Monday, August 29, 2016

My Speech- Dear Dr. Big Nose

Dear Dr. Big Nose,

I was 19 weeks pregnant when I came to see you. I was pregnant with my third child and after the 3D anatomy scan, it was revealed that my child had a congenital heart defect. We went to see a pediatric cardiologist in Modiin who did an echo and diagnosed my baby with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. At that appointment, we were told very little information and explained that people have two options. Either they abort the pregnancy, or they throw their hands up to G-d and pray for a miracle. We were told to follow up with another echo in a few weeks time.

Our world had been turned upside down. A family member read an article about your hospital and its pediatric cardiology department, and pushed us to go see you. I will never forget the details of that day.

It was a warm, spring day, and we were anxious to meet you. We were impressed with how nice the pediatric cardiology department looked, and how sweet and understanding the secretary was. We waited patiently for our appointment, while our hearts filled with some fragment of hope that maybe you would say something good or helpful.

We walked into your office and were greeted by a smile. We handed you our paperwork and started explaining the previous echo. You stood up and motioned for me to move over to the bed for an echo. You made no eye contact and simply made grunts, as you pushed the echo wand against my stomach, exploring our baby’s heart. You put the wand down, and while looking at the screen, and never meeting my eyes, you said, “Yeah. So, it’s hypoplastic left heart syndrome. You need to schedule an appointment to do the abortion.”

My husband and I exchanged crushed glances, and we turned to you and said, “That’s it? What about surgery? Can’t anything be done?”

You stood up and walked to your desk, never looking at us, and said, “There are 3 surgeries, but the chance of survival is very low and you need to consider the quality of life of the fetus.”

“What does that mean? Quality of life? What would her quality of life be?”

“This is something for you to discuss with a genetic counsellor.” When we pushed you for answers, you responded, “ sports.”

“No sports? Sports? Anything else?”

“There is more, but you should abort the pregnancy. If you insist on pushing through with this, then make an appointment with a genetic counselor. But you must really consider IT’S quality of life.”

At that point, my wonderful husband texted me, while standing by my side: “Will you look at the size of his nose??? You think we have it bad...imagine his quality of life!” And so, from that moment, you received the moniker: Dr. Big Nose. I take absolute pleasure in hurting your feelings.

We rode the train home, devastated and convinced that our only option was to abort our baby.

As I write this letter to you, I am preparing for a special party. You see that “IT” that you so casually dismissed- that “low chance” that you refused to discuss- well, she is nearly 3. She has big beautiful blue eyes and short blonde hair. And she is more amazing than you will ever be.

That party that we are throwing is a Mesibat Hodaya- a party to thank G-d. You see, that beautiful little girl- she just survived her Fontan surgery. She has survived 4 open heart surgeries. She has survived 4 heart catheters. She has survived.

That doesn’t really explain enough. She is smart and funny. She is sweet and kind. She is creative and adorable. She runs and jumps with no physical disability. She talks and sings with the sweetest little voice. Mostly, she is fiesty. And it’s a pretty good thing, that she is, because she will spend her entire life having to deal with people like you, Dr. Big Nose.

Over a year ago, I asked our most incredibly kind, sweet, dedicated, smart and loving pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Golander, about the appointment that we had with you. As the wonderful individual that he is, he explained that you went to medical school and did your residency at a heart center in France. In this specific institution, their policy is to abort babies with HLHS 100% of the time. They will not talk about options or do the surgeries. For the families that refuse to abort the pregnancies, once the babies are born, they send them home on comfort care. That means they send them home to die. They offer no medical treatment whatsoever. Our cardiologist explained that this was where you received your training and that was why we had received that kind of treatment.

For awhile, I turned this information over in my head, trying like Dr. Golander, to make peace with that information- but I couldn’t. You see, the mass population understands that medicine is always evolving. There are always new discoveries and new medications and surgeries that are being invented. The most basic google search for HLHS will turn up all the latest information that can be found. You would find out that there is a team at the Mayo Clinic that are in the process of learning to grow hearts through stem cells. You would know that CHOP Hospital has an entire unit dedicated exclusively to single ventricle patients. You would know that throughout the world, they are making advances and we are at the cusp of finding real cures and answers. And all good doctors keep themselves updated. They do the research and the reading and stay on top of things. But that’s just it. You’re not a good doctor. You don’t stay updated. It doesn’t matter that 15-20 years ago, you learnt that HLHS babies should be aborted. That was 15-20 years ago. How could you, as a pediatric cardiologist, see patients and have not updated yourself, at all.

So, I understand that you’re not a good doctor. But that really isn’t all of it. If you know that you are not updating yourself, and you don’t have the most relevant information, then you have a responsibility to say, “I’m not qualified to answer your questions.” But you didn’t. Instead, you told me to abort my baby. That makes you a bad person. You would rather a child not be born, then deflate your ego and admit that you are not qualified.

We are lucky that my husband and I are inquisitive people. We are educated and seek answers. We are blessed, because G-d pushed us through the awful torment of your advice, to find out more information. To seek understanding and answers. Thank G-d. My heart hurts thinking about the countless babies that were never given a chance to fight because of your terribly unqualified words.

In this letter, I am enclosing a picture of my gorgeous daughter, Tehilla. You should keep it, and let it motivate you to never give advice that you are not qualified to answer. To either choose to learn more and change your attitude or find a different profession.

Tomorrow, we are celebrating your epic fail. We are celebrating our daughter’s life. No thanks to you.

Shoshana Balofsky

This is a party of thanks to G-d. You are all standing here because Tehilla means something to you. She is the little girl with half a heart. The survivor, the fighter- the miracle that prances through our living room, spreading glitter over everything.

The other day, I was speaking with my dear friend, Ita and she made a comment that stuck with me. After a terrible scare that her family experienced, she said, “You know, we had a miracle. There’s no other way to explain it. But you- you guys live with a miracle every day. Every day.”

It’s true. She is a miracle, and I want to thank G-d as publicly as possible. Thank you, G-d. Thank you for her life. Thank you for returning her to us. When you prepare for heart surgery, you don’t know what will happen. The thoughts torment you and the fears take over. But here we are- after the Fontan. I am just completely in awe. When we first heard about HLHS, the next piece of information was the 3 staged surgeries: Norwood, Glenn and Fontan.

When we met Professor Rein, I was 20 weeks pregnant. He told us that from that point in my pregnancy, there was a 45% chance that Tehilla would live over the age of 5 years old. After Tehilla was born, her chances went up to 75%. She is nearly 3 years old right now and just survived the Fontan.

G-d has blessed Tehilla. He has blessed our family and we are watching a miracle scamper through this party, while trying to steal more cookies. It is just unbelievable.

While we are thanking G-d, it is important to take the time to thank many other people. First and foremost, while I am the person behind the blog, none of anything would be possible without my husband. He is my rock, my support system, my friend and the person that always manages to make me smile, even at the worst of times. Thank you, Ron, for absolutely everything.

I need to say thank you to my other two rockstar kids. This battle has been theirs too. While they don’t always understand what is at stake, this has been extremely hard on them. They are compassionate, understanding, loving and flexible. Mechal and Tzviel, you amaze me and I could not be any prouder of you.

I’d like to say thank you to my in-laws and parents. My inlaws have twice moved into our home during two of the surgeries to help take care of our kids. My parents moved Ron and the kids into their home during the first surgery. They have all worked together to make sure that everything is okay. We love you and appreciate everything that you have done. In the same breath, I need to thank our dear friend, Josh. He moved into our home during surgeries, catheters and hospitalizations to help Ron take care of everything. Thank you so much.

I need to say a special thank you to my heart mamas. A few of you are here and the rest of you will read this on the blog. Your friendship, your advice, your understanding. It raised me up when I was drowning. I love you like my sisters. Thank you so much.

A huge thank you to our siblings who have helped out whenever possible. Thanks to Sarah and Natanel, Tehilla’s medical records list her first food post-op as sushi.

Thank you to our friends. If you are here or reading this on the blog, it’s because you stuck by our side. You didn’t abandon us during our most difficult times. You called, you messaged, you popped over. You organized meal trains, and took my kids out. You knew when to ask questions and when to change the topic to something else. You’ve been there by our sides and we adore you for it.

Thank you to all of our blog family. Tehilla breaks the mold every time. She never does things by the book and always gives the doctors something to worry about. Our cardiologist explained to me that I need to understand that this is her medical situation. She will always define her own parameters and always march to her own beat. She is a miracle and I believe that it is in no small part because of all of your love and prayers. I love how much Tehilla has touched your hearts, but you can’t imagine how much you have touched our hearts.

Thank you to everyone, from the bottom of our family's 4 ½ hearts.

The Party

Friday morning, we were joined by over 100 friends and family. There was a ridiculous amount of food, loud fun cheesy heart themed songs, cheesy heart tablecloths and cups and a lot of happiness and laughter. It was a huge milestone for our family to celebrate Tehilla's successful Fontan surgery and to thank G-d.

There was so much love and so many smiles. We are so blessed to have made it to this point. Thank you to everyone who made the effort to join us. We got to meet some members of our blog family and thank them personally for praying for Tehilla. We enjoyed ourselves so much, that we took very few pictures. So, if you were there and want to send us pictures, we would really appreciate it.

I made a very long speech, that I will post separately.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Our Happy Place


How does a week go by without me updating the blog!  Between watching the kids, fitting in time to work, keeping the house in order and having a wasp infestation removed, planning a 10 year old's sleepover party, painting my bedroom, reorganizing everyone's bedroom, and getting two kid's ready for school, including Tzviel going to first do I not have time, right? It's been a busy week.

Thank G-d, everyone is healthy and well. And as you can see by the photos and the title, for the first time this summer, we went to our happy place- the beach. After surgery, Tehilla was not allowed to submerge her scar in water, so she has been having sponge/shower baths, and could not go in a pool or to the beach. Well, 6 weeks passed since her surgery, and we spent Thursday preparing all of the cooking for Shabbat. The kids helped organize every last detail for the beach, all of Thursday. We were so prepared, that we literally, woke up on Friday morning, threw on our bathing suits and left the house at 8:40 am for the beach.

We got to the beach and took full advantage of being out of seclusion. We met up with 3 other families. The water was absolutely perfect. It was a deep turquoise color and the perfect temperature. We all went in and let the waves wash over us. We built sand castles and turned our kids in to sand-mermaids. We ate lunch and got popsicles and just enjoyed the most perfect day.

There is something about the beach, that just makes all the urgency of life disappear. It sucks out all the anxiety and stress, all of the fears and difficulties and replaces it with timeless tranquility. I could stay at the beach forever.

Once again, I found myself shoulder deep in the water and reflecting on life. I waded in to the water, and watched my body be engulfed by the turquoise water. I reached my arms out and felt myself feel weightless, as I began to float. I looked up at the beautifully deep blue sky and started to mumble my thank yous to G-d.

"Thank You. Thank You, thank You, thank You. You gave her back to us. She survived another heart surgery. She did it. You did it. She is alive. Thank You for moving mountains for us again."

It was the most perfect day and we left the beach at 3:15 pm, drove home, showered and lit the Shabbat candles. It was exactly what we needed.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Out and About

Tehilla is no longer secluded! (I think that calls for a standing ovation.) She is now 6 weeks after surgery and has been home for a month. I can't believe the time has gone so quickly.

On Shabbat, we went to the park and were overjoyed to see so many of our friends. It is very hard being isolated, but now, we only have good things to look forward to. With G-d's help.

