Salonen: Hubby celebrates ‘first’ birthday with heart

Roxane Salonen
Roxane Salonen, Faith Conversations columnist.

“I wouldn’t mind a cake with one candle to celebrate my first birthday,” my husband requested one evening recently. Until then, I hadn’t realized how much this anniversary would mean to him – and all of us.

Late last year, I shared of his previously-undetected heart issue that had prompted an urgent, and very frightening, open-heart surgery just before Christmas.

Despite medical advancements, due to the nature of the issue – mitral-valve cord rupturing – he’d require a full-out opening of his chest.

My husband, a rigorous exerciser, couldn’t have guessed what was going on inside the chambers of his heart in the months, maybe years, preceding, and his risk of stroke.

We each entered separate, dark tunnels, neither fully aware of the others’ experience, nor anticipating the trauma to come, approaching surgery day with a prayer of surrender on our lips.


In truth, my husband died on Dec. 6, 2017 – at least for a time. We knew only that the surgery was taking longer than expected. After six hours and my Fitbit full of pacing steps, Dr. Newman finally appeared with a report. His heart had flatlined upon being opened – a first for her, and a moment that had stunned the entire surgical team.

While we were in another room praying, Newman was massaging my husband’s heart back to life.

It was jolting news, met with shock and relief. The moment would soon meld with other distressing ones as his body worked to fully recover. Despite overflowing thankfulness for his life, I left our week together in the hospital worn and weary from witnessing my beloved’s near-seizure, anxiety and dramatic 50-pound fluid weight gain.

While he endured this from within, I watched from without, clinging to those remnants of faith within reach, learning, as I fought for my husband’s survival with him, that sometimes we’re held in place only by the prayers whispered by others.

A year later, though we gladly recall the beautiful compassion of friends and family during that time, we’d agree, it’s much easier on this side of things. And by golly, the guy deserves a piece of cake.

So, on Dec. 6, 2018, we convened for dessert at the restaurant where our oldest daughter waitresses. The cake with one lit candle included a message on its plate written in chocolate swirls, courtesy of our girl: “Thanks for not dying.”

Indeed, we all look back on this year with blessed gratitude. And while I absolutely credit Newman for her incredible work, I also believe God ultimately led the team that day. Now that it’s all at a safer distance, the Lord’s message from then seems even clearer.

“Dear One, I hold your life in balance. And I can take it away in an instant. I can, but I won’t; not just yet. Now go, enjoy each other. And think of me from time to time. Love, God.”

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