There is not a week that goes by that I don’t remember a little girl named Stephanie who had a profound effect on my attitude and outlook on life.
I was a teenager and received the challenging Fontan procedure, which would greatly improve my heart’s function. Surgeons re-opened my chest a few days later to reduce swelling, bleeding, and implant a pacemaker. I was in good spirits until they said they had to go back in and replace the faulty pacemaker and move it to my abdomen. By then I was depressed and frustrated with my situation. I remember saying to my dad with tears in my eyes, as I was wheeled on an operating table into that final surgery, “I want to go home.” But, what I meant was home to God. “I can’t take this anymore.”
I had been in the pediatric intensive care unit a few days sleeping mostly as my body recovered. There was one particular day when I awoke and saw standing next to the side of my bed a young girl I thought to be 5 or 6 years old. She had dark hair, big beautiful eyes, and was obviously mesmerized at my situation. I must have had a hundred tubes running in and out of me and I still had a large one down my throat, which was uncomfortable. But, here was this young girl who was very pale. I noticed a tube placed into her trachea on her neck. She could not speak and sadly she appeared to be dying. And yet, this little girl had a smile that stretched from one ear to the other as if to say, “Cheer up… It’ll be ok!”
Over the next few days we became friends. Stephanie would stop by to visit me in the PICU and eventually in my room on 4 West. She drew me a picture of her in green scrubs standing tall in a bed of colorful flowers by a tree with the sun shining down. I would show her all of my BYU football posters of Shawn Knight and Jason Buck along with an autographed picture of Bruce Hurst who pitched for the Boston Red Sox. He graciously stopped by to see several patients the previous year while I was having heart surgery to remove the walnut size blister full of staff infection or called endocarditis. (His pitching helped the Rex Sox defeat the New York Mets in the 1986 world series.)
Eventually, I recovered and went home. A year later my family ran into Stephanie’s mother Patsy at a grocery store where she told us that her daughter passed away shortly after we left the hospital. She had a form of sistic fibrosis, which slowly took her home to God. Patsy told us Stephanie loved coming down a floor to see patients but it wore her out and eventually she died.
Many years later as I was preparing to leave my home for a two-year service mission for my church this experience would replay over and over in my mind. I spent three weeks in a training center under a very strict schedule. We were up at 6:30 every morning, attended 12 hours of class, and hit the sack at 10:30 pm. This began to wear on my health and I was frustrated and became depressed. I thought about being sent home. I didn’t want to be a burden.
My mind reflected back to my challenges in a hospital where I underwent worse challenges and I thought of Stephanie. And for the first time I realized the depth of her sacrifice in visiting me. She died giving of herself to others. She probably could have lasted a little longer. But, rather, she got out and went to the aid of another. Whether that was her intention or not she did it anyways. Her visits and radiating smile transfixed me in the hospital and I was no longer depressed.
And in that missionary training center, after being depressed and throwing a pity party for myself I chose to “cheer up” and told myself Stephanie’s words, “It’ll be ok.” My mission became another one of the most important experiences of my life wherein I learned many of life’s valuable lessons.
There is not a week that goes by that I don’t think about Stephanie.
(Pictures: Top Right - Me and Stephanie; Right Middle - My companion Elder Clark and me;Bottom Right -With one of my favorite families)