Ready for School

Today is such a beautiful day. It is the first day of school for my daughter Matilda. Although exciting for many families, the start of a school year is normal. But, for Matilda, going from a hospital bed on life support for 72 days to a healthy child with a backpack ready to enter her childhood is anything but normal. It is a celebration.

You see, Matilda was diagnosed with acute liver failure at nine days old and the odds of bringing her home were not in our favor. She fluttered back and forth between worlds before receiving the beautiful gift of a liver transplant at six weeks old. Then, because the transplant left her immune system compromised, we kept her isolated, protected from outside germs that could hinder her recovery for many years.

While learning about post transplant care, I remember staring back at her doctors in disbelief as they described what life five years post-transplant could be like. They told me that five years marked a milestone that would allow me to exhale. At that point, Matilda’s body would be much less likely to reject her liver. While she would still have to take a strict regimen of medications, we would be able to worry less about outside germs and she could live a more normal life.

As the transplant team told me this, I tried to imagine what it would feel like sending her to school and was filled with worry and riddled with anxiety. I imagined all the snotty noses, the hands neglected of soap, the medically untrained staff. So much could go wrong. But, here we are on Matilda’s first day of school.

Last night we packed her bag. Together we sat on the staircase taking turns finding just the right spot for all of her supplies. In the morning, we made cinnamon rolls and talked about meeting new friends. The walk to school was full of excitement and anticipation. Hand-in-hand we went through the schedule together - one more time. I would see her right after school and we would have a snack together at the park before heading home. Then, in an instant, she called for a friend and was off running down the hall. Tears of joy filled my eyes as she stopped, turned around, and shouted, "See ya Mom!"

Here I am. And, there she is, running down the hall. I am not thinking about germs. I am thinking about the memories she will build in these hallways. The projects she will bring home with pride. The first book she will successfully read. Matilda is here because she was given a second chance at life. A family made the heroic choice to donate life and as a result Matilda is here and she is happy. She was given the gift of experiencing Kindergarten just like any other kid. To grow, to learn, and to thrive.

My tears are not for mourning a childhood passing too quickly. My tears are in thanks for the opportunity to witness a childhood at all. My tears are filled with relief. She has come so far, and this feels so right. This is Matilda standing tall against all odds. This is her thank you note. This is her victory lap!

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