I had a board meeting for the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Foundation today. It was a pretty big deal because Children’s Hospital of San Antonio announced its partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital at a press conference this morning. I feel like this is a wonderful thing for San Antonio and our community. How is it in a city of over a million people, we don’t have a dedicated, free-standing children’s hospital?
This is a question I have been asking myself for nine years. It’s been nine years since we found out our baby boy was going to be born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, the worst of all congenital heart defects.
Finding out your baby needs life-saving surgery at 32 weeks is no walk in the park. In a two-week time period, Kevin and I had familiarized ourselves with all the big names in congenital heart surgery. There were only a handful of doctors in the country who were qualified to do the kind of surgery Colman needed to survive. It was sheer good luck that one of those heart surgeons was here in San Antonio. I didn’t want to have to go to Houston, Boston or Philadelphia to try to fix Colman’s heart. I had a 19-month-old toddler and I was about to have a very sick newborn. The last thing I wanted to do was board a plane with no idea of when I might be able to return home.
Nine years ago, we met “Hope” in the form of a man named John Calhoon. I went into the interview with him, thinking, This is the man who has trained under Bill Norwood and has the training and expertise to rearrange my baby’s heart so it will be able to pump the oxygenated blood to his limbs. Those are the hands that will saw his bone, cut into his tiny, walnut-sized heart and then stitch back together his heart muscle that’s the consistency of wet toilet tissue.
I remember Kevin and I both feeling relieved when we left that interview. We had found our heart surgeon. I did not like the fact that Colman’s first surgery would be done at University Hospital, but the congenital heart program was in the process of moving and it would be fully functional at Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital in time for Colman’s second and third surgeries, if he made it that far, and I was happy about that. Maybe it’s because my cousin was treated for Leukemia at Santa Rosa when we were children, but I felt like I was coming home when I walked through those doors for the first time with Colman.
Even though all of Colman’s care will be in Houston from here on out, this children’s hospital is going to be a fantastic thing for San Antonio and South Texas. It will definitely bring the pediatric subspecialty doctors that the children of South Texas need so badly. And, who knows, in ten or fifteen years, maybe kids who need a heart transplant will be able to stay in San Antonio.
I’ve met a lot of cardiothoracic surgeons while traveling this road with Colman. Some of them I wouldn’t let touch my kid with a pair of tweezers. True story. That really happened. Others, I would let them operate on my kid in an emergency situation only, if there was no one else around, if it was our only option. I’ve never met another John Calhoon. I have spent the last seven months going back and forth to TCH, wishing that we had been able to get a pediatric heart transplant program off the ground here in San Antonio so when it came time to list Colman, we would be able to stay here together as a family, with our friends and Dr. Calhoon to do Colman’s surgery.
Today’s luncheon was full of people who were excited and energetic about what this partnership means to San Antonio. There were people there from CHRISTUS and TCH and BCM and I had the opportunity to meet Charles Fraser, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Texas Children’s Hospital. He was one of the surgeons on our initial list. I know many children personally who he’s operated on. As I shook his hand, I knew I’d met “Hope” again and I thought, This is the man who will take out Colman’s broken, swollen and enlarged heart, that looks like a piece of gristle, put it in a pan to send to pathology and replace it with a perfect heart. And it will beat.
(Thanks, Marcy, for the introduction!)
I felt honored and privileged to be a part of today. I am proud of CHRISTUS Santa Rosa and the steps they have taken to make a free-standing children’s hospital a reality for San Antonio.