Once a Heart Mom…

Once a Heart Mom, always a Heart Mom.

Even after your Cardiac Kid survives that first surgery (or surgeries), stabilizes, and seems to be doing well, the Heart Mom gene never turns off. It goes into “Standby Mode” – not completely deactivated, but just below the surface. Your senses will always be heightened, always aware of any change in your child’s condition.

The doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital had told my parents that if I had any more problems caused by my heart, they would most likely happen in about ten years. Their prediction was almost perfect – I stated having trouble 10 years and one week after my first surgery.

I was 11 years old and in the 5th grade at school, on a cold February day. I was sitting with my back to the wall of the school (I had learned that the wall faced the sun so no matter the temperature, it would be warm!) drawing with my best friend. Neither one of us could draw a straight line – I still can’t – but we were certainly trying!

My stomach had been doing flip-flops all morning. I didn’t feel bad, other than my stomach. But something was really giving it a fit – finally it came to the point that I turned my head, leaned over and puked.

It was all blood.

My friend said that I might need to go to the office (Yeah! I think so, too!) so I did. They called the local Rescue Squad, then called my mom.

The volunteer Rescue Squad building was only 2 miles away, but the members were spread out all over my hometown. They were pretty quick; just a year or two earlier they had won an award for being the best small Rescue Squad unit in the state, but they were still all volunteer. Once you dialed the emergency number – and this was 1977, before 9-1-1 was in use – whomever was on duty had to take the information and then press the big red button on the radio. That caused all the beepers carried by Rescue Squad members to go off. They would then leave their jobs and hurry to the Rescue Squad building, get the ambulance, and speed off. It was usually ten to fifteen minutes from the time you placed the call until you first heard the ambulance siren.

My mom got the call at work, twenty-five miles away. Suddenly her Heart Mom gene flipped to ON and she barely remembers what happened next.

What happened was she ran to the car – an older AMC Ambassador – and put her foot on the floor. Pedal to the metal with the engine screaming, the best cars and drivers that NASCAR has to offer could not have beat momma that day. She drove that AMC Ambassador twenty five miles in a little more than twenty minutes, arriving just behind the ambulance. The ambulance parked in the parking spot nearest the door, but momma skidded to a stop with two wheels on the sidewalk!

Daddy hadn’t arrived yet when I left in the ambulance, but momma was going with me and there was no question about it. She jumped into the ambulance as  they loaded me in, and soon we were moving. The last view I had before they shut the doors was of our car, still sitting there with two wheels on the sidewalk.

How are they going to load the buses? When you are 11 years old these questions are important.

That ambulance ride ended at our community hospital, but my journey would continue to a larger hospital and from there to the University of Alabama at Birmingham for my second heart operation. Mom and Dad were there every step of the way. I’m doing well now, and Momma’s Heart Mom instincts usually don’t come into play. I can still set them off – just let me forget to set my alarm clock and not get up at my usual time!

Once you are a Heart Mom, you’ll always be a Heart Mom. No matter how old your Cardiac Kid (or Heart Warrior) is!

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10 Responses to “Once a Heart Mom…”

  1. Gina Dyke Says:

    Cheers to that! Every time I hear an ambulance I have to remind myself that it might not be heading to my son’s daycare or preschool!

  2. Sue Says:

    We are in the path of the helicopters that come in to our town’s hospital and I often think of the three life flights Mackenzie has had from here – one with her in my belly still and two others with her on her own and us following in our car. I am hoping to never be in that situation again, but I say a little prayer for whoever is in that helicopter whenever I hear it fly overhead.

  3. rhonda Says:

    I seriously don’t think I know how to not be in heart mommy mode..I probally worry myself way to much. In fact I think now I am having post traumatic stress from Zeb’s recent surgery. It is a hard job being a heart mom…You can see your child’s booboos if they fall and scrape their leg but you can’t see inside their heart. It is the reason I have more gray hairs everyday and even when they are slightly not their self for the day, you freak out. I just pray everyday for God to give me Grace, not to go completely nuts!!! I understand Sue’s comment completely and Gina…I can’t stand to hear a Helicopter anymore at all…when you experience your baby being Lifeflighted that is not a sound you ever want to hear again.


  4. Katie Says:

    I loved this post Steve! I often wonder how did the heart mom’s do it back then? The worry they must have felt had to be tremendous…with little to no support, lack of resources, and little to no data to determine and predict their child’s future. Now we have that support and data and it’s still very scary at times. I love your description of her driving to your school and up onto the curb. Way to go mom 🙂 Nothing will stop a heart momma!!!

  5. Christy Says:

    Dear Steve,

    I have never responded before even though many many of your entries deeply touch me. Thank you so much for writing about this to give us moms hope that our little heart warriors may live to do the same someday. Being a heart mom can be a very very lonely place to be and we need to know others can understand all that we go through. Well done!


  6. Taylor Says:

    Too funny, & true. I’m 41 years old with tricuspid atresia. I’ve just arrived in chicago for my annual dr.’s visit and my mom says to me this morning, “I’m not there with you. Are you going to tell the doctor everything that’s been going on?”. “Yes, mom. My husband is here, he’ll make sure.”

  7. Carolyn Compton Says:

    Just when I thought you’d told all your stories….awesome! two wheels!

  8. Amy Says:

    My precious son died from complex CHD two weeks before his third birthday on 10/31/08. I have two healthy children and I am still a heart mommy because I never take anything for granted after Jack’s death and I am always worried that something will happen and I will have to bury my other children. Once you experience the pain of the death of your child it is always with you.

    God bless all of you heart moms and dads!

    • Steve Says:


      I am so sorry for your loss. And yes, you are (and will always be) a Heart Mom – you’ve fought this battle, too.


  9. Jana Says:

    Thanks Steve for this… not only because it give me faith that as a Heart Mom my instincts and reactions are similar to other Moms. But also because I know that my Heart Warrior will always know Mom is fighting the fight with him.

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