A Family’s Gift Honors Mother and Child
One summer day, a beautiful, little girl, named Kimberly, was born with sparkly eyes and chubby cheeks to first time parents Cindy and Billy Spruill.
She was diagnosed with a rare heart disease, spongy myocardium, a cardiomyopathy described in the literature though never seen by the experienced cardiologist that was in charge and assigned to her care. There was no cure. Kimberly would need life sustaining intravenous medications until a heart transplant could be performed.
For months, Kimberly would wait in the neonatal ICU at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, in Norfolk, Virginia, several hours from her parents’ home in North Carolina. Amid the glass walls, constantly beeping machines, IV pumps, feeding tubes, heart monitors and flashing lights, her parents learned how to embrace the joys of parenthood, the smiles that their daughter would provide only to them and the changes in her heart beat that would be seen when she heard their voices. Day in and day out, we celebrated the victories, a day without fever, a day with weight gain or just a day with no complications. We used each day as if a student in school preparing for their final exam, learning all that was needed to care for an infant with a heart transplant, so that when that day did come, there was little left to learn, and discharge to home was reduced to the normal things of having a crib, car seat, diapers and syringes for daily medicine.
But that day would never come. An offer for a heart didn’t come in time.
After attending Kimberly’s funeral, her mother gave a little angel to me. It has been placed with reverence each year on my tree. For 25 years.
December 7, 2022, I received a phone call from Kimberly’s mother, Cindy. She was going through some things of Kimberly’s and thought of me. We reflected on our shared memories. We cried. Laughed. Remembered. Cindy shared the joy of becoming a parent again, this time a son, and now a grandson. Her voice resonated with joy as she spoke of her son and grandson and how they had blessed her life and Billy’s abundantly. We celebrated lives well lived, knowing without putting it into words there was an abyss that was never filled. A beautiful baby girl that never went home.
February 8, 2023, I received a text from Cindy’s husband, Billy. Cindy had collapsed. Her heart was resuscitated, but she did not survive. They would be saying their final goodbyes and an honor walk would be held at the hospital to pay tribute to Cindy and the lives she would save. Three lives.
At her funeral service, two musical selections, “Love God, Love People” and “On the Other Side” were played. A Celebration of Life fitting for a woman of noble character. Humble. Faithful. At her funeral, her family proudly shared their decision to donate, honoring Cindy’s wishes and their own. The decision that never came in time for Kimberly. But for three lives, Cindy would make a final gift of immeasurable love.
Today, 3 lives are forever changed by a woman that they will never know.
Today, 3 lives were given hope to embrace this world and its promise from a mother and father who knew what waiting was like…and a call that never came.
Today, I am enriched by witnessing the love of a newborn for her parents, and their devoted love for her in life and in death. I am honored to have had the privilege to watch the ripple effect of one tiny little life that extends far beyond the walls of a Virginia hospital. An angel on my tree reminds me that a legacy of love is not defined by a single life. An angel on my tree inspires me to love as they loved. And because of them, I am forever changed.
July 22, Kimberly’s birthday, a child, reunited, rests in the arms of her mother on the “other side.” May we remember all mothers and fathers…those that gave us life, those whose arms are empty, those who wait for the gift of life and those who have graciously given to those in need.
Debbie Anderson is a nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters and served as the heart transplant coordinator during Kimberly’s hospitalization. She has been involved in donor advocacy organizations beginning in 1992 and has been an active member of Donate Life Virginia.