The old, weathered baseball on our mantle… Some things are meant to be.

We have an old, weathered baseball with faded writing sitting in a glass case on our mantle. We love it when people ask “What’s with the ball?” They expect it to be valuable, autographed by one of the greats, or hear a story of how that ball made it’s way to the bleachers during a big, important game. But that’s not the story of the baseball that sits on our mantle. The story is simply this: On a sunny summer day back on June 20, 1972, my husband (then 13) was playing baseball with his little league team. It was that day he hit a home run… His team cheered and he beamed as he wrote “1st Home Run June 20, 1972” in red and green marker on the special ball. It would be the first, and last, home run in his short-lived baseball career, which gave way to his true love, football, the following year. Soooo…. That’s it? Well, no. Shortly after Mike and I met we discovered that day was a special day we both shared. It was the day I was born. Indeed on that sunny summer day on June 20, 1972, when Mike thought he had scored his “1st Home Run” 32 years later he would find out that day he’d hit a double.

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Life, for us, is just like that. We try to put a round peg in a round hole and it just won’t work, then a square peg slips right in when we’re not even trying. We had both given up meeting the right person when fate would have us meet, quite by chance. We lived 2000 miles apart and only saw each other a total of 15 days over the course of 9 months, but on the 16th day we were married, and we are still ridiculously in love. It shouldn’t have worked out, but it did. All the stressful times we’ve been through since then only make us stronger as we learn and grow from life’s challenges, knowing everything will work itself out… Eventually! Our kids think it’s pretty icky how we’re still like honeymooners. We consider it a bonus that making them run from the room and set about doing their chores is as simple as slow dancing to Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” in the kitchen. No yelling needed.

As we were in the midst of loading the rental truck we discovered moving a piano is a lot like life. We were trying to move my heavy, old piano (which was hell, thanks for asking) and we just couldn’t budge the darn thing. The wheels were sinking into the carpet and I felt like we’d have more luck dragging an elephant out of the room. Then we stopped and both slid down the side of it in frustrated exhaustion. And what should happen? The piano starts rolling slowly toward the door from us leaning against it. Gravity, physics, yes, those played their part. There has to be action to get a reaction without a doubt. But seriously, we ended up just sitting and pushing with our backs up against it until it was out the door and in no time it was on the moving truck. That’s how life feels at the best of times for us. Dying of thirst one minute, drowning in water the next. What happens when we ignore these subtle doors that open? We get our asses knocked out the window.

Like a few short months ago when we were struggling to force things to work, miserable, broke, and hope waning…. And then we opened our eyes to what had been creeping into our hearts and minds, said some prayers, and threw ourselves head first into moving to Saskatchewan with little more than faith, hope and the belief this was where we were supposed to be. At least for now. Explaining this to our kids isn’t easy, but we know that we’re doing the right thing and we’ll just have faith a great family counsellor is waiting for us in our new town. ; )

I could give so many more examples, but the point isn’t to convince someone… You need to figure that out for yourself. Oh, and disclaimer: That doesn’t mean the tragedies in life are “meant to be” (just throwing that out there before I get any hate mail!) As my step-daughter Gracie always says “What He leads you to, He’ll lead you through”. It’s also not about sitting at home and waiting for the doorbell to ring and ” hello, it’s life handing you the things you need”. Dreams only come true when you wake up and chase them. But if you’re fighting and not getting anywhere I suggest spending some time soul searching and really opening yourself up to what the bigger plan is for you. Just my opinion. Feel free to treat it like an apple: look at it, throw it away, take a bite & spit it out, or take it all in. Your choice. My blog is simply about being totally open and honest about myself and my life and whatever random thoughts come to mind. (And they are definitely random!) Now I’m off to take a look at my new visual board. I highly recommend one if you don’t have one. That also keeps you focused on life’s priorities, dreams and goals.

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Our Story: My Thank you to the Heart & Stroke Foundation

Our Story, as shared at a Volunteer Rally in Vancouver for the Heart & Stroke Foundation:

Thank you for the opportunity to be here tonight to share how our lives have forever been changed by the Heart & Stroke Foundation. Our story isn’t unique, it didn’t make headlines, life went on around us…. But that in itself is a testament to the remarkable advances made by the Heart & Stroke Foundation & the commitment of volunteers like you. The silent, difficult & sometimes thankless efforts over the years have given so many of us the ability to make death wait that the extraordinary has begun to seem ordinary. With so much work still to be done I hope our experience will help encourage others to support the HSFC & ensure the lifesaving research, education & advocacy isn’t taken for granted, the way we did until my husband Michael’s life depended on it January 4, 2011.

Michael was a businessman & paid volunteer firefighter/paramedic in Wisconsin when I met him by chance while on a business trip to the States. The following month we had a chance to spend a few days together and when I left for Canada, I was so miserable without him, despite all that life had to offer at home. Looking back, I realize the moment I knew he was the one was when he sent his favorite broken-in firefighter t-shirt for me to wear around the house, because even though I was at home when the package arrived in the mail, I felt desperately homesick. I then realized “home” meant him. It still does.

On the 3rd weekend together we were engaged and six months later, after 5 visits & a total of 12 days together, we were married & we’ve never looked back. From immigration woes, work, a family that would grow to include 7 children, we felt we had everything even when we had nothing.

