My husband and I sat close, in silence, with blank faces. We were bracing for the breath to be knocked out of us with his words. It was the desperate kind of silence that comes from realizing that your life, your precious concept of normalcy, is about to be forever changed. The pediatric cardiologist calmly explained the results of the ultrasound, “There’s really no easy way to say this. There’s a problem.” He went on to speak in foreign medical terms, that we would one day come to master. He explained surgeries and procedures, that we would one day journey through. He sat patiently with us for hours as if we were the only family he had ever broken the news to. He diagnosed our son with a list of severe congenital heart issues that day; the most difficult being what we would come to know as Tetralogy of Fallot.
Our son Cash was born in March of 2010 just a few weeks after the Saints won the Superbowl. This was a year for miracles and we were ready for ours. He had his first open heart surgery at two months old. That surgery was followed by at least ten other operations for several other birth defects discovered at his birth. At three years old, he had his second open heart surgery and by then he was pretty much a pro! As parents, however, there is no way to ever be comfortable with knowing your son’s heart is being pumped by a machine outside of his body. Somehow, we were always able to put one foot in front of the other and for that, we credit our faith as well as the realization that surgeries are risky but they sure beat the alternative.
Today, Cash is an amazing kid … clever, compassionate, and busy cracking himself up with all his boyish antics. As I reflect back on the day we began our journey as the parents of a “heart” baby, my first thoughts are not of the tears we cried walking out of the clinic but of the many powerful lessons we learned along the way.
We learned lessons about showing up. Through all those hospital stays, so many people showed up. We were loved on, supported and provided for in ways that will forever humble us. We learned lessons about compassion. Years later, it dawned on me that our cardiologist knew, in our case, everything was eventually going to be ok. Yet, on the day he broke the news, he chose to sit with us. His wife was calling and it was after five, but he was not leaving the office until we were ready. We learned medical lessons. Like how all those scary looking wires, tubes and leads are really just vessels for healing and saving lives. We also learned lessons about insurance and other topics sure to remind you that you are really adulting now…
I was always taught that you don’t hope and pray for someone’s need to be met when you can meet it yourself. We cannot do everything but we can all do something. We knew there were other families out there like us, so we decided to do something.
So in honor of February being heart month, just before Cash’s first birthday, we created Cash’s Chili Cook-Off.
We cleared our front yard, invited a bunch of friends over and raised money for a non-profit that had supported us. We had a blast and we raised money for a good cause! So naturally, we decided to do it again. The next year, we moved to a larger location and changed the game to gumbo, to better reflect the heart of New Orleans. Every year since we have celebrated Heart Month by wearing red and cooking gumbo!
In 2016, we officially created our non-profit, Cash for Kids. Our mission is to provide financial grants to families affected by congenital heart disease. Our grants help to offset the unexpected costs of surgeries that insurance won’t cover such as meals, hotels, and parking fees. So here we are today, eight years later, preparing for another Gumbo Cook-Off! We invite you to join us February 24th. Whether you want to enter your gumbo in the competition or you just love to eat, come join in the fun! Wear red and join us as we do something for Congenital Heart Disease Awareness!