As I ran into the ER at Children's Hospital of Augusta, I wasn't prepared for what I was about the see. They rushed me down a small hallway that opened into a room lined with drawn curtains on both sides. Behind each curtain was a pediatric patient in need of differing levels of medical attention. I was led to one such curtain on my left, and as they pulled it back for me to enter, I literally began to gasp for breath. My baby, my 10 year old little girl was laying unconscious on a table as medical personnel were trying to clear her airway of debris. Ella's heart rate was over 200 and her oxygen levels had plummeted. Soon, they began preparation to intubate her and it was more than I could process in the moment.
Twenty minutes earlier, I was wrapping up choir rehearsal when I heard my name. It was my ministry assistant calling for me to hurry out of the room. "It's Ella!" I quickly ran down the hallway where I found her laying on the floor. "Ella!" I shouted as I grabbed her arm and began feeling for a pulse. "Ella, it's daddy! Can you hear me?" I received a weak thumbs-up in answer to my question. "Are you okay," I asked, hoping to get the same positive response. Unfortunately, I received a thumbs-down to that question. All I knew to do was tell her "I love you, I love you so much," to which I got another thumbs-up. What I didn't realize at the time was that Ella had suffered a ruptured brain AVM, and portions of her brain had already been effected by the massive bleed. She had lost her eyesight, her ability to speak, and was only able to communicate through a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
As we share more of Ella's story, you'll learn details of what happened that night and in the days that followed. Though you have some new insight from this blog entry to some of what happened on October 5, 2016, what I want you to take away is this: Ella always told us she loved us. She loved like no other human being I've ever known. With total abandon, unashamed of who knew, she loved her mom, her dad, her family and her friends. Even from the hard tile-floor of a church with a catastrophic brain bleed that had cut off her ability to communicate, she found a way to say "I love you, Daddy" one last time. I find so much comfort in knowing she heard me and did everything in her power to make sure I "heard" her.
My daughter never showed any signs of being anything but healthy. She never had headaches, was never unusually sleepy or tired, and never exhibited any motor-skill issues. Then, October 5 happened. We will be intentional not to make every blog entry a cry-fest full of hopelessness and emotion. There will be moments of laughter, as well. You will get to hear from a mother's perspective, as my wife, Jody, shares in future posts. You will also get to hear from her brother and sisters. But, we want to make sure we tell her story accurately and in its entirety. In telling her story, we have to be clear about the lessons she taught us and is teaching us today. One such lesson is to love. Don't hold back. Love with all you have. Love with a passion that outweighs any circumstance. Love in such a way that those who receive it know it. Leave no doubts, and never say goodbye without saying "I love you". Ella's last words on this earth were in the form of a thumbs-up: "I love you, daddy." Knowing that helps me through the tough days, and allows me to smile in the reflective moments. I will hear Ella's "thumbs-up" everyday for the rest of my life, and that's enough to push me to be the best I can be and to share that thumbs-up with the world.