Saturday, February 6, 2016

Day 6 - Rachel Hope McCary

Rachel’s Bucket List

Bucket Lists are for the dying… Not for 10 year old little girls! 

Nor should little girls ever write notes like this one, to be found on top of your Bible when you awaken in the morning. 

Lastly, that same little girl should never know what the letters DNR stand for, and never understand enough to hand her cardiologist a pen so that he could follow her wishes and sign one on her behalf.  Never…  

9 months are far too short to be cared for and loved by the mother to whom you were born.  The one that tried desperately to save your life, but obviously felt she couldn’t, before she wrapped you in a blanket and put you in a basket to be placed at the bus stop in front of Shanghai’s orphanage gates.  Time with her birth mother was far too short!...

6 years, 10 months, and 15 days are far too long to live in a lonely orphanage without a shred of hope, while you are dying of a broken heart without the love of a mother and father and the security of a loving home.  The same place where no one tucks you in at night, kisses your hurts, or holds you when you are afraid… where you are abused and exposed to things too horrid to even write about.  Hopeless for far too long!...  

3 years, 7 months, and 23 days are also far too long to wait for a new heart to replace your broken one, even when that wait includes a family that loves you, and the promises of a Savior who guarantee you an eternity with Him if that heart never comes.  Living with HOPE, yet dying for far too long!...

But all of these are a part of Rachel’s story, and without them we might miss the immeasurable miracles of this past year!   In the telling of her story, we can never forget that woven into its’ fabric is another story too.  The story of child, who’s dying meant that Rachel could live.  My heart weeps with the mother who yearns to hear the laughter of her son, or to kiss his hurts away once again.  Her time to raise the boy she gave birth to was far too short!... 

I am learning to lean with all my weaknesses on the sovereign strength of the God whom I love and can trust in all these things.  For reasons I will never know or understand, God chose to take the life of that little boy and give it to our daughter, Rachel.  This humbles me in ways I will never be able express, and as I share the miracle of 9 months ago and the days since then, that precious gift and the mother who entrusted it to us are never far from my thoughts.  In between every line of this miracle story is the memory of the precious hero God used to bring Rachel life.

9 months ago today, Rachel’s miracle finally arrived!  In the early hours of May 6, 2015, a heart was taken from a precious little boy who couldn’t hang on, and then transported in an ordinary cooler to the operating room where Rachel was waiting for her gift of life. 

The news came to us earlier that day through a Facetime call from Rachel’s cardiologist.  I was totally unsuspecting when I answered that call.  How could I not have guessed something was up?  But waiting for over 3 years had dulled any expectation of such news long ago!  I was speechless when asked how quickly I could gather our things and get to Gainesville for a new heart!?!  My husband happened to be on the other side of the world that day, ministering in the mountains of Northern India and Nepal. My mind raced, my hands shook and tears flowed as I dialed the phone to share the news with hubby, who I awoke from a sound sleep in his hotel room thousands of miles away.   Rachel was to arrive home from school within only minutes and her Daddy wanted to be the one to tell her the long awaited news.  Those moments of overwhelming joy are as clear in my memory as they were 9 months ago! 

We made it to the hospital within hours to prepare Rachel for her transplant.  Emotions swung wildly from incredible excitement to overwhelming fear with the realization that while these next hours could be the beginning of many more days and years together with Rachel, they could also be our last.  Signing the consent to receive this gift of life from a mother who had signed a form like it, as she prepared to give her own child’s heart away, was one of the most humbling and breathtaking moments of my 50 years.  Rachel looked on with nervous excitement… Should I sign?  She agreed that I should…  I did, as I whispered a quiet prayer to the God who had been holding the life of my daughter securely in His hands for almost 11 years.

News came at 11:30 PM that it was time to take Rachel to the operating room.  She was given the option of riding in a wheelchair or walking.  In her usual fashion, she chose to walk, accompanied by me, her brother, Ryan, and his sweet wife, Schaeffer, who came to support us since Daddy was so far away! 

