Where the heart is

Mindy, several months pregnant with her second child, wore a used, silver bangle bracelet a stranger had given her: “With God all things are possible – Matthew 19:26.” Even though she instinctively knew something was terribly wrong with her pregnancy, she was sure her unborn child would be okay. She would have bet her life on it, she said.

She would soon learn that she was right – about everything. Something was wrong. Charlie had a complex congenital heart defect. Specifically, he had transposition of the great arteries. Dr. Amarjit Singh, a now retired pediatric cardiologist at The Children’s Heart Clinic at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, diagnosed Charlie after a series of ultrasounds and wrong answers from other doctors. Mindy was right about something else, too. In the end, everything would turn out okay with her son.

Baby Charlie, hospitalized at Children's, with mom, Mindy, looking on

Charlie was born in 2005 at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Immediately after entering this world, he was rushed through a quarter-mile underground tunnel to Children’s. His oxygen levels were dangerously low. Once at Children’s he immediately had an emergency surgical procedure known as a septostomy. A septostomy creates a hole between the heart’s chambers and allows for oxygen rich blood to mix within the heart, thus allowing oxygen to reach the body.

Following the septostomy, it was discovered that Charlie had a stroke. It’s unclear when it occurred – either during resuscitation following his birth, or during the septostomy, Mindy said. In the following days, he worked to recover from the traumatic events on the day of his birth. Eventually he became stable enough to undergo a complex lifesaving open-heart surgery.

Mindy has recorded this story for a book, “Embracing Charlie.” It’s a story about love, strength and faith. The love she and her husband shared as they built a family. The strength they showed when they learned their son had a heart defect. But mostly, the story is about Mindy’s faith despite the challenges she faced.

She is honest, giving outsiders a peek into her world as she and her husband, Paul, searched for answers and, when they got them, how they prepared for a son with a heart defect.

Mindy, who spent three years off and on writing, said she was inspired by a connection she made with a Boston family whose son also had transposition of the great arteries. As she prepared for Charlie’s birth, the family sent Mindy a photo of the boy. That photo gave her more reassurance than any doctor could, she said.

“When I first started thinking about writing, I wanted to be that to somebody else,” she said. “[The photo] gave me a sense of hope, to see what our life could still look like.”

Paul, Mindy, Charlie and Sophie

After several weeks in the hospital recovering from open-heart surgery, Charlie went home. Developmental milestones were delayed. He received speech, occupational, and physical therapies to address his challenges from the stroke and made great progress, Mindy said. For a long time, he favored his right side. Today, he’s right-hand dominant, and you would be hard pressed to notice that anything had ever happened to him.

He continues to have follow-up visits with a neurologist. He also goes to the Heart Clinic for regular check-ups. Future surgeries are possible. “He may need something, but in the scheme of heart surgeries, he’s been through the worst of it,” she said.

Mindy has “absurd gratitude” for her son’s care team, which included surgeons Dr. Francis Moga and Dr. David Overman. And she’s grateful for Dr. Singh for his incredible commitment to his patients and for giving her answers when others couldn’t.

“As a pediatric cardiologist, one of the joys of our job is that we get to see the babies with very complex health issues grow up into wonderful young people who still love us in spite of the pain and discomfort that we may have put them through,” said Dr. Singh. “The other is that we meet some incredible families. Charlie and his parents are one such family. I was very fortunate to care for Charlie and to know his parents. They are extraordinary people. It was my privilege to see him grow up to be happy loving child.”

Dr. Singh and Charlie

Charlie, 7, is delightful, Mindy said. He is an extrovert in an “oddly mature way.” He’s obsessed with artists Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh.

“It’s like there’s an old man trapped in there,” she said.

Mindy often thinks back on the day she received the bracelet from a stranger and the faith that came with it. That day, she had prayed for a sign that everything would be okay.

She was working at a dental clinic when a colleague approached her with the bracelet. A patient had given it to Mindy’s colleague after she asked where she had gotten it because she wanted to get something similar for Mindy. The patient removed the bracelet and urged the colleague to give it to Mindy.

“I asked Jesus to show himself to me, and he responded, with jewelry,” she said.

She no longer wears the bracelet. She gave it to another mother of a newborn cardiac patient while Charlie was at Children’s.

Charlie

The experience of her son’s heart defect has taught Mindy to “embrace the darkness and troubles.” There’s growth in that, she said.

“It changed our lives for better. I couldn’t have seen that at the beginning,” Mindy said. “It gave the gift of perspective.”

To read the first chapter of Mindy’s book, check out her blog.

10 thoughts on “Where the heart is

  1. Sayleen

    It’s a God Thing! Love You! Thank you Children’s Heart Clinic & Hospital for being amazing to so so many families!

  2. Paul Gergen

    An all to familiar story!My son,Carl was born in 1983 with transposition. Thanks to DR. Katkov.rest in peace (Jan.19,2000) and DR. Singh for being there for us! they have made great strides since then! At that time,I spent almost a tr living at Abbot hosp. Carl grew in to a very great young man,and was able to do all the things they said he should never be able to do. He played baseball,loved to hunt and fish and was the 5 state boxing Champion! To Charlie and your family,you couldn’t be in better hands! Feel free to comtact me if you wish,it would be nice to speak with another family. God bless you all,and the wonderful Childrens Hosp! Paul Gergen

  3. Jeff Peterson

    Dr. Overman repaired my sons transposition in 2008. We did not know ahead of time he would be born with a defect. My wife however maintained throughout her pregnancy something was wrong. Unfortunately it was missed. If you ladies think something is wrong demand a level 2 ultra sound. I am so grateful to children’s hospitals for the amazing care they take of both the children and the parents. There were no rooms at Abbott so my wife AMA discharged out of the hospital to be with our son 5 hrs after giving birth and the nurses couldn’t have been better in helping care for her. Today we have a wonderful 5 yr old with few affects of his condition. Dr Dummer his cardiologist is also wonderful. I don’t know how we would’ve gotten through it without her.

  4. Angie Thompson

    What a beautiful moving story. I had the wonderful privlage to work with Dr. Singh for 4 years and still continue to work with the wonderful cardiologists here at The Children’s Heart Clinic. I have been in the medical field as a medical assistant for 14 years and The Children’s Heart Clinic has been the best working enviornment for me out of the clinics in my past.

  5. Ann Kochsiek

    Thank you Children’s for daring to print a faith journey!
    This story is so helpful at such tough times for parents and patients.
    As a parent of former patients of Children’s St. Paul, I so appreciate your sharing these stories so other parents can have hope. This is even more important with the privacy act that is in place today.
    Thanks for caring for our kids!

  6. Paul Schmeling

    I highly recommend Mindy’s book, it is an inspiring story that shows the amazing healing power of God. Charlie is a miracle and blessing. So is Dr. Singh and Children’s Heart Clinic and Hospital.

  7. Katie Loxtercamp

    I’ve read parts of Mindy’s book and it’s a must read for everyone! She openly exposes her own heart, faith, and truth during this journey in her, and her family’s life. It’s a poignant inspiring book showing God’s favour and grace if we just ask, yet most importantly the power of faith and love. Paul and Mindy are an inspiration to anyone going through rough times. Charlie is an amazing! Full of spirit and love. This is a book of a journey, not an easy one, but a journey to inspire others. What an incredible family, team of Drs, and resilient kids! I can’t wait to have to whole book to read!

  8. Maggie Kaufman

    I had the honor of reading Mindy’s book as she was in the final stages of writing. Her story was so heartfelt and beautiful. It is truly amazing the real struggles people can have, and how faith can keep moving you forward. As I have the pleasure of watching Charlie grow (and his family with him) older, and he truly is a blessed child.

  9. Kris McKenzie

    Mindy, thanks for sharing this story with me. What an amazing family you have.
    God is good!

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