2: Embracing a Second Chance

2: Embracing a Second Chance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Embracing a Second Chance

The most important thing in illness is never to lose heart.

~Nikolai Lenin

It was the end of July and Orlando was hot and humid. We sighed with relief as we settled into the air-conditioned three-bedroom rental. Lorenza and I claimed the master suite, his mother and sister, Michele, unpacked in their adjoining studio, and our young son asked, “Is it time to eat?” He grabbed his favorite toy and disappeared into the bedroom he would share with my mom.

Summer heat didn’t bother Christopher. He was elated to be on vacation with his aunt and both grandmothers. Summer break would soon end, but entering the sixth grade was the least of his concerns. We were close to the theme parks, so all he could think of was a fun-packed week.

While my husband returned the luggage cart to the lobby, Michele and my mother-in-law studied a pile of slick travel brochures. Mom joined me in the kitchen to prepare dinner and we talked about our itinerary. We would spend two days at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, shop for souvenirs, and attend a dinner theater. The rest of our time would be spent leisurely relaxing around our resort.

That night, everything changed. Everybody else slept as I tried to doze off, but that wasn’t an easy task. It had been two years since I was diagnosed with aortic stenosis. Up to then, I was unaware that I had a congenital heart defect. My cardiologist forecasted two more years until open-heart surgery, but lately I had noticed a discernible change in my condition. I propped myself up on a mountain of pillows to breathe easier, but I could still hear congestion in my lungs. How would I navigate the amusement park without collapsing? I moved to a wide bedside chair, elevated my feet on the ottoman, and leaned back against a pillow, thinking I’d rent a scooter.

The next morning, I knew I couldn’t go with my family. My feet were swollen, I felt breathless, and I was spitting up blood. “I’m staying here,” I told them, refusing to ruin their day with the details of my night.

“No, Momma!” my son said with disappointment. “I want you to come!”

I squeezed his arm gently. “I need a nap, son . . . maybe another day.”

“Are you sure? We can go tomorrow.” My husband studied me, concern evident in his eyes.

My ever-vigilant mother was determined to take care of me. “I’ll stay with her. Take Chris to the park and have fun.”

I gave my husband a kiss, then my son. “Don’t worry. I’ll rest today, and we’ll go to dinner tonight.”

I hid my tears until they walked out the door. I was discouraged about giving up time with my family, but I was even more distressed about what I had discovered by surfing the Internet on our laptop. I was experiencing the warning signs of congestive heart failure.

When we returned home, I made an appointment with my cardiologist. Lorenza sat beside me in the examining room, holding my hand. I had told him my suspicions, but I hoped I was wrong. I still had not resigned myself to the prognosis because I’d felt pretty normal until recent months. The symptoms had manifested slowly and I’d adjusted my life accordingly. Except for driving my son to and from school, I stayed home most days and I had gradually curtailed my normal routine.

Following an echocardiogram, Dr. Moore joined us. “The valve has narrowed so much that it’s severely obstructing blood flow. I’m referring you to a surgeon.”

“When will that be?” Lorenza asked.

“As soon as possible.”

I cried.

The doctor gave me a consoling hug. “You’ll feel better after surgery.”

I should have been hopeful but I felt fearful and anxious instead. I was frightened that I would die. That possibility sent my mind reeling. Even though I knew I had no choice, and that I certainly wouldn’t survive without a new heart valve, my anxiety got the best of me. I remembered what I’d been through years earlier when I had gallbladder surgery. Would surgery be painful? They’d have to stop my heart! How could this be happening to me? My father had died from cardiac arrest when he was fifty. Would I die young too?

We discussed all the possibilities with Christopher because it was unfair not to tell him what everybody else knew. “Daddy and I need your help now,” I told him. It’s amazing how little kids will step up when necessary. He assisted his dad with household chores without complaint. Lorenza did all the cooking. They were always loving and tender, and I needed their comforting words more than ever as I fought depression. My mother had moved to Florida the year before to be closer to my little family. While I knew she wanted to be by my side through this turmoil, I also realized she had come to help take care of our son while I was sick . . . and in case I didn’t make it through surgery.

I wanted Chris to remember our time together fondly. We went to movies, we packed picnic lunches, and one day we drove to St. Augustine Beach where Lorenza parked on the hard sand so I could watch my guys swim in the ocean.

We went to my mother’s house one Sunday for dinner. By then, I was overwhelmed. No matter what my husband and mother said to calm my nerves, it was never enough. I prayed fervently, asking God to take all of it away from me. I wanted a miracle.

I went out on the porch and immersed myself in that peaceful moment as a bald eagle swooped over the marsh. It was high tide, my favorite time of day. “Help me, God. Tell me what to do.”

I was surprised by what I heard but I recognized the message immediately. “I never had a chance. You do.” My dad had died more than thirty years before, when heart procedures weren’t so advanced. At that moment, I realized I had been selfish—so self-absorbed that I hadn’t acknowledged that a mechanical valve was a gift. I had an opportunity to live a longer, more fulfilling life.

I walked back into the house and announced, “I am ready for heart surgery.”

Mom and Lorenza were astonished. I smiled, knowing they were puzzled yet relieved.

My husband embraced me. “What happened?”

“God told me I’ll be okay,” I answered. “I’m going to get well now.”

The morning I went to the hospital for surgery, Chris woke up early and surprised his dad with a breakfast omelet prepared in the microwave. “I’m taking care of him,” he said proudly.

That day I felt serene and hopeful. When I said goodbye to him at the door, he gave me a gigantic hug. “I’ll see you soon, Momma.”

I was so proud of my little man, and I was no longer fearful of leaving him. “I’ll call you tonight, son, when I wake up,” I promised.

And I did.

~Claudia McCants

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners