with how our appointment in
Atlanta went that I immediately did my favorite thing…I started to Google. I
spent hours researching cardiac programs and learned that Boston is the
number one program in the country. We called Boston and made
appointments. We flew to Boston before the March Blizzard. The entire experience
was a complete 180 from Atlanta. They were kind, and they were hopeful.
When asked if they thought she would survive the doctor said, “Well, I would
be surprised if she didn’t.” The nurse practitioner pulled out a pamphlet she
had put together for families and said, “You see this girl? Her name is Mia.
She is 5 years old and has the exact condition that your daughter has.
Atlanta contacted me and wanted me to meet with the new surgeon
they had just acquired from Texas Children’s Hospital. Michael and I reluctantly
went. Dr. Dean McKenzie, I had researched everything I could
find about him. From all that I could find, he was incredible. He was a
published doctor, and the statistics Texas Children’s hospital published
indicated that he had great outcomes for his patients. Surgeons are not
always the nicest people. Many can be rude and arrogant
Dr. McKenzie was different, he was quiet, he was humble, and
he took time with us. He told us he would approach Laura Kate’s surgery
differently from Boston. I asked him, “Can you guarantee me that you would
do the surgery?” He said, “No because she is a baby and can come into this
world whenever she wants.” He was scheduled to be on vacation the week
after my c-section. I now was confused and didn’t know what to do.
My uncle called me and said, “Saralyn what number is better 1 or 5? I
said, “One.” He said, “Saralyn, Boston is number one. There is no question, you go
to the best. You go to number one.”
I researched housing. A month’s stay in Boston was three times our
mortgage, and we needed to stay for at least two months according to the
hospital. I found an Air BnB and shared my story with the owner.
I booked on my credit card but still had an uneasy feeling about how we
were actually going to accomplish all of this. I scheduled a C-section for
June 19th and a doctor’s appointment the week before. All the while I
prayed to God that if I’m supposed to stay here to make it impossible for me to
get to Boston.
In April, I was at the Elephant Trunk in Athens. The saleslady could
tell I was expecting and struck up a conversation. I told her I’m wasn’t buying
for my baby yet, but I was looking for my niece. I said my baby is going to have
a challenging start to life, and we learned that she is going to need heart
surgery. She said, “Does she have hypoplastic left heart syndrome?” My
mouth opened wide, and you could have picked me up off the floor. I said, “No, it’s
the right side, but how in the world do you know about this condition?” She said
“Well the owner’s granddaughter has it. She has been through three
surgeries, and you would never know a thing was wrong with her. (God
Memorial Day weekend, I thought I was having contractions. I called
the doctor’s office on Memorial Day and was told, “No you aren’t in labor. Just take a
nap.” I had an appointment scheduled for Tuesday. My blood pressure was
going nuts, and the doctor sent me to the Hospital to get monitored.
She said, “If you are going to Boston, you need to go this weekend.”
I went to the hospital, spent an hour in a bed, and then was released.
They echoed the doctor’s sentiments. “You have time but get to Boston by
the weekend.” I went back to work and called Boston. I rescheduled my
appointments for a week earlier. I went home that afternoon and was
talking with my mom on the phone. I asked if she thought I needed to be in
Boston. She said, “Saralyn, all signs are pointing to Boston. There is no
About an hour later I stood u, and my water broke. I called my doctor, and
he said, “I’ll meet you at the hospital. My brain thankfully went into survival mode.
The triage nurse who had seen me earlier that day dropped her
mouth open when they wheeled me in. She said, “I can’t believe it. I’m so
sorry.” I went to the operating room and within a few minutes, Laura Kate
was born. She didn’t cry initially, but then we heard that glorious sound. I
got to touch her, give her a kiss, and she was whisked away. After some time in recovery,
I was sent to a private room. My nurse asked me about the baby’s conditions and when I told her
she said, “Oh my brother has that. He is 29 and doing amazing. All of his surgeries were in
Atlanta.” (God Wink)
Michael went with Laura Kate and bless Charles’ heart, he had come
to the hospital and spent hours talking to me about mindless things to
distract me. Finally, I was able to go to the NICU and see her. Sibley Heart
Center had sent a doctor to examine her. I immediately asked the doctor,
now Dr. McKenzie will be the one to operate right? She said ma’am I do not
know.” I said, “Well, that’s not an answer.” I said, “Dr. McKenzie will be the one
to operate?” She saw she wasn’t going to win this battle and said, “Yes
ma’am; he will.”
I was stuck in hospital, and my baby was sent to Atlanta the next
morning. Laura Kate’s first nurse happened to have worked with Dr.
McKenzie in Texas. I could call her for updates, and she was the most
reassuring person talking about what an amazing surgeon he was. (God
Wink) Six days after her birth, I kissed my baby girl, told her that I loved her, and
watched as they wheeled her off for the doctor to operate on a heart that
was the size of a strawberry.
I could spend hours telling you about the hospital, amazing nurses,
people that God sent into my life that were the hands and feet of Jesus.
Ups and downs, highs and lows and a journey I did not think I could survive
is a memory now. Laura Kate is a miracle. She is blessing from God. Every time I see
her smile my heart flutters. From this tragedy of a diagnosis, God
reminded me and showed me He was always in control. One of those
down days in the hospital, I was throwing myself a pity party. I then
grabbed out an envelope and began to write down all of the God winks I
experienced. He was always there.
Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one
who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by
his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
Thanks for reading today. We hope it was a blessing to you.