In Heart of a Lion, Derek George relives and chronicles the trials and tribulations confronted by his son, John Paul, who was born in June of 1994. As John Paul undergoes three heart surgeries and faces the related complications, Derek and Annette
learn to navigate the complex world of the medical field and to advocate on behalf of their child.
This heartwarming memoir tells the story of a courageous boy who defied the medical odds to not only survive but become an active and vibrant teenager.
|Publisher:||Tate Publishing & Enterprises, L.L.C.|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.40(d)|
Heart of a Lion
By Derek George
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Derek George
All right reserved.
Fear is something to be moved through, not something to be turned from.
"On your mark, get set, go!" My neighbor shouts signaling the start of the Easter Egg Hunt.
John Paul wears blue plaid shorts, a white shirt, and red suspenders with a red bowtie attempts to make a dash for the eggs. He tugs at my hand. He looks up, his brown eyes sparkling. "Let me go daddy!" It is hard to let go. I want him in my protective zone. I slowly release my grip from our entwined hands. He runs away. I stare, unable to believe he is here.
My mind reels back to the day he was born. Anticipation was my shadow for nine months. Wonderment replaces expectancy when he arrives. The sheer miracle of birth transforms me. The nurse places him in my arms. I barely have time to commit his delicate features to memory before he is whisked into a crib. Elation turns to sorrow in a matter of minutes. I watch his tiny body, become overshadowed by machines and IV's. I feel lightheaded and weak. The emotions of unconditional love grip my heart. He is so helpless. What lies ahead for him? Dear God, what will he have to endure? The doctors say he will not survive, but I have to give him a chance. I have to give him a chance!
Annette and I wait eight years to have a child. To most people that's an eternity. The question asked repeatedly from family and friends is, when? Their curiosity doesn't faze us. We are young with good jobs, but deep down there is a personal reason for waiting. Annette's brother and sister both developed a serious genetic disease in their latter teen years. This fatal disease left them prisoners in their own bodies. Although Annette did not develop the disease, she could pass the recessive gene to our children. This possibility quietly hinders our desire, but finally after being told the odds are in our favor we decide to try. In late October 1993 the most asked question finally receives an answer. The popular statement following our exciting news ... You have no idea how your life is going to change. We soon find out.
January 3,1994 excitement filters through the room. Annette and I watch the technician initiate our first sonogram. We converse back and forth about Christmas and how happy our families are anticipating our new arrival. Suddenly normal small talk ceases. The technician pauses. She looks closer at the monitor. The silence consumes me and I ask. "Is everything okay?" The technician keeps her eyes on the monitor. "I'm sorry I'm not allowed to discuss the sonogram. A report will be sent to your doctor. He will be in touch." The thrill of the moment slips. Fear enters. We leave the hospital depleted, wondering what is wrong.
Have you ever felt someone needs you, but you can't explain why? The following day around lunchtime, this sensation pushes me from work to Annette's office. Exiting the elevator I hear hysterical sobs. My steps hasten. The closer I get to Annette's office the clearer the cry. I reach the door. My body freezes. Her body is slouched over in a chair; her head rests in her hands. Her body shakes uncontrollably. Margaret, a friend, stands by her side and tries to console her. A thousand thoughts surge through my mind.
The sound of my voice throws Annette into my arms. She buries her head in my chest. Slowly she looks up. Tears stream down her cheeks. Her blue eyes accented by smudged mascara.
"Dr. Donner just called, he said something's wrong with the baby's heart. He said the baby will need a pacemaker at birth."
There are ways news of this caliber should be delivered. By phone, at work, isn't one of them. The audacity! Somewhere along the way some doctors have lost one of the most important concepts of doctoring, compassion.
Dr. Donner declined to give a diagnosis, only the number of an expert in the field Dr. Vega, a doctor at Forest Physicians. The full scope of the diagnosis will not be known until we are able to see the specialist.
It's amazing, when faced with adversity, how the human mind kicks into overdrive and reinstates some sanity. We begin to rationalize, maybe the technician made a mistake, besides Dr. Donner would have called us into his office if it were serious. Maybe we are overreacting. For two days our emotions fluctuate.
The news on January 6, 1994, Annette's birthday, is life altering. The thirty-minute drive to Dr. Vega's office feels like two hours. Inside the massive building, I suddenly realize the severity of our situation.
Annette and I enter and prepare for the sonogram. The cold dark room only reinforces our fears. A man in green scrubs and a white jacket enters. He is medium height with salt and pepper hair and small black lenses frame his dark eyes. He isn't alone. An entire crew of residents, clad in the same scrubs and jackets follow. Suddenly I feel Annette and our unborn child are on display. I grab her hand and squeeze it tightly. Introductions are brief. Minutes later the scan begins. Dr. Vega studies and points at the screen. The residents lean for a closer look. This continues for sometime. Finally, he gazes over his glasses.
"Did Dr. Donner explain your baby's situation?"
"He told my wife something was wrong with the baby's heart and a pacemaker would probably be needed."
