When Nichole was born, she was a beautiful baby girl with birthmarks all over her face, above each eye, above her nose, above each ear, at the crown of her head, and the back of her neck. My grandmother referred to them as angel kisses. I think I have a photograph of her at that age, that shows them well. When she was a week old, I took her to my family doctor, who then sent us to a pediatrician, because Nichole was showing signs of being jaundiced. She had to spend some time under the bilirubin blanket. When she was a month old, I took her to the pediatrician for her one-month checkup, and the doctor was particularly concerned that the soft spot on her head was hardening and her head was expanding more than it should, giving her a little light-bulb look. We were sent to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. We met with a neurosurgeon named Edward Kosnik, who immediately took her for an MRI. She was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, and was taken promptly into surgery to place a shunt in the back of her head, with a drainage tube that led down into her stomach. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever had to put your 4 week old baby into the hands of strangers who were hell-bent on cutting into her head before, but for a mother this is absolutely terrifying. They left me in this tiny room that had an exam table and a rocking chair. As we waited for the surgical team to come and get Nichole, I sat in the rocking chair and held her tightly, and just cried. I was absolutely terrified. Anything could happen during a surgical procedure. ANYTHING!
After they took her to surgery, I happened to notice that there was a little brass plaque on the rocking chair. Now, I don’t know about all the hospitals around the country, but Nationwide Children’s Hospital has these little plaques everywhere. Some are attached to plastic wagons that parents use to pull their kiddos around the huge building. Some are attached to benches, some are attached to rocking chairs. Each of these plaques are printed with “Donated in Memory of….” and someone’s name that has passed on. The rocking chair that I was sitting in happened to say, “Donated in Memory of Barry Heagren” and Barry just happened to be my uncle. I picked up my cell phone and immediately called my grandmother, whom I lived with at the time. I told her about the chair and the plaque and she just cried right along with me. She told me that was a sign that Barry would be watching over Nichole. I prayed that was true. I needed that to be true.
Thank God everything went well with the surgery. Nichole and I spent a week at Children’s before finally getting released to go home. We had to return once a week for an MRI to watch that the shunt was continuing to work. We did that for a couple of months. When Nichole was about 3 months old, she had to have the shunt replaced, as it had quit working. Afterwards, we continued with the once a week MRIs for about a month before they released us to every other week, and then once a month, and then once every three months, and finally once every 6 months. Now, we’re at once every year, which we have been for years now.