It was the single most devastating moment of my life. Five years ago today my husband and I stood at the edge of an ICU bed where our youngest child lay. A machine breathed for her, 26 medicines (twenty-six!) dripped into her body, and her heart literally beat so hard and irregularly that her chest heaved.
The future looked bleak. None of the medical personnel around her bed would tell us it would be OK. In fact, we were told, “She is the sickest child in ICU.”
The next morning, though, things looked better. She was conscious, breathing on her own with a stable heartbeat. She is one of only 4% of children who have cardiac arrest and survive. She was a bit of an ICU rock star after that. Many doctors checked in on her the next weeks as she went through open heart surgery and they all said in one way or another, “You know, she’s only here because everyone did everything exactly right.”
I like to say it took a village to save my child. Her heart stopped beating in a pep rally at school. She collapsed at the feet of a visiting grandmother who teaches CPR. She recognized the signs and began CPR within seconds. Others joined her, beating Jenna’s heart, breathing into her lungs for 12 minutes. A student called 911 and the operator who answered knew our child. He called for help for a heart patient. Police officers at the gas station next door jumped a four foot fence to get to my child with that help. About 100 of the students chose not to head home, but instead went to the school practice field and prayed for their classmate.
A dozen or more people worked on her at the hospital, stabilizing Jenna before sending her off in a helicopter to Atlanta. In that helicopter, her heart again stopped beating – twice.
I can’t even count how many people it took to get us all through that crisis – not just restoring Jenna’s health, but in the days that followed when our life took a different direction and we all had to learn to live with a “new normal.”
Today, working in Circles, I don’t often see a crisis as intense as that day five years ago. But I do see lives full of the crises that accompany poverty – job loss, illness, broken cars and more. For most of our participants those crises have been faced alone, not with a community of support.
That’s what we do at Circles. We don’t give money, we don’t have jobs or houses. We do give support and encouragement. We have knowledge and skills to help people navigate their challenges. And, eventually, we are there to celebrate as they meet their goals and move closer to self-sufficiency. We are their “village.”
So today, I celebrate Jenna’s thriving life. And, I celebrate being part of an organization that offers a thriving life to so many.