How fast does your heart beat? I can’t begin to explain how enormous that question is to me. The words “heart” and “beat” put together are so powerfully magnificent. Heartbeat- passion, vitality, warmth, health. I have been listening to heartbeats for the last six years religiously. The first time I really heard one that I paid attention to was during my first pregnancy with our now six-year-old boy.
I imagined motherhood to be this lovely journey full of monograms and Pottery Barn nursery decorations. I envisioned an altered vaccination schedule and never ever needing to pay for education. I imagined I would drive a beautiful enormous SUV and retain my rocking Pilates body for the long haul. And with one heartbeat everything changed.
Paul was diagnosed in utero with a condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome- a disease where the left side of the heart does not develop correctly. I was told while pregnant that my baby would be born with half a heart.
He arrived and survived but not without significant complication. He had two surgeries before he was four months old and as a result did not get to develop in a way a baby should. He needed help to learn how to walk, to crawl, to speak, and to eat.
It was in his third year of life that in spite of their best efforts doctors from all over the world couldn’t save his beating half a heart. Paul was listed for transplant in October of 2014 and moved into the hospital to wait for a heart in December of that same year. The day before we moved in to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital we celebrated Paul’s third birthday at High Hopes.
You see, since the beginning of this journey with Paul, High Hopes became our second home. Therapy happened here, friendship happened here, and community happened here. Some days High Hopes was the only place we went and the only human interaction I had outside of a hospital. High Hopes was one of the only places that Paul felt safe. It was in this building, on this indoor playground, that our family had our last “hoorah” before we would spend the next year getting him well, waiting on the gift of life inside the hospital walls.
The months that followed were met with love, passion and lots of visits from the High Hopes staff. They followed his journey, and when our younger daughter wasn’t quite walking when she should, they saw her right away (she was fine by the way, just needed a little extra encouragement).
On April 21, 2015 another family made the hardest and most courageous decision they could and Paul received a new heart- a journey that would take a long time to heal from. With the help of the staff of High Hopes and an amazing team of doctors, Paul started healing and that new beating heart has served him so well.
He entered into the High Hopes preschool two years ago and all-in-all is a typically-developed kid. I often say we could not raise Paul (or our girls) without the help of High Hopes. These men and women have been our advocates, cheerleaders, gut checkers, congratulators, and calmers down for six years. I can’t imagine where we would be without this place.
How fast does my heart beat? It races with love and light for my children, my main squeeze, and the amazing community at High Hopes. I am proud to say that we are “High Hopes-ers” for life and there is nothing else I would rather be.
Pottery Barn nursery décor was replaced with feeding tubes and monitors. Vaccines are a MUST in our house, and to say I’ve done Pilates in the last six years would be a lie, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I believe that God gives us each our challenges in life. He has trusted me with this special little soul and trusted High Hopes with facilitating the heartbeats of so many families. This is a special place where time stands still and moves differently; where love is primary and hope is possible.
Heartbeats are about more than just keeping us alive, they are about where our passions land and how our lives play out. I am so grateful that High Hopes is in our lives.
Colleen Melchiorre, Ed.D. is a seasoned speaker and mental health advocate. For over a decade, she has been speaking life into audiences and organizations across the country. Colleen has a degree in Social Work from Belmont University, a Masters Degree in Student Affairs from Eastern Illinois University, and a Doctorate in Leadership and Professional Practice from Trevecca Nazarene University. For the last 10 years, Colleen has worked with the renowned programming company Phired Up Productions, and she currently serves as its Innovation Project Manager.
Colleen is the mother of three young children, and is an active blogger, an avid student and teacher of yoga and pilates, a dater of her husband whom she has loved for over half her life, and mentor to a variety of young professionals in many different fields. Colleen’s presence is appreciated as a loving member at South End United Methodist Church and a parent at High Hopes Development Center.