ST. LOUIS — I was purging my daughter’s closet over the weekend and started with a heap of baby blankets.
As I went through Nora’s blankets one by one, several of them reminded me of people I’ve never met.
Many were from 5 On Your Side viewers who handstitched them for my family.
They packaged them and sent them to the station in 2016 with cards of encouragement and prayers.
It was the darkest year of my life and these total strangers were supporting me.
I’ll never forget how opening those packages made me feel.
In 2016, my daughter was born three months premature and was fighting for her life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Due to complications with the pregnancy, I was later diagnosed with kidney failure. Six-weeks postpartum, I was in a wheelchair. The toxins were building up in my body and I was too weak to walk. I had emergency surgery to put tubes through my abdomen. They looped around and stuck out through a hole in my side. This would be my catheter to start dialysis.
That summer and fall, I spent every day doing 10 hours of dialysis and then going to the NICU to visit Nora. I was on so many drugs I could rarely hold her. I was too shaky and antsy. The nurses had to force me to learn to bathe her and change her diaper. I was honestly scared of her. She was less than 2 pounds and looked like she would break in half.
I do know this, if I didn’t have that little girl to live for and fight for, I don’t know what would have happened to me.
Fast forward to the present, and we are getting ready to celebrate Nora’s 5th birthday.
The first three years of her life were filled with intense therapy to make sure she met her milestones. I never envisioned her 5th birthday because it always felt so far away. Now it’s here, and I’m staring at a healthy, happy kid.
I took her to the park today and we searched for fairies. We looked behind all the trees and in the layers of honeysuckle.
Fairies are her current obsession. She’s also constantly draped in too much plastic jewelry and wants to be a “singer on the stage.”
God is good.
Nora is alive and thriving.
It’s nothing short of miraculous.
I’m also lucky enough to consider myself a miracle.
I went back to work on dialysis but not for long.
A friend from high school (classic St. Louis) gave me his kidney.
Once you’ve swapped organs with someone, life never looks the same.
Every fairy hunt, cooked meal and closet cleanout feels like a privilege.
My organ donor, Mike Zangara, allowed me to be a vibrant wife and mother again.
My doctors at Barnes-Jewish Hospital always say a kidney transplant is a treatment, not a cure. The organ won’t last forever and someday I’ll need another transplant.
I also continue to get infusions to keep the Atypical Hemolytic Syndrome triggered by my severe pre-eclampsia from recurring. I’m also high risk for cancer and COVID-19 due to my immunosuppression post-transplant.
I’ll admit these unknowns weigh on my mind. I do my best to stay present and not dwell.
But overall, I am feeling great. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t stop and celebrate that fact.
Nora is still a tiny little thing. But she’s got a huge personality. She loves singing, dancing and using her vivid imagination. She’ll start junior kindergarten in the fall. Every time I look at her I feel so lucky she’s here.
That journey was lit with hope given to me by strangers; viewers who became a lifeline.
As I close in on five years since having my daughter, I want to thank all those people.
Hundreds of viewers wrote, emailed, stopped me in public and offered their compassion.
My husband and I used to lie in bed, I was hooked up to the dialysis machine and Nora was in a crib by our bed weighing a whopping 5 pounds, and we would read your messages.
It was the only light we had at the time, and we desperately needed it.
You have no idea how much your kindness meant and how it buoyed us.
I want you to know we are doing well. We are healthy and grateful.
As for the blankets, they all survived the purge. They are tucked away as treasures.
One day when she’s old enough, I’ll take them out and explain to Nora what happened in the months after she was born.
I’ll teach her about her preemie powers, her mother’s journey, but most importantly, that kindness and empathy make a difference. Your one word, one message, one prayer, may be the only thing that keeps a person’s spirits afloat.
Thank you for yours.