A letter to Kristen

Today, I found a short letter I wrote to Kristen while she was in surgery:
August 14, 2009

My dear sweet Kristen,

We are waiting now as the surgeons are removing the lower lobe of your right lung. Hugs and kisses in the hallway were hard to do because I knew it meant they would be taking you away to the operating room.

We continue to pray for you, as do so many others. You are so loved, my sweet baby!

Your sisters miss you and send their love. Daddy got you a very cute Curious George monkey to bring to you after your surgery. George is wearing a bright yellow hat!

All my love,
I’ve sat down many times to try to put into words all we’ve experienced over these last days…it’s so difficult, yet I feel the need to do it. Three weeks ago at this time, we had arrived in the waiting room at Children’s Mercy. I left to find something to eat at the nearby snack bar since we had not had lunch yet. One of us had to remain in the waiting room at all times. After I returned with a little something to eat, Will left in search of some food. We ate together and talked for while. A nurse called at 3:35 to let us know that they had started the operation. We prayed and talked and made plans to add “Dinner with Mom” and “Dinner with Dad” on the calendar for both Emily and Grace. We wanted them to have individual time with each of us and realized that if it wasn’t on the calendar, it often got pushed to the side. We talked about family game nights, movie nights, ideas for family prayer and devotions. We made plans for the girls’ upcoming birthdays and talked about dates for Kristen’s baptism. We got a call from the nurse at 4:45 that the surgery was going well and should be done in another hour or so. The next call we got was puzzling.

In the waiting room, they will call your name when there’s an update on your child. They direct you to one of four small rooms with a phone, and you wait for the phone to ring to talk with the nurse. We’d already gotten two of those calls…one to let us know they were actually starting the surgery and another to let us know it was going well. This third time, we went to the appointed room, but the phone never rang. After several minutes, a chaplain came in and told us that Kristen had coded and that we needed to wait there. From that point on, I lost all sense of time.

The surgeon came in and told us that the team was still working on her, but that it didn’t look good. The surgery had gone picture perfect up until the very last step. The most difficult part was over and all that remained was to clamp off a vein, snip it and close up. Here’s where things went very wrong. The clamp applier malfunctioned, causing the clamp to scissor a bit on that vein. Dr. St. Peter pulled the vein taut and put another clamp right above the bad one. It scissored as well, the vein tore, and blood went everywhere. He did what he could, but there was no more vein to work with...they were right at the heart. A cardiac surgeon came in, oversewed the spot and did get the bleeding stopped, but Kristen had lost a lot of blood. Her heart emptied out at one point and she coded twice. All in all, they did chest compressions on her for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Blood was moving the entire time, and they hoped it would be enough to get sufficient oxygen to her brain, but they weren’t optimistic.

Will’s sister, Joy, had come up to the hospital, as had our dear friends, Robert and Andrea. We all waited in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) waiting area for what seemed an eternity. The area was full of people (and noisy children), but we weren’t able to even see Kristen until well after 9:00 p.m. She was very swollen and had tubes everywhere. We prayed over her and cried and asked God to restore her.

I've already written about the next days, as we waited to see the extent of the damage to her brain. I'll save the account of her last day on this earth for another time. It's incredibly sad and amazingly beautiful, all at the same time.

God bless you all,


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