A Big God and a Tiny Heart by Alan and Candice Hasfjord
I thought I knew fear. I had been in the military, and I had seen enough to know how the body reacts to danger. I knew how fear can mess with you, how it leaves you frozen, sickened, weak. But nothing could have prepared me for the day that I heard the doctor tell my wife and me that Madison, our six-day-old baby girl, was gone.
Nothing I had ever encountered could compare to the power of those words. Nothing had ever made me look so far inward and ask myself how I was supposed to move forward. In the thirty seconds that followed the news, my wife, Candice, and I learned what it means to be truly, completely helpless.
Even today I can still remember what it felt like in that hospital room, and I am still grateful to God for the opportunity to learn what it feels like to have none of your own strength to rely on. And, of course, I’m grateful to God for the miracle that followed.
Her heart had stopped. The monitors drew flat, solid lines across their screens. And then, around two minutes after we were told that Madison was gone, everything changed in the room. Her heart started beating again.
As hard as it is to convey the pain and fear that come with the news that your child has died, it is even harder to explain how getting her back is just as frightening. We weren’t sure what to believe. We didn’t know what to do. Should we hope that everything was going to be fine, or was this just a brief detour until we would once again be told that she was dead?
The hours that followed were a fog. I saw what was going on around me, but none of it made sense. There were lots of doctors, lots of movement, and lots of tests from lots of machines. I remember talking to several doctors, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what they said. Candice and I didn’t sleep; we didn’t eat; we didn’t even talk. We simply waited for news.
When it came, however, we both wished it hadn’t. We were told that Madison had a very serious heart defect. Those are the exact words, and they are the first ones that I remember hearing in all of that chaos. And they are the words that opened the gates to even more pain and fear than had come before.
The jigsaw of medical information gradually formed, and we began to understand that Madison had been born with an extremely rare and complicated heart condition: hypoplastic right heart syndrome coupled with a coarctation of the aorta, multiple septal deviations, and a fully roofed coronary sinus. According to the medical team, there was no chance of her surviving what was a seriously deformed heart with a lot of holes and a kinked artery that restricted blood flow. We were told that, although there were proven treatments for hypoplastic left heart syndrome, no baby born with a hypoplastic right heart had survived more than a few weeks. And such an operation could not be carried out in Okinawa. For that, Madison would have to be in a specialist hospital, which meant a fourteen-hour flight back home. And besides, Madison had already suffered so much; when her heart seized in the emergency room, it had triggered a domino effect that began systematically shutting her body down, piece by piece. By the time the medical team had diagnosed the heart condition, she had already suffered liver failure, kidney failure, respiratory failure, and a complete paralysis of her gastrointestinal system.
We were told that the machines were the only things keeping Madison alive, and we should be ready for the charge physician to decide the case. In fact, the hospital case administrator had already called my commander and started the paperwork for emergency leave so we could arrange for her funeral. They had assigned us a case officer to assist us in the process of getting us through Okinawa’s customs to return her to our home in the States for burial. They said it was just a matter of time.
Meanwhile, the doctors had transferred her case file to the cardiology team at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego and arranged for a medevac flight. We were told that these arrangements were merely a formality, as the medical team in Okinawa did not believe they could stabilize her enough to survive the flight. So we just waited—for the customs paperwork to be finalized, for the chaplain to arrange the service coordination at our receiving airport, and for our little girl to do what everyone was telling us she would do. We were waiting for her to die.
For two days we waited. Finally, with the flight, the paperwork, and other arrangements in place, the doctor told us it was now time to leave. Yes, Madison was still alive, but they could not wait any longer. She had to go now even if that meant her not surviving the flight.
Was there a chance she might make it to San Diego? Perhaps, we were told. What kind of chance?
“One or two percent.”
And if she stayed here in Okinawa? What chance of survival then?
With that and a few phone calls, we were on our way to the terminal at Kadena Air Base. We were only given a thirty-minute notice, so we left with what we had. It felt good to be moving, to be doing something other than sitting and waiting, and we even laughed at how quickly things were happening. We found dark humor in the fact that during the ride to the air terminal, we both remembered that when we had left the house two days earlier, we had left a pot of spaghetti on the stove, a load of laundry in the washing machine, and the television on.
Fourteen hours later we were in a shuttle bus on our way to Rady Children’s Hospital. Madison had survived the flight, and a sliver of hope also landed with us in San Diego. The doctors had been wrong about her not making the flight. Perhaps they might be wrong about the rest of her condition. Maybe she could make it a little farther.
That hope, however, was very short-lived. During her admission to the hospital, the social worker from Rady told us that Madison’s acceptance had been granted based upon her condition as related two days earlier. Since then, she had deteriorated to the point where the surgeon would not perform the surgery, as he did not believe she would even survive the anesthesia. The medical team, she told us, would make Madison as comfortable as they could until she passed.
So for the second time in three days, we were guided to a quiet room and made comfortable while we waited for the news that our beloved daughter had died. But, again, God had other plans.
During the early afternoon of December 12, the surgeon called us into his office. He told us very plainly that he didn’t know how it happened or why, but Madison’s vital signs had stabilized enough that he felt the possible benefits of the surgery outweighed the risks. But he stressed that we should not get our hopes up, for he still believed that there was a very good chance she would never wake up from the surgery. He gave her a 10 to 15 percent chance of making it through. It didn’t seem like much, but it was all we had. We signed the release, watched as the medics wheeled her through the operating room doors, and again waited.
The numbness and confusion of those nine hours cannot be described. And even if they could, I am not sure I would want to return to that darkness. But without that long wait there would not have been the sweet rush of limitless hope and joy that came when the waiting room door opened to reveal the surgeon, still in his scrubs, smiling.
In all, over the last four years, Madison has endured four open-heart surgeries, one gastrointestinal surgery, nearly a dozen cardiac catheterizations, and more hospital visits than ten people combined should ever experience. On multiple occasions we have been told that she would not make it, and eventually the words themselves lost all meaning for us.
To this day, no one has been able to tell us how her heart, which never should have begun beating in the first place, suddenly resumed beating after more than two minutes of flat line—not once but twice. No one has ever been able to explain why, after nine weeks in a coma, a baby girl with blood made toxic by liver failure would suddenly begin to breathe past her respirator and open her eyes. No one has ever been able to explain why kidneys that were less than 5 percent functional, lungs that were less than 40 percent functional, and a liver that was less than 10 percent functional would all fully recover with only minor scars.
No one has ever been able to tell us why a little girl who should have died is now, four years later, blessing our family with smiles and laughter and an ageless understanding of who God really is.
No one can tell us why, but to be honest, it really doesn’t matter. These are questions we have learned not to ask. These questions do not puzzle us; instead, they point us back to God. We have seen God do so much through Madison; people—yes, even doctors!—have come to faith through witnessing her miraculous recovery, and we have seen ourselves come to a better understanding of who we are and, more important, what he can do through us.
Every medical professional working on Madison’s case has told us, at one time or another, that there was no hope. But the Great Physician has taught us that the hope we had was enough to bring her back from death and into glorious life.
It's a God Thing is a collection of 46 real, modern day miracles written by YOU! Check back each week to see a new story, and tell your story or purchase the whole collection below!
See more videos
If you start looking for God's activity in your life; if you start looking for "God moments;" it'll change the way you think of them. You start understanding that God is active, He's involved and He cares.