It’s always a sobering experience to walk through the automatic sliding doors leading you to the check in desk. This is after all, the same hospital that saved Isabella’s life when she was just three weeks old and today’s visit is almost two years to the day from when everything changed for my perfect little family. Walking through those hospital doors is a reminder that we’re there because a life depends on it.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Isabella was born with a congenital heart condition where the flaps in her aortic valve never fully separated during development in the womb. A problem was discovered immediately after birth but no one knew just how serious it was until a specialist from Seattle Children’s Hospital took a look. She was rushed almost immediately to Seattle for an emergency heart operation where they ran a balloon through a blood vessel all the way from her thigh into her aortic valve to blow it up just enough to tear the flaps apart. At just three weeks old there was little to no margin of error allowed.

During that time I was an emotional wreck. I never showed it to my family, friends, church, or work. Not even on this blog. At the time we had finished filming a spin off for a reality show that many of my readers are familiar with. We had never been shown in much of a positive light on the show and were often mocked and ridiculed on the internet. There were calls from the producers to tell our story of Izzy’s journey on the show but I just couldn’t do it. The last thing I wanted is for Izzy to get older and look up past episodes and read all the cruel things people said about her parents when to her, they were the ones that did everything they could to save her life.

Now that’s all in the past. The show still calls and we always tell them the same old thing: “Everything is perfect and couldn’t be better.” That seems to be code for: “We are extremely boring and you wouldn’t sell enough commercials with our story.” We really do wish the show and producers well. One thing can not be disputed, they sure know how to cast the craziest journeys.

I digress. As I said earlier, I kept my pain hidden inside. Hidden from mostly everyone except my counselor. It was in her office that I could cry and reveal my worst fears. How would I cope if this operation didn’t succeed? Would I have resentment toward my wife? Where could I turn to if I didn’t feel like I was strong enough to keep going? How would Cassidy handle it seeing me trying to cope? How would she cope herself? These thoughts were dark. I was so incredibly scared though. Blogging isn’t that easy either because even well meaning people didn’t understand how close we were to losing our little Izzy bug. I know that people were praying and their hearts were in the right place when they left comments making it sound like it wasn’t a big deal so I just bit my tongue and pressed on.

Since then we’ve been to numerous cardiology appointments. I can not say enough good things about the staff at Seattle Children’s. I’m crying as I write this because that’s where I feel the safest with Isabella. Love flows naturally there and it feels like each person you encounter treats your child like it’s their own. My goodness it’s the most precious experience. For the last two years though her doctor didn’t have enough confidence to say either way whether she was good or needed another balloon procedure. It was always a reluctant and cautious answer to tell us to wait for another 1, 3 or 6 month visit. He is always so gentle and kind with Izzy. Even when you could see that he wasn’t happy by not getting a clear answer he was always so professional and careful with his words. One thing that we know for certain is that Izzy will at some point in her life need work done on her aortic valve. The big question now though is, when? It scares me to death thinking about that but I know we’re in good hands so that brings my anxiety down a few notches.

About today’s visit. Momma got Izzy dressed up in her cute little purple Nike track suit and gray shoes. She brought her little doll with her who’s name is Alicia. Isabella was in high spirits despite being woken up three hours earlier than normal. Leading up to this day I’d had a lot of nervousness building up. I’m a worrier I guess when it comes to my children. Like the dad in Finding Nemo, I think. Just way too worried for my own good. A reader of this blog who has become a very close friend knew about my anxiety. I asked her to pray just as Daya and I were doing our own praying. The cool thing about that is my new friend is from Malaysia and practices Buddhism so when she prayed she would actually go to a temple and talk with monks. I didn’t tell very many people about this appointment for fear that if we didn’t get good results there’d be no way I could hold back my tears. If there’s one thing I hate doing it’s letting people see me in vulnerable state. That’s probably to a fault and probably has a lot to do with my childhood but more on that in another blog.

“Isabella?”, we heard the lady say to call her in. She welcomed us to follow her into the hospital room with a bed and ultrasound equipment next to it. I’m feeling a little bit of pride right now because normally Izzy wants momma to lay next to her and sing her songs and play videos on her phone to feel comforted. Today however was different. When momma went to lay down with her she started getting fussy and reached up for me. The smile on my heart matched my face. Getting an ultrasound is always a traumatic experience for Isabella. She hates the cold goop that goes on her chest, the cold device that reads her heart movement, and the stranger that’s doing it all. Today though I was able to calm her down by singing the ABCs over and over again.

After about thirty minutes the technician felt like she got everything she needed and moved us to another room where we’d meet with Izzy’s doctor. Once in there we took more measurements such as weight and length and got to see familiar faces again from past visits. They offered Izzy stickers. Someone must have tipped them off because Izzy is a sucker for stickers. I should show you all my kitchen cabinets sometime. After all that we finally got to see Izzy’s doctor.

“She’s good.”, were the first words out of his mouth. As much as I tried to hold back, I couldn’t. I just started crying. After two years since her first procedure and the chance of another one with a less than desirable ultrasound, there was a lot of emotion riding on this one. He said she exceeded his expectations and was cleared to do anything she wanted without limitation. She gets to live a normal childhood! All of our prayers were answered and we couldn’t be happier. Today was a game changer for the Otto Fam.

Driving home though I couldn’t help but reflect a little bit more on this latest visit. We do know with certainty that at some point in Isabella’s life she will need an operation on her heart. There’s just no running from it but the doctor did say that he thinks it won’t be until her heart is fully grown which is a lot better to deal with than when a heart is as small as a child’s. How will that day go for me? And Daya? How will she take it once she realizes the gravity of the situation? Today prayers from all over the world worked in our favor. What about the people in our situation that prayed for the same outcome and didn’t get it? Can I make a special request from anyone who reads this and ask that if you are someone who practices faith, that you pray for the sick children of the world? Today showed me that it doesn’t matter who or what you call God. What matters, ironically is the condition of our hearts.

Maybe Elon Musk and others are right when they suggest we’re living in a simulation. If so, it doesn’t change the possibility that there could very well be an ultimate Creator out there watching us, testing us and hoping we make the right decisions. Failing is also very