On January 3, 2011, Michael was feeling off, and even though he assured me it was nothing, being sick on any level was unusual for him. Even with all of the kids & I taking turns with the seemingly endless cycle of cold & flu he was never sick and always erred on the side of caution when it came to healthcare issues. I was exhausted so after reassuring me once more he was fine I went to bed. At 2 a.m. I went upstairs, barely awake, to check on him. He said a pain in his left arm was bothering him. I became concerned once again, but he said he was monitoring it & if it got any worse he would go the ER. At 4:19 am he came downstairs & kissed me good-bye & said he was going to the hospital. I told him to call when he got there so I knew he was ok. I was trying so hard to wake up, knowing I needed to go with him, sensing something was really wrong, but after endless 60 hour weeks at work, late nights over Christmas & being up many nights with kids I was stuck in a state of conscious sleep.

To this day there is no regret that even comes close to what I feel when I look back over the events of that night. At 4:20am I was startled awake by a huge crash. A few feet from our bedroom was our front door, and just outside was where Michael had collapsed from a massive heart attack. His head miraculously landed on the soft padding of a child’s car seat we’d left out in the driveway. His arms were straight out to the side, his eyes were open, & he was making gasping sounds. He was unresponsive, I called 9-11. The operator asked me to tell him every time Michael took a breath, but he wasn’t breathing – Michael took one final gasp of air, and then nothing. I couldn’t find a pulse. The operator asked me if I knew CPR – I did, I had taken first aid 4-5 times in the past 10 years. For the next 8 minutes the operator counted me through the 100 compressions every 60 seconds required. It was all I could do to focus on the counting & not my husband as he lay there lifeless. I broke down once, putting my head to his chest, which had always been my safe place. I remember the awful feeling of the cold, dark street – I was alone & my husband was dying. I could hear the fire engine in the distance, it felt like an eternity before they arrived, 2 of them jumping off the truck before it came to a stop, seeing the state Michael was in. I know how strong the bond is between firefighters & paramedics, so I told them to treat him as they would one of their own & went inside. They used the defibrillator twice before Advanced Life Services arrived.

One of the paramedics came inside as they were preparing to leave for RCH. He had a very weak pulse, but they couldn’t promise me anything. He was already showing signs of posturing indicating brain damage. I got to kiss him good-bye before they left with him. I left shortly after to meet them at the hospital. I stopped at the end of our driveway & stared at our house trying to stop time. It was still a home, I was still married, I had a husband & my children had a father. I was afraid to drive away thinking the next time I see this house I may be a widow & I will have to find the words to tell our kids their father is gone. At the hospital I was handed a large bag of Michael’s clothes. I sat in the long empty hall & pulled his t-shirt out of the bag, it was his favorite green bay packers t-shirt, it was cut into pieces. I held it so tight I could hardly breathe & felt homesick, just like when we first met.

The doctor advised Michael’s condition was stabilized following a massive heart attack, with the left artery having a sudden 100% blockage, which was treated with a shunt. He was placed in a medical coma for the next 24 hours with therapeutic hypothermia. Following that it would be a matter of time to see if he could wake up on his own, and after 4 days they would perform an EKG to see what, if any, brain function he had left at that time. I stayed for some time, then went home to be with our kids. We dragged the kids mattresses into the living room that night & we all slept there, not knowing how to manage without Michael there.

I don’t know what time it was the next day when I got a frantic call from a nurse in ICU. Michael had woken up on his own shortly after they removed the medication. He was scared, confused, but he was awake & could respond to the doctor. That was the first of many times I heard him referred to as “Miracle Mike”. I took a few extra minutes to put on make-up before I left – If he didn’t remember me I thought I should make sure he at least found me attractive when he saw me. After 2 tiring days of 4 nurses wrestling to keep him from pulling out his oxygen tubes they removed them. The first 3 things he said were I love you, Am I going to die, and Can you call my boss & tell him I won’t be in the office tomorrow.

For the next few weeks so many doctors & students stopped by to see Miracle Mike. After 2 weeks his memory was showing enough improvement & despite the pain of some broken ribs, a sore shoulder & general complaints he was able to come home, and after 6 weeks he was back at work.

We were told during Mike’s hospital stay that his chances of surviving were about 3%, with proper CPR the chance of survival increased, early defibrillation & advanced life support as he received it increased his survival upwards of 75%. The care he received, including therapeutic hypothermia, furthered the amazing outcome. What we didn’t fully appreciate until much later was that each of the areas crucial to Michael’s survival & neurological recovery would not be what they are today without the HSFC. The guidelines for CPR & Emergency Cardiac Care were developed by HSFC in collaboration with the AHA. HSFC is also a founding member of the Int’l Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR) without it’s advice, many life saving practices such as therapeutic hypothermia, would not be propelled into common practices.

For most people the story ends when you leave the hospital, but it’s a difficult journey back to a normal life. We were given some great education, provided by the HSFC, while in the hospital & received additional resources to help us once we were home. I had to learn to rethink my entire approach to healthy eating. At times it was terribly overwhelming & frustrating. Michael doesn’t remember anything from the week leading up to his heart attack, so he was ready to move on with his life & I was stuck on trying to get past the reliving January 4, 2011.

Once back at work we continued to share our experience with those around us, encouraging others to take CPR, know the signs of heart & Stroke, support HSFC. Within 2 months of his heart attack a female colleague of mine recognized the warning signs of a heart attack, received immediate help, and was treated successfully. The following month another colleague wasn’t as fortunate. Her husband passed away from a heart attack in his sleep. We continue to be grateful for all of the ways HSFC unknowingly helped us make death wait.

Picture: Abigail listening to daddy’s heart working as he recovered in-hospital.

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