“The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller
I aim to live as much from my heart – feeling my way through life – as from my (very busy) head . But, inevitably, living in such a mind-dominant world, my head often wins out. And I’m definitely with the Ancient Greeks who thought that the heart was the seat of intelligence and organ closest to the soul. On a physical level, our hearts are one of the most important organs in the body beating approximately 72 times per minute moving blood, oxygen, nutrients and waste materials in and out of our cells. But how many of us take our hearts for granted? I know I do.
So you can imagine how humbling it was to meet a young boy not yet six years old, let’s call him Tom, who recently had a heart transplant at the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital. Tom was born with what’s known as a TGA heart, TGA meaning transposition of the great arteries. In other words the right side of his heart was doing what the left side should have been doing and vice versa.
This brave little heart warrior (that’s what HeartKids call children with congenital heart defects) underwent major open heart surgery just a few weeks after being born. His young life has been filled with trips to doctors, specialists and hospitals in a constant round of check-ups, cardiographs, echocardiograms, radiography and blood tests. By 2013 he had undergone four lots of surgery, the last one to replace a smaller pacemaker with a larger one.
But earlier this year his heart was showing signs of failure and Tom and his family moved into Ronald McDonald House in Melbourne to wait for a donor heart to come up. I am happy to report that a heart did become available and the operation was successful. Tom has now had two clear biopsies and might soon be able to go home and start school.
I met Tom’s grandmother, Susie, when visiting mutual friends at the end of last year. So when she called and asked to come and stay for a few weeks during Tom’s recovery phase I was only too happy to help out. In fact, she was my first post-renovation guest and so my small but perfectly formed spare bathroom came into play. And, this last weekend Susie brought Tom to stay for a night. It was a short visit – and Bertie dog had to go for a sleepover with his cousin, my brother’s dog, Rocky – but one I will treasure for a long time.
I had seen pictures of Tom before his operation and he looked frail, pale and delicate. So how wonderful it was to see a strong young boy now weighing about eight more kilos and bursting with strength and energy. This little man is a solid mass of muscle and, I kid you not, could easily wrestle me to the ground. Not that we put it to the test.
Instead we got straight down to the important things in life and played games and ordered fish and chips for dinner. My mother laughed at me when I shipped over some of my childhood books and games from England: “What will you do with them?” she asked. “They’re for when little people come to visit, of course,” I replied rather impatiently. Tom loved my game Mousie-Mousie (vintage 1960s) even if half the counters were missing, the mice now have rather twisted tails and we made up the rules. Tom had his own games too, all packed in his Thomas the Tank Engine suitcase along with this Spiderman PJs, and so we played Snakes and Ladders and Monkeys before nipping out to the fish shop.
Before breakfast the next morning, I read to Tom and reconnected to some of the wonderful books published by Frances Lincoln Ltd, in London where I worked back in the 90s. Animal Parade is wonderful read-aloud animal alphabet book and The Leopard’s Drum, a stunningly illustrated African creation story.
Tom tucked into a cooked breakfast of bacon, eggs and mushrooms and was as bright as a button. He kept up a steady stream of questions – how old was I? (THAT old, he questioned, adding a nine for good measure), where did I work? (home? Why didn’t I work at Woollies? I think he must have been chatting to my family who don’t think freelance writing is a proper job!) and when would he see me again? Tom and his family had travelled to Melbourne from out of state, so it may be a while before I get to play Snakes and Ladders with him again.
He gave me a big kiss and a hug when he said goodbye and when I went back into my house, I shed a little tear (well quite big actually) for all that he’s gone through, for all that he is and for all that is growing up to be; a fabulous and spirited little boy.