He clears his throat. "It's very serious. There is no positive news to give. Your baby has a rare condition called Hyperplastic Left Heart. The left side of the heart is dead." He pauses. "The baby is fine in the womb but once born, he or she will die." He states in matter of fact tone.
I think to myself, did he just say die? "What happened to the pacemaker?" I ask.
"A pacemaker will not help. The only way your baby will survive is with a heart transplant. Even that is a long shot."
My mind reels and tries to process. The only life our baby is going to have is in the womb. I look at Annette lying on the table, exposed, wanting to express the emotions building with each word exiting the doctor's mouth. A knock on the door cuts the tension. A small man with khaki pants, an olive green shirt and tie enters.
Dr. Vega introduces Annette and I to Dr. Penski from Pediatric Cardiology. After the two doctors review the scan, Annette and I follow Dr. Penski to his office. We sit across the desk from the doctor in a state of shock. I keep looking at Annette. Weeks before she glowed with happiness. I can't help but wonder how she will endure this ordeal. The maternal bond is already there. How will she cope as the baby grows, knowing the destiny? I think about the surprise baby shower the ladies at her office have planned. This celebration of new beginning has to be canceled. Also the decorating of the nursery must cease. Anger builds as I imagine a nursery full of everything except a baby. The house will remain the same. There will be no reminders of what could have been. I think of all the genetic testing endured to make sure neither were carriers of the gene that incapacitated Annette's brother and sister. But something totally different, the heart, the most vital organ has not formed properly. How on earth will we endure?
Side by side, hand in hand we listen. Nods acknowledge the doctor's words but comprehension is null.
"Is there any hope for survival?" I ask.
The doctor shakes his head. "No not really. This condition almost always is fatal. Without a sonogram this disease can go undetected. A Hyperplastic baby, at birth, looks no different from any other. Many times mother and baby are released from the hospital. A few days later the baby dies at home because the hole allowing blood flow closes up. We will do everything we can but ..."
Annette starts to cry. I am emotional too, but I remain strong for her.
The doctor adjusts himself in his chair. "It is still early enough in your pregnancy. You are within your rights to have an abortion."
Annette collects her composure. Her words reassure me of her endurance and ignite hope. "Abortion is not an option. If my child only has nine months to live then it will be a happy nine months. We will let God decide his or her fate once born."
Our car is parked on the top deck of the parking garage. Exiting the building the air is cold, but the sun bright and the sky crystal blue. We pause before we enter the car. Annette looks at me and smiles. "We'll get through this. We must remain positive and happy for the sake of our child."
Understanding can overcome any situation, however mysterious or insurmountable it may appear to be.
Norman Vincent Peale
The soft voice pierces the darkness. "Mom, Dad!" My feet hit the floor at the sound of his call. My heart beat intensifies. I am anxious, especially when he calls out in the middle of the night. In the room I find my son sitting up in the middle of his bed. His hands rub his tired eyes, his disheveled hair protrudes awkwardly. I switch on the light and take a seat next to him on the bed.
"Are you okay, John Paul?"
He shakes his head yes, part of my anxiety diminishes.
"What's wrong?" I ask placing my arm around him.
"The wicked witch." His voice quivers with fear.
My embrace tightens around his small frame. "You know there is no such thing as the wicked witch. The Wizard of Oz is just a movie."
"But she's real in my dream."
"I know she seems real, but it is just make believe."
Slowly I lay him down and snuggle up beside him. He turns toward me.
"Daddy, next time I'll throw a bucket of water on her. That'll make her go away."
Understanding can be simple and it can be complex. John Paul's recurring nightmare will haunt him until he develops an understanding that the wicked witch is nothing more than a movie character. This notion is simple for adults to comprehend because of the ability to distinguish between real and make believe. However, even adults encounter obstacles in which understanding is void.
There have been numerous times when understanding has escaped me, starting with the shattering news of the diagnosis. My life, fortunately up to that point, had been uncomplicated. Sure there were obstacles, the South African Military demanded two years mandatory military service at the age of eighteen. I resented giving the military two years of my life, but looking back my service infused a greater discipline. Plus the information provided to me as a Physical Training Instructor proved to be invaluable since John Paul's birth. After completing my duty I ventured alone to the states on a tennis scholarship. Both were trying times, but neither a life altering roadblock. That is something I never experienced until now. Each morning I wake with the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. How I wish this was a nightmare, but it isn't.
The University of North Carolina is only a hour drive from our home. The teaching hospital, known for its cutting edge medical technology, is where Annette and I choose to receive a second opinion on our unborn child's diagnosis.
I pull into the parking lot. Everywhere I look there are buildings. I locate the number and find a parking space nearby. Annette and I get out and start our expedition. Expedition may sound like a strange term to use, but for us this is an expedition. A journey we embark upon in order to gain understanding on the path before us.
