Finding the Heart of the Cardiac ICU

We were sitting at a lovely dinner one Saturday evening and she said, “it used to be that the PICU (pediatric ICU) was all there was. There wasn’t a Cardiac ICU and back in the day, no one wanted to take the heart babies, they knew that they were going to die.”

Nurse Kathy has been at Cook Children’s Medical Center for 40 years. She has seen the developments of pediatric cardiac care come from hardly anything, to 3d printers printing a replica of a child’s heart so doctors can create a better plan before going in for the repair. She has seen it all. She has cared for tiny hearts for many years. To sit and hear some of her stories from years gone by made me think of how many years of nursing are represented at any given time in the Cardiac ICU.

See, even I have seen incredible changes in the heart unit in the last 6 years. When we toured Cook’s while pregnant with Noah, we saw the PICU wing (D Wing) that the heart babies would return to post surgery. There were 6 or 7 beds for the heart patients. A year or so after Noah died, the old NICU was developed into a heart unit. There were more beds available and more privacy for families. It was really neat to see how much Cook’s was investing in the area of Cardiology. Then last year they unveiled and began using the new Heart Center in the brand new tower Cook’s built. This entire Heart Center is new, gorgeous and all inclusive. Cath labs can become operating rooms if needed. There is much less travel now from OR to recovery room. The step up unit is actually on the same floor now, but just down the hall, not a whole different building. The waiting room in the heart center is gorgeous, large, entertaining for littles and comfortable. There is a lovely outdoor garden type area that you can see from some of the rooms, especially the waiting room. You can walk outside and there is a heart that “Beats”. Truly, the care and special touches they thought through are so nice.img_2396

I remember being so thankful for all of the accommodations at the time because I didn’t know any better, but looking at this new heart center makes me SO thankful for current and future heart patients. They have 2 new surgeons joining Tam, who we had with Noah. They have an incredible staff of cardiologists, anesthesiologists, specialists, nurse practitioners,  intensivists, nursing staff, respiratory therapists, play therapists, OT, PT, Child life, etc.  I truly look back and think of HOW many people it took to take care of our boy at any given moment. It is an incredible place to receive care.img_2398

With that said… something Kathy  said actually, got me thinking. IF it weren’t for her and others who cared for the tiny hearts who “were going to die”, if there weren’t doctors and people who have fought for and pushed for more research, surgical developments, treatments, etc we would not have had 5 months with our son. We would have had days. I look at the facts that our surgeon Dr. Tam studied at John Hopkins and he was taught by the man, Dr. Norwood who developed the Norwood surgical repair for Hypoplastic Left Heart children. One of the other surgeons, most experienced in the nation, developed a repair, now named after him. Cook’s has a team that is globally known. Children have more of a chance of survival now than ever before.img_2399

She wasn’t afraid (I’m sure at times there was fear), but she was so invested in the care of every child, especially the heart babies. She has seen treatments change and develop over the years. She fought for the sweeties that many were too scared to fight for. She has held many a little one, hugged and sat with many anguished mommas and daddies.

I’m thankful for the legacy she has  in the CVICU.img_2353

There is something especially different about cardiac nurses. They have heart. (pun intended) Truly though, they serve and treat and work with such heart, such depth and care. They often forsake their own homes/families/kids for extra hours to make sure their patient is set up for the next shift with all they need, comfort and plan in place. They get in early, leave late, and they care. They care so deeply. I know most have a plan in place to keep a certain amount of distance, as they should. But, I can’t tell you how much it has meant to have the relationships we do.

Tonight, the Mended Little Hearts Group of Ft Worth is having a candle light vigil for all of the angel heart warriors who have gone on. She messaged me and asked if I would like for Noah to have a candle tonight. Cardiac nurses are something special. They have seen more than most and they keep coming back, shift after shift. They love our kids more than we can even know. They helped love and support my son in ways that only they could. There were many long nights of withdrawls for Noah during medicine weaning, there were several times after procedures where they would have to watch him particularly close for any changes/needs that would come up post op.

There were two specifically special cardiac nurses who spent our last day with Noah, serving us and being the biggest support. They gave us space, but would check on us frequently. They would stop and listen to me when I needed to just ramble on because I didn’t know how to be. They would make sure Noah was comfortable and that the morphine was consistent. The evening shift nurse would be the one to take out all of Noah’s lines, give him a bath and dress him for our farwell. She held us as we cried. She let me wait, but also assured me that she would take care of his last needs while we got some air and began preparations. She had him so sweetly taken care of and I had trusted her with Noah many nights before, this one was just so special and so different for us both. She was so gentle and supportive of  us. She helped us pack up the hospital room and she walked us out to our car. She didn’t have to be so kind. She didn’t have to hold us, cry with us or do all she did. That’s just how she is. She’s a cardiac nurse. She’s one of the best.seeingjesus

You see, I know that all nurses have a calling on their life. We all have a calling on our lives. Pediatric Cardiac nurses live a truly deep calling and they are so faithful to it. I find myself praying for them, their spouses/marriages (which get so strained because of the job), their children and all they sacrifice, their own heart and souls as they care for their patients. They see loss and death, but they see a LOT of healing and hope! They share their hope with scared mommies and daddies, big and little siblings, grandparents and friends of heart warriors. They do what they can to build up and light up these families during dark times, scary moments and even the nightmares. They help explain in our terms, what the doctors just tried to explain. They change the diapers, talk to them, encourage them, help turn on the movie above their bed, change their sheets, give little sponge baths, change lines, notice when they aren’t acting the same and they pick up on symptoms first.

Nurses are special and I would be amiss to not mention them during heart month. They are angels and do more than any of us can actually know. I can’t ever thank our nurses enough, but I will try to remind people to be aware of nurses and all they do. So, thank a nurse! Give them grace and remind them that they do amazing work, hard work, incredibly important work. ❤

So thank you, thank you, thank you.

Happy Heart Month to all of our nurses!



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