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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.