For most expectant moms the 20 weeks ultrasound is where they find out the baby’s gender. That’s all that Lora Kendrick had on her mind when she and her husband Morgan had their ultrasound with their second child. It never even crossed their mind that anything would be abnormal. As the tech did the exam everything seemed fine but Lora says “When the doctor walked in the door and I saw the way she looked at me my heart dropped. I will never forget it. I knew right then that something was wrong. My whole body felt it before she said a word”.
That’s when they learned that only half of their daughter’s heart was developing. There were other complications too. At the time they were referred to a prenatal specialist and they were given no guarantee that their daughter would make it to term.
The rest of the pregnancy was uneventful. There were lots of ultrasounds and testing. They determined that there weren’t any chromosomal abnormalities so all they were left to do was wait and see.
Baby Mya was born in March of 2010. She had surgery when she was a week old which they were prepared for. What they were not prepared for was that she almost lost her life on the operating table. Mya was put on life support and immediately added to the list for a heart transplant. When they were allowed to go back to Mya’s room they were overwhelmed by what they saw. It was actually two hospital rooms connected that were both full of machines and in the middle of it was a tiny 6 pound baby that those machines were working to keep alive. Lora describes it as an out of body experience. They were given pagers and told to keep the pager and their phones nearby at all times in case there was news of a heart because if a heart came in they would need to act quickly.
They struggled to keep their heads above water in the midst of this devastating turn of events. Thankfully they were surrounded by friends and family that were there to pray with them, cry with them and help with their 3 year old son. It had been over a month of waiting and Mya’s health was taking a turn for the worse. No one knew exactly how long she could live without the heart transplant, but something needed to happen soon! Her liver and kidneys were struggling. She looked very yellow. Lora was pumping milk to give her via a dropper into her feeding tube but Mya’s stomach was no longer able take in the milk and she would instantly vomit it up. They would later discover that she lost her hearing too.
Everyone knew time was short. It had been 8 weeks since Mya’s birth and one night they were back at home with their 3 year old getting ready for bed and Lora looked at her husband Morgan and said “If we get a call don’t get too excited because they might be calling to say that she is getting sicker and that we need to come in.” The phone rang at 2:00 am and it was Karen, their transplant coordinator. Morgan answered and said, “Karen, Please tell me this is a good phone call”. Lora looked at him with anticipation. They both held their breath and the response on the other end of the line was “I only make the good phone calls. We have a heart. We’ll go into surgery by 7:00 am so get down here.”
Lora was shaking as she jumped out of bed and immediately called her sister to come down to watch her son. She started texting and calling everyone in the middle of the night. It’s been 8 years since that life-altering moment but Lora remembers every detail and as she recounts them all, tears of joy flow down her face. Everyone was celebrating and giving praise to God. When they arrived at the hospital all the nurses were there outside of Mya’s room to greet them and hug them. But Lora pauses before she explains “It was the most bizarre feeling because it was the best day of our lives. Our baby was about to die and all of the sudden with this one phone call now she is going to live and this other family is at the absolute worst moment of their entire lives. They will never have a moment worse than that because it was their child and the heart had to belong to a child younger than 12 months old. I felt like my emotions were going in every direction possible. I hate to even go through thoughts like this, but then I think, well that family had to go through it so I can a least take a minute to think about what had to happen. To let my mind consider what they were feeling and to honor their loss.”
The Kendricks have written letters to the donor’s family to express their gratitude and give reports about how well Mya is doing. They do not have any information on the family and the family does not have information on them. All communication is sent through an agency. The Kendricks receive confirmation about whether or not the letter is accepted and that is the extent of it. Because of the sensitive nature of being an organ donor things can get complicated, especially if someone were to feel like they had some ownership of an organ recipient. So the whole exchange is done in a professional, formal manner.
Even though the heart transplant for Mya was a success the entire process is a long road and it is not a permanent solution.
The first time Mya was ever outside of the hospital was when she was 9 months old. When she came home she was hooked to a trach, a feeding tube, a PICC line, a ventilator and more. Lora describes that time as physically and emotionally exhausting.
Thankfully Mya lives a pretty typical life now. She does have regular checkups to make sure her heart and body are still healthy and within the next 20 years she will need a new heart. She is a little warrior though. She has had to work twice as hard as anyone to eat real food, take her first steps, say her first words and do all the things we take for granted. She is victorious though. Little Mya approaches each hurdle with a smile on her face and in turn brings smiles to the faces of everyone around her.
It might seem contradictory to describe her as a warrior and a little ray of sunshine but if you know Mya you will see that she is 100% both. She is about to be 8 years old and this spring Mya will graduate from her deaf school and finally be able to attend elementary school at her local school district. It’s a very exciting year for their family.
Looking back at the journey Lora knows that she could have never done this alone. In the middle of those days that were just a blur of emotions and motions going back and forth up and down, she knows God gave her the grace and the peace that she needed to get through it. She also shares how her husband became her survival partner. Even though marriage seemed like something that they couldn’t give any focus to in the midst of the craziness, they chose to make their relationship a priority and it’s why they have made it this far. Lora also gives credit to family. Their family was there to take care of their son while they were in the hospital or to stay with Mya in the hospital when they couldn’t. Family (and friends that are like family) were the glue that held everything together when it could have so easily fallen apart.
To this day the Kendricks value their faith, their marriage, their family and friends more than anything else in this world. It was a tough learning experience for sure, but one that has taught them more in 8 years than most people will ever figure out in 80 years. They are stronger and closer than ever and no matter what comes their way they are ready to face it together.
*** If you would like to be an organ donor be sure to talk to your spouse and loved ones. Even if it is on your driver’s license your closest family member will need to say yes. It is a difficult conversation to have but Lora encourages families to think about it and consider testimonies of families like the Kendricks who have been impacted by this gift of life.***