I Love a Heart Day Any Day of the Year

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by Helen Baldwin |

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According to the World Heart Federation, World Heart Day encourages global participation in activities to improve heart health. The effort to unite people from all walks of life across the world is a worthy one. With endless stressors hurled our way these days, a focus on heart health seems particularly timely.

Today may be the official World Heart Day, but any day can be Heart Day.

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A surprise third pregnancy shortly after our move to the North Carolina mountains sideswiped my husband, Randy, and me a tad, but we adjusted relatively effortlessly to our family’s pending expansion. Jeffrey arrived two weeks early in May 1997, blessing his middle-aged folks with a sweet, easy disposition.

Jeffrey’s well-baby checkup at 2 months turned into anything but when he was diagnosed with SMA. My substitute teaching at Jo Kelly School in Fort Worth, Texas, and a kindergarten teaching stint at Brockman School in Columbia, South Carolina, both eased our assignment considerably, but still.

After a brief, intense few months, our little guy — always happy and brave — snagged his wings. He was 5 1/2 months old.

That’s when I started noticing (and appreciating) the signs. Especially the hearts.

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SMA Strengthens the Heart

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A few years after Jeffrey’s death, my father’s health declined quickly until he snagged his own wings. While we said we knew he was with Jeffrey, my mother saw two lights on the third night, her first night alone. Hearing about signs from me after Jeffrey’s death, she became increasingly curious about the two bright lights — one big, one little — in the distance, flashing off and on several times. Mom asked, in her conversation to Dad, “Is that you?” Only the big light came on.

A few months later, the “Papa garden” (planted at Dad’s request in his deteriorating health), sat full of unripened tomatoes. I plucked them all off the vines ahead of an upcoming frost, leaving half the bounty for my mother and taking the other half home.

In a couple days, three tomatoes had ripened! I chose one, thinking about Dad as I washed it before slicing it in half.

This heart gift was a stunner.

Heart Day | SMA News Today | Cross-section of a tomato, in which the core is shaped like a heart.

The “Papa Tomato” from the garden my dad requested we plant shortly before his death in 2006. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

***

Six years later, I was running errands on Dad’s angel anniversary when I spotted an elderly man driving a gold Toyota Tercel, just like Dad had driven. I hadn’t seen one in years. What a sign! I pulled into the post office, smiling.

Before I got out of the car, the Tercel driver pulled into the space right next to me. I smiled even more as I went in, thinking that was a really neat sign. When I came out, the gold Tercel was gone, but the parking space wasn’t empty.

The tiny stone, like the Tercel, was gold.

Heart Day | SMA News Today | A small silver heart charm with a gold stone in the center.

A heart trinket with a tiny gold stone I found in an “empty” parking space in 2012. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

***

I spent my 59th birthday raking countless small rocks from a jungle area I envisioned would soon be transformed into a pollinator’s dream garden. As I raked, I thought about Jeffrey, whose 16th birthday was three days away.

Sixteen! Not only did I wonder how 16 years could have passed already, I wondered what Jeffrey would be doing if he were still with us in the earthly sense. I wondered what he was doing right then.

Well, right then I looked down and zeroed in on the rock I was about to rake.

I didn’t know whether to squeal, gasp, or cry.

I’m pretty sure I did all three.

Heart Day | SMA News Today | A rock shaped like a heart.

A rock that “appeared” in the midst of untold nondescript rocks as I thought about Jeffrey’s upcoming 16th birthday in 2013. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

***

Our grandson, James, made a memorable impact, from a rough pregnancy to an excruciating labor and delivery.

A beautiful baby, he looked just like his daddy (our son Matthew) and Jeffrey.

Heart Day | SMA News Today | Photo of baby Matthew.

Matthew, 1986. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

Heart Day | SMA News Today | Photo of baby Jeffrey.

Jeffrey, 1997. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

Heart Day | SMA News Today | Photo of baby James.

James, 2018. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

I was lucky enough to be in charge of James his first year. As with Clara, our granddaughter (and his big sister), tears fell at 2 months, Jeffrey’s age at diagnosis, and again at 5 1/2 months, Jeffrey’s age at death.

I called James “Jeffrey” many times because he looked so much like him. I also called him “Matthew” many times because he also looked so much like him. Thankfully, James didn’t seem to notice or care.

I’ve often speculated that James, now 3, has the gusto of two little boys.

His heart is certainly that big. Besides the massive tackling hugs and cuddly snuggles, he looks after me as if that’s his job.

The other day, as James was counting, I commented that he would soon be 5 like Clara and in kindergarten. He hopped beside me, and with a concerned face, asked, “Will you mith me?”

Fall is a favorite time of year, but it’s also a stark reminder of some horrific memories of our final medical appointment with Jeffrey. Consequently, my emotional state tends to wobble at times in the midst of this gorgeous season.

With a bit of wobble at that precious James moment, my eyes watered with treasured visions of these two sweet little boys.

A heart gift for sure.

***

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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