The sunlight breaks through the clouds, but fails to offer warmth to the chilly day. At the entrance, hesitation sets in. I clutch Annette's hand a little tighter. The automatic doors shut behind me. I notice I am colder inside the building than outside. I look at Annette, she has on ivory leggings and an oversized black and red sweater her brother and sister gave her for Christmas. Even though worry is in every thread of her being, nature's natural maternal glow radiates from her. I'm sure her emotions are at a boiling point. Dealing with all the doctors and carrying a baby with an uncertain outcome has to be overwhelming. She amazes me. Each day my love for her deepens. Some people are a perfect fit, supposed to be together, I believe Annette and I were destined. God had His plan. How else can it be described? It's ironic, our hometowns are on two different continents, mine below the equator. Annette, a senior, attended summer school because she needed a few extra credits to graduate. I had just started university in January and couldn't afford to go home so I worked on campus for the summer. You never know where love will find you. It found me in the cafeteria, of all places, on the first day of summer school. From that first meeting, there have been hurdles. We're total opposites. I'm constantly on the go, getting things done. Annette is a laid back mountain girl. She's into country music, I'm into eighties. The biggest difference our background. The ocean not only separates our homes but the vast cultural diversities. After only dating a few weeks I remember talking outside the gym at our university and telling her I didn't think this would work. I wasn't trying to be mean, but I didn't want to cause complications. She didn't give up.
"Things will work out. Think positive!"
We persevered, hurdles cleared. We united as one and started a life together, but no hurdle is greater than the one we now face.
Walking the UNC Hospital hallways, everything looks the same. The décor, designed to emit a comforting feeling, transmits the opposite for me. As we enter the doctor's office I sign in and wait to be called. Time passes like a snail. Finally, we enter a similar room like the one at Forest Physicians. We know the procedure, Annette lays on the table, I sit by her side and together we wait.
My mind plays this hopeful scenario. Annette and I watch the UNC-Chapel Hill doctor complete the ultrasound. A smile eases across his face as he informs us that the scan shows no abnormalities. The original diagnosis had been a mistake. The visualization ceases as the doctor enters, introduces himself and commences the scan. I wait and watch for the smile to overcome the doctor's face. It never materializes. Instead his words are a carbon copy of Dr. Vegas'.
The previous optimism that entered after leaving Dr. Vega's office in Winston-Salem depletes. Two doctors from high caliber hospitals have recited the same verdict. Reality settles in. The cloud of gloom seems destined to hover above.
In the days that follow the visit, a million questions race through my mind, but two that repeat over and over is how and why? I see Annette doing the same thing. She constantly questions herself. "Maybe I am to blame. Maybe I shouldn't have taken that Tylenol or what about that cough drop I had?" I tell her nothing she did caused this horrible situation. But my words do not ease her worry, nothing will. We are both suspended in the spiraling web of how and why.
It seems everywhere I turn there are visions of a happy family with a healthy, happy baby. It is apparent on the television, at the mall, at the grocery store and at church. Annette notices it too. This is suppose to be a happy time, the key word being suppose.
After Mass one Saturday night we decide to speak to Father Joe. We wait for him in a small room behind the sanctuary. Father Joe, an upbeat, positive man enters. We explain the news about our baby. In his heavy Irish brogue he replies to our news.
"Leave your worries at the altar. Let God help you through."
Then I watch, he takes Annette's hands in his. "Let the light shine in.
Wherever you are, open the curtains raise the blinds and get plenty of sunlight. Light is good for the soul and healing."
Our families unite around us building a fortress of support. Through their love and prayers encouragement begins to emerge. The more we share our diagnosis with friends and acquaintances, the more lighted our path becomes and understanding gained.
Glimmers of hope begin to spark.
Excerpted from Heart of a Lion by Derek George Copyright © 2010 by Derek George. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a book of faith, love, courage and an amazing little boy. If you want you belief in family and God refreshed, please read it.
The author writes as if he is the only one who saved his child many many times, not the many nurses and doctors who helped. I would have liked the story better if Derek George would have spoken of the partnership between all individuals. Obviously the young son is a fighter but several people worked to keep him alive.
Parents never know what problems can lie ahead, in raising their children.This story makes you understand what a journey it can be. A must read!
I absolutely loved this book. So much love and patience. I met the author Derek wonderful human being. I must read book it will definitely make you a much humble person.
As a mother it's incomprehensible to imagine what these parents had to endure while witnessing their precious little boy's journey in order to stay alive - what's more inspiring is the fact that they had the choice in the beginning to quit, and no-one would have battered an eye-lid - they could have aborted this "problem" but they chose to give life - this young man has a life today because his parents chose to keep him and love him through their selflessness and through their amazing faith - it gives you such a different outlook to life to see how much you can be tested and how much you can endure, but more importantly it makes you realize that we are blessed beyond our understanding - I'm so grateful for what I have and I appreciate it that much more! This book takes you on an emotional roller coaster - tears of compassion, joy and gratitude all rolled up in one book! A beautiful read!!!!
Inspiring and touches your heart.
This is a wonderful book. The faith of these parents moves you to tears.
What a great way to spend the afternoon! Warm and funny, I laughed and cried. This book reminds us of what is truly important, each other! John Paul Rocks!