The Heart of Sam; a gut-wrenching crisis

Judy, Jesse, and Sam, the "rock star."
Judy, Jesse, and Sam, the “rock star.”

Today is a day when all you have are “Whys?” and your soul feels so heavy within you, it’s as if, in itself, it’s dragging your body around. I got some terrifying news this evening. A very dear friend’s son is having his heart removed tomorrow. It will be replaced with a mechanical one. He’s only 17 years old! A piece of technology will take the place of flesh and blood.

For two days after his surgery, his chest needs to remain open so that the doctors can monitor how the mechanical heart is functioning. He will be conscience during that time, and he told his mother bravely on the phone tonight that she needs to prepare herself for when she comes to see him after the surgery — that his heart will be exposed, chest open, tubes attached, medications flowing.

He’ll stay in the hospital for up to a one month before being released back home, under the care of his mother. She’ll have to keep him monitored and make sure they don’t lose electricity for any reason—his heart batteries may stop if that happened. The stress of that responsibility is too intense; I can’t fathom being in her shoes. She’s going to do all she can to help her son in this process of waiting for a new, “real” heart someday.

Our friendship spans more than two decades, as I’ve known Judy since we got both got married over 20-years ago. We were pregnant at the same time. She had Sam three months before I had my daughter. There is a photo of our babies, doing floor time together, laying on their backs, looking up at their mommas. Sam was a big baby and Misha was a premie. The sight of the two together really showed their size differences! I can see it so clearly in my mind; seems just a moment ago, and yet a lifetime ago.

She called me tonight, even though I now live two-thousand miles away. The pressure she’s been under is more than anyone should endure. Her husband left her a couple years back, and after a nasty break-up, he won’t help her in this situation. He’s bitter, self-involved, and a fool! He can’t put his feelings about her aside to help his own son! It’s beyond belief. So she’s dealing with this crisis while caring for her other son, a 7th grader, as a single mom. She’s trying to keep her job, which has the medical insurance she so desperately needs right now, even though she’s spent so much time away from work already. Sam got sick a few months back.

How did this happen? A sinus infection somehow made it’s way into Sam’s heart, and began destroying it. (I didn’t even know that was possible.) Most of the tissue is dead now, and that’s why they’ve got to replace his big, loving, kind heart. But this device will never replace that part of Sam; a mechanical heart can never take that away.

When Sam was first rushed to the hospital several months ago, his body was so stressed he had a stroke, and a blot clot landed behind one of his eyes. Now he can’t see out of that eye, and the other one has been severely limited in its seeing ability. Now he’s partially blind. Blind with a mechanical heart. He can’t see well, but he sees clearly. He can’t have a flesh heart now, but his heart will always be a heart of flesh – one that cares deeply.

Sam has put on a lot of water weight because his heart can’t pump strongly enough to flush his system properly. He has a bad case of edema. Sam is a big young man, and so far, no heart has been available for transplant that is the right size to pump enough blood through his entire body. That is why they must replace it with a mechanical one now – they can’t keep waiting. At least they have this new technology, but the risks are high. It’s a very dangerous operation and the results can be amazing or devastating. Only God knows the outcome.

So, I wept on the phone with my friend tonight, as her voice shook and she told me she had no solid ground to stand on, as she felt like her world was spinning out of control. How does a mom do this? I don’t know. What can I tell her? I don’t know. I just listened, loved and promised prayers.

We cling to each other, we cling to our faith, and we cling to hope because we have to—there is no other place to go. Hope keeps us alive, and hope makes us strive for a better tomorrow. We hope, we pray, and we cling to each other. This is the story of humanity, after all.

(Read more about Sam on Facebook: