Saturday, January 11, 2014

Grateful Parents

Several weeks ago we were invited to speak at the ribbon cutting at UF Health's (aka Shands) new Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, part of the Congenital Heart Center.  Ginny's surgeon, Dr. Mark Bleiweis is the Director of the CHC.  Yesterday was the ceremony, and they'll start accepting patients on Monday.

The unit is huge (18,000 SF) with 23 new beds, in a space that was formerly offices and administrative space.  I spoke during the ceremony, while Rachel spoke to a few of the media and Ginny was the ham that she always is and cut the ribbon.  It was a great day.  I'm happy that Dr. Bleiweis now has a bigger space, and the opportunity to help so many more kids.

I had taken time to prepare some remarks, and reviewed them several times in the morning.  They were on my tablet and ready to go.  I left the tablet on the podium several minutes before the ceremony.  Dr. Guzick (Sr. VP of UF for Health Affairs) spoke, then Mr. Goldfarb, (CEO of UF Health), and then Dr. Bleiweis spoke and introduced me.  I hugged him and walked to the podium.  I ran my finger across the tablet and..... "Please input your password".... Crap!  I don't have time for that. Damn you, Bill Gates!  So, despite my preparation, I winged it.  Here is what I wanted to say:

 Thank you Dr. Bleiweis.  My name is Jason Haeseler, and I’m here today with my lovely wife Rachel and our daughter Genevieve. We’d like to thank UF Health and the Congenital Heart Center for inviting us here to participate in such a momentous occasion today.
Rachel and I have lived in Gainesville for over 10 years.  We’re both UF graduates, and we met when we were students in the College of Engineering.  When you’re a student at UF and you’re young and healthy, like we were, and if you’re not associated with the College of Medicine, you don’t really think about this hospital here in your backyard being a big deal.  It’s a big complex, but if you don’t have a reason to come over here, you don’t really think about it.  Honestly, the only time I really thought about it in any larger sense was when I saw TV commercials that played during UF football games.  Frankly, I was a little cynical about them.  “UF & Shands: The Science of Hope.”  It was well-produced and well-placed advertising, and that’s easy to be cynical about. 
That all changed one day in 2010.  Rachel had what her obstetrician called a “textbook pregnancy”, right up until the day of her delivery.  The thought that anything could go wrong didn’t cross our minds.  Genevieve was born at another hospital in Gainesville and immediately we knew something was wrong.  Ginny was sent here to UF when she was maybe two hours old.  It wasn’t long before we were introduced to the folks from the Congenital Heart Center.  It was in that instant, my cynicism was gone.  
Ginny was diagnosed with Transposition of the Great Arteries, which was complicated considerably by pulmonary hypertension.  Dr. Chandran explained what all that meant to one very scared dad.  Over the next month Dr. Fricker and Dr. Bleiweis led a team of dedicated professionals to get Ginny’s pulmonary hypertension resolved and she was ready for surgery. On June 29, 2010, Dr. Bleiweis repaired Ginny’s heart.  We took her home on July 22, 2010 and didn’t look back.  With each passing year, it would be harder and harder to believe that that little firecracker standing right over there was ever sick at all.  When we tell the story of Ginny’s first few months to folks that didn’t know us then, many have a hard time believing it.  Sometimes we even had a hard time believing it. 
One Thursday, just a few short weeks ago, I got a call from Ginny’s daycare saying “she’s not feeling well and has a fever. You need to come pick her up.”  Less than 12 hours later, we were right back here on the 10th floor, where Ginny spent 10 days on a ventilator after contracting pneumonia and a viral infection.  We were greeted by familiar faces, and got world-class care.  Ginny is now fully recovered, and she went back to preschool just last week.  We had the advantage during this most recent stay of know our way around, and knowing many of the people that work up here.  That advantage enabled us to notice something about the people that work here. Each and every one of them is doing their part to help these very special kids.  We found that to be true from the physicians to the environmental services workers that took out the trash, mopped the floor, and asked us if there was anything they could do to help us, before wishing our little girl their best. 
On the draft program I received for today’s event, this spot was listed simply as “Grateful Parent.” Truer words have never been written.  Indeed we are grateful for what everyone at UF Health and the Congenital Heart Center has done for our family, and for so many families like ours.  Really, grateful doesn’t begin to describe our feelings about UF and the Congenital Heart Center.  If you’ve ever had an experience like ours, you understand how the English language falls short of expressing what these folks mean to us.  The closest I can come is not only grateful, but also indebted.  We are indebted to all the folks that made this day possible – most notably, the physicians, but also the nurses, technicians, pharmacists, and all the other health professionals. We’re also incredibly grateful for the donors, the engineers, architects, construction managers, and tradespeople that have made this place a physical reality.
We’re very excited that we now have a facility here in Gainesville dedicated specifically to children with congenital heart disease.  It is a great thing for our community.  It is a great thing for our family.  Most importantly, it will give Dr. Fricker and Dr. Bleiweis and all of the outstanding professionals here the opportunity to help more families like ours.  Thank you.     
I'm sure the video of the actual speech will make it to Youtube eventually. Here is the UF Health press release. There was a bit of media there including the Gainesville Sun, the Business Report (a monthly paper, so the story might not be out for a while), and both local TV news stations, WJCB  and WGTN.

I've decided that there are two things that we're going to tell everyone we meet that has never been to Gainesville:

  1. This place (Gainesville and UF) are awesome, and;
  2. We're never leaving.
If you've never been here, you should visit.  It's one of the best places in the country to live.