Tehilla is feeling great and seems to be getting even more energy every day. Her color is a beautiful shade of pink and she spends her days playing with her dolls, preparing pretend food, destroying passport applications with Hello Kitty stamps and scissors, pouring water on her brother and stealing her big sisters possessions. She is the most miraculously normal nearly 3 year old.  And we are blessed beyond measure.

We are preparing to have a Mesibat Hodaya, a party of thanks to G-d, in honor of Tehilla's successful surgery. It will be on Friday, August 26, 10:00 am-12:00 pm. Our entire blog family is invited and deserves to join us in this celebration.

If you are in Israel and can join us, please email: and we will send you our address.

Friday, August 12, 2016

All Smiles

We have been busy doing crafts and playing and potty training.

Tehilla is doing very well. Potty training has been two steps forward and one step back. We are not taking it too seriously and letting her take the lead.

The past few days, Tehilla has been more irritable and we think she may be starting to develop an ear infection. The unimpressive on-call doctor checked her and only saw a little bit of redness and wasn't overly concerned. We will see how she feels over Shabbat.

All in all, Tehilla is happy, sweet and quite a little funny character.

Shabbat Shalom to everyone!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How She Really Is

People keep asking me, "So...I don't really understand. I'm reading the blog and I get that her heart rate isn't good. She's not doing very well, right?"

Nope. Here is a picture to illustrate how Tehilla is doing. It's dinnertime and she has jumped on the table and grabbed a bunch of tuna patties in her mouth. She has ketchup smeared up and down her arms and bulgar stuck to her hair and face.

Or there was the time before that when she stripped down naked and was running around. She saw a bowl of unfinished cereal and milk that someone had left in the kitchen. While it was out of reach, she stood on her little tippy toes and stretched for it. Her fingers caught the edge and she pulled. The bowl flipped, sending milk flying all over her. She started crying that the milk was in her eyes and then slipped on the puddle that formed on the floor.

Or immediately before that, when she decided that Tzviel was not allowed to live with us and attempted to kick him out. She sat on the stairs, still naked but with a giant purse and toy phone and screamed,  "Tzviel bugging me! Get out my house! Get out! "

So, ya see. If you didn't know that she was having a heart rate problem, you would never know. She is a magnet for mess and trouble and perfectly normal. Just your average very naughty nearly 3 year old. More reasons why we believe that she will be okay and with G-d's help, her heart rate will improve on its own.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Potty Training

Every parent awaits the moment with their toddler that they can potty train. The hope of not having to deal with diapers is an exciting stage, well worth all the trouble potty training brings. For us, it's more than that. Tehilla was very ready to potty train. Had we not been awaiting surgery, we would have potty trained her by Passover. We pushed it off, because there was talk of surgery because of her blood pressure, and after the catheter, it suddenly became a planned Fontan surgery. Potty training her had to be pushed off until afterwards, to avoid regression.

Of course, there was surgery...and all the fears and anxiety. The what-ifs and the deep soul crushing pleas to G-d...please...get her through this. Let her survive...let us be able to raise her...give us the chance to do the mundane, normal parenting things with her. It may seem overly dramatic, but having her Fontan behind us and being able to potty train her, feels like the greatest gift of all. Finally, just a normal toddler milestone.

So, yesterday, we presented her with Big Girl underwear. "Woooooowwww!" She looked at them in awe. They are the cutest little underwear and while I wish I could share pictures of her in her little underwear, I won't. One day, please please please G-d, she will grow up and want to read her story. I will print this blog out for her and she will be able to read about her journey, that she hopefully has no memory of. So, while, believe me, watching her scamper around in her little underwear and shirt is just the most gosh-darn-adorable thing ever, I won't do anything that would embarrass her.

Potty training is going unbelievably well and while there are the normal setbacks, she was so ready for this, that it's going very well. She is taking it very seriously and making sure to ask all of us if we need to use the bathroom, as we ask her.

That's about all that I can share. Thank G-d for the most normal parenting moments!