Ronan and I went to the park yesterday with some neighbors. We brought a picnic lunch and a blanket, and planned to hang around outside for a couple of hours. With Ronan routinely missing his morning nap lately, I wasn’t very optimistic of a great trip, but I had my fingers crossed and hoped for the best.
We got to the park and set up. Ronan immediately set off, exploring. He has absolutely no fear, and will pick one direction and walk until he can go no farther. He never even looks back. I spend most of the time at the park following him until he gets too far away, and then bringing him back to the playground area.
He also has no fear of people. He will walk up to a large group of parents watching their kids, and ingratiate himself without a second thought; he starts playing with toys, talking to kids, and picking up sippy cups. It’s a little awkward for me, when I can’t quite as easily slip into the group unnoticed, and remove him before he sets of the alarms off some other child.
At one point yesterday, Ronan walked up to a picnic table where a father and his sweet little girl sat. He placed himself between them, and started climbing up on the bench. The little girl laughed and said, “He wants to sit with us, daddy!” Ronan was about the same size as she was, and I couldn’t believe how well she could speak! I had seen her running around, and was impressed with her ability to climb, and go down slides by herself.
I walked up and introduced myself, telling them both that the little interloper was Ronan. The little girl got VERY shy at that point, and wouldn’t even look at me. Her father introduced himself as Curtis and told me her name was Isabelle. “Hi Isabelle! It’s really great to meet you,” I said. She didn’t look up.
I looked at her father. “How old is she?” He smiled, knowing that his answer was going to be hard to believe. “She’s four,” he told me.
I couldn’t believe it. Four years old? She was absolutely TINY, and I told him so. He sort of grinned, expecting my reaction, and told me she’d had some difficulty at birth. Her story was – and IS – absolutely incredible.
Isabelle was born 5 weeks early, and with leukemia. She was started on her first round of chemotherapy when she was only 4 weeks old – but being 5 weeks premature, she was on chemo even before her due date. The medicine was very strong for her tiny body, and she went into remission after the first round. However, despite the remission, she had to finish the chemo protocol, and was continued her regimen of medicine. One of the medicines she was on proved to be too powerful for her little body to handle, and it damaged her heart. Over the next three years, frequent echocardiograms followed her heart function as it declined – first from 60% to 30% and then down below 10%.
At that time, just before her 4th birthday, she was put on a transplant list. It took over 6 months for a heart to become available, all the while she was surviving with her cardiac output at 10% of normal. Her energy declined, and then her body started to do so. Finally, they were called – a heart was available, and it was hers.
One day after her transplant, she was a different girl, he told me. She was able to sit up on her own ONE DAY after her massive heart surgery. She started laughing again. She wanted to run again. I suddenly understood why he watched with such amazement and adoration as she ran around the playground. Her surgery was January 10th – 3 short months ago, and she had improved by leaps and bounds. With no sign of rejection, the possibilities now in front of her are limitless.
I can’t imagine the rollercoaster of emotions her parents have been on. To be told your child has cancer, and then to beat it. To be told her heart is failing, and then to fix it. To watch her blossom into a gorgeous, sweet, intelligent girl with a little spunk… I can’t imagine.
When I rose and took Ronan up with me, I told Isabelle we had to go, it was time for our nap. Until that point, she still hadn’t had the courage to look at me. But I guess any friend of her daddy’s was a friend of hers, because she flashed me a huge, gorgeous grin and said, “Bye Mandy! Bye Ronan!” and I saw all of her sparkle shine through. I could tell, in that moment, that Isabelle is a very special girl.
*names have been changed to protect identities.