We took selfies to break the tension, said our goodbyes and prayed together, before Rachel went through the doors we could not enter and took the long walk down the hall to the life changing surgery we had prayed would come in time.


At that point there was nothing I could do but wait.  I should be an expert at waiting by now, but this was a wait like none I had ever known.  Because Doug was still on the other side of the world trying to make his way home, I spent most of those hours of waiting alone.  This was by choice, so that I could spend that time with the Lord, while family and friends waited down the hall and tried to get some sleep.  I was exhausted, but could not even imagine closing my eyes for even a moment of sleep while my little girl was just a few floors below me being kept alive by machines as they removed her old heart to make way for the new.  There would be time to sleep later. 

I laid in the hospital room where Rachel would come to recover following transplant.  Words escaped me, even as I tried to pray, so I laid silently, as if in the Lord’s lap, while tears flowed freely.  There simply were no words I had not already spoken a million times covering those moments, and I felt a sweet peace as I rested in His arms.  A mother whom I did not know was covered in prayer after prayer, as her selfless act and broken heart invaded almost every single thought during those hours of waiting.  As my own heart leaped with excitement at the possibility of life for Rachel, I had a difficult time accepting that gift from another’s indescribable loss.  I suppose I will never be able to grasp this mystery or the pain surrounding it this side of heaven.  I am constantly reminded that my redemption and new life through Jesus Christ were given to me in much the same way, as it was only in His dying that I can truly live!  My only fitting response is one of overwhelming gratitude and a life lived to convey that.  Our lives could not possibly be long enough to display such thankfulness.  I suppose that is what eternity is for!

Word came around 1:30AM that Rachel’s new heart looked perfect and was being transported by plane to the Gainesville airport and then would be brought to the hospital via ambulance at about 4:30AM.  I gathered everyone and we went outside into the cold night outside the emergency room entrance to wait for the arrival of our precious gift.  I paced up and down the sidewalk as we waited.  My thoughts were only for the grieving mother, whose choice hours earlier had brought me to a place I so desperately longed to be.  She had released a part of herself that night, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else but right there to receive it when it arrived.

The ambulance finally rounded the corner and it was as if time stood still.  The surgeon carrying the heart emerged from the ambulance and we followed him and the cooler containing our precious gift down the hallway of the hospital until we could go no further and the transplant team got onto an elevator that would take the heart to the operating room where Rachel was waiting.  I was completely overcome by my emotions.  Thoughts of another child’s heart in that cooler and the mother who had willingly given it away overwhelmed me.  I slid down the wall onto the floor and quietly wept.  Some moments in life are simply too big for words.  That moment was one of them. 

Work to remove Rachel’s broken heart to replace it with the new began at 5 AM.  My phone rang about two hours later, with what I expected to be news that her new heart was in and beating.  Instead, I could hear the concern in the cardiologist voice immediately.  This was not the news I had hoped for!  We needed to pray, he said… really pray!  Rachel’s new heart was in and connected, but refused to beat as they expected it would when they attempted to turn down the bypass machines.  There was great concern in the operating room that the surgery that had gone so perfectly before, had taken a terrible turn for the worse.  The decision was made to allow the heart about 20 minutes to simply rest and acclimate to Rachel’s body temperature.  They would then try again, and if met with the same results would have to put her on the life support she had always been so against.  This outcome, following such a long wait for the perfect heart, seemed unacceptable to the team of people that had come to love Rachel so deeply.

I called Doug where he was waiting to board a plane to Paris.  He cried out to God for both of us with tears and words of pleading for the life of our daughter like I had never heard before.  We agreed together before we hung up, that we would humbly accept God’s sovereign plan for Rachel and let her go, should the heart not bring the life we hoped for.  I don’t remember breathing for those following 20 minutes.  They actually turned into 30 or 40 minutes before word finally came… The bypass machines were off and Rachel’s new heart was beating perfectly on it’s own!!!!  It would still be hours before surgery was complete and we could see her, but the joy and relief washed over all of us as we prepared for this beautiful new season of life we honestly thought would never come!

It has been 9 months since that day, and yet I still have not found words to write about seeing Rachel for the first time with a perfect heart beating inside of her, pumping life giving blood to every inch of her body, including her formally purple fingers and deep blue lips.  Word finally came that we could see her as she was waking up with her new heart.  I had no idea just how profound this experience would be, and was glad in retrospect that Ryan had been there when I literally went weak in the knees and fell into his arms with uncontrollable sobbing at the sight of her beautiful pink fingers and ruby red lips.  The beeping monitors beeped to the perfect rhythm of her new healthy heart.  It was like the playing of a beautiful song written to tell the story of this indescribable gift.  Rachel’s precious donor seemed almost present in the room and the unbelievable truth that death can be transformed into life when we are willing to give it away, could be heard in the steady beating of Rachel’s perfect new heart.  I could not stop thanking God for such a gift.  Those moments changed me.  I will never be the same!

Rachel began to wake, which is no surprise, since no medication has ever been able to keep her down!  As expected, she begged for water by mouthing the words around her breathing tube, but only after her valiant attempts to tell us again and again how much she loved us!  I gave her some water from a sponge and promised it wouldn’t be long before the breathing tube would be gone and a big glass of water could be her reward.  I was right, and within only hours, the ventilator tube was pulled and Rachel was free to race through recovery!

And race she did…  As if to show off all God can do, one miracle followed another, and then another, as tubes, and medication lines were disconnected one by one!  Only 24 hours after receiving her new heart, Rachel was sitting up in a chair next to her bed. Then walking the next day!  The chest drainage tubes were out in record time and only a few IVs remained.  I would not have believed any of it, had I not seen it with my own eyes.  A basketball hoop was brought into the room so that Rachel could show off her skills on the heels of such a miracle!  Transplant recovery is known as a bumpy road with many twists and turns, but Rachel’s recovery proved none of that to be true- at least not this time!  We can only give God glory for such a miracle! 

Within 8 days of recovery, the large majority of the transplant team said she looked so good she could go home.  Unfortunately, Dr Fricker (aka “The Boss” or Papa Fricker) didn’t want to “go crazy” after the slow start in the operating room and voted we stay for two weeks and go home after the first biopsy scheduled five days later.  We were in no position to complain, so we relented.  Rachel left the hospital 14 days after receiving her new heart and we went HOME! 

Other than a little problem with clotting at a connection site and the painful shots in her stomach twice a day to address that, (which she gave to herself!) Rachel’s recovery has been, by far, the easiest part of her journey thus far!  And the best part?... Each biopsy has come back with ZERO rejection! Rachel has been cleared to live her life any and every way she chooses to and you can bet SHE IS!!!

How I wish I could find her birth mother and tell her the miracle story she was a part of.  I want to tell her that her little girl is very much alive and living a life filled with HOPE!  I want her to know about a God so powerful that even the most impossible was made possible through Him!  I wish she could watch as the dying baby she left at that bus stop on March 28, 2005 checks off every imaginable dream from her Bucket List! 

Bucket lists are for the dying… but they are also for those, like our Rachel, that have been given a second chance to really LIVE!   Praise be to the God of second chances!


Lisa Advent said...

Praise God!!!! Beautiful post!

LisaE. said...

Rachel's story always brings me to tears, this time happy tears for her ability to fulfill her bucket list and for that note on your Bible to be set aside for quite a long time. Thanks for sharing more of Rachel and her faith filled story with us.

Andrea O. said...

Ah, Lori. There's so much to say. You were such a support to me during Rini's transplant time, and it has been nothing short of miraculous to watch Rachel receive her own gift.

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