On June 26, 2015, Shelby Slagle passed away after being in the hospital for 50 days post-heart transplant surgery. Shelby is my – stay with me – Uncle’s wife’s sister’s daughter and she was born with a hole in her heart (ventricular septal defect) and had corrective surgery at the age of 2, but several years later she needed another surgery. She underwent a Fontan procedure – a palliative surgical procedure used in children with complex congenital heart defects.
Approximately 20-30% of children receiving a Fontan will require heart transplantation in their future.
For Shelby, everything seemed fine. She even competed in high school sports, was an active volunteer for her church, and joyfully worked at the hospital she received so much of her care in the early childhood classrooms. Everything was fine until she turned 25, at which point she needed a pace maker. Afterwards, her life seemed to be back on the up and up. She got married in 2013. She had plans. She wanted a family. They were going to buy a house.
But then, her health turned again. Earlier this year, she became one of the 20-30% and was placed on the heart transplant list.
In May, she received the call. Her heart awaited her in Pittsburgh. And everyone else’s hearts fluttered in hopeful anticipation.
She had the surgery. Her heart was a bit too big for her chest cavity, so they had to rework a couple of things, but otherwise, it went well. They left her chest open to help decompress the swelling.
She was bed ridden for a couple of weeks.
They finally sewed her up. Her new heart was working great. She was sitting up in bed. Healing seemed to be happening. Her second chance was beginning.
Then, infection. It’s a four letter word to anyone who just had surgery, but especially to someone with a brand new heart. It’s even worse when they can’t find the source of the infection. Which is what happened. After several more procedures, they finally found the bed sore that caused it.
By this point, Shelby is exhausted. It’s day 50 of being in the hospital. And the medicines aren’t quite working as they ought. Her poor, devastated, and tired family gets word that they need a miracle.
This wasn’t suppose to happen. She was a young 27. This heart was suppose to bring her a second chance in life. She had hopes – hopes that we all take for granted every single day. Yet, after all she endured, a single infection took her from this world.
It’s not suppose to happen this way.
“I am persuaded that the deepest of suffering for a human being is not the suffering of physical, relational, or personal loss. No, the hardest part of suffering is the emotional/ spiritual suffering we go through as we suffer the loss of those things. It is the pain of not being able to make sense of life, the pain of feeling that God is distant or unknowable, the pain of not having a clue what to do, or the pain of utter powerlessness.” – Paul David Tripp, Forever
I know for me, I didn’t think much of Shelby needing to have a heart transplant. I trusted the medical system to work, that once she received this heart, her life would continue and it would be so, so much better. I assumed that her Instagram feed would be flooded with baby bump pictures, a new house, smiles upon smiles a year from now.
But now it’s quiet. I didn’t imagine that possibility.
“When suffering enters your door, when you are grieving the loss of someone or something significant, or when you are dealing with unexpected disappointment, where do you look for hope, rest and comfort? Where do you turn when you are in a situation that you never thought you’d be in and are incapable of altering?” – Tripp, Forever
I hoped in the surgery, when I should have hoped in the God who saves and heals. I should have hoped in God’s forever, instead of my here and now.
I don’t really know what to say or do, except tell Shelby’s story as best as I know it. Continue her memory, and know without a question, that she is with her Lord, created anew in a perfect, whole body. Fully healed. Smiles upon smiles. Saying, “Hey guys, look at me now! I am living forever.” And to remember that God’s mercies are steadfast and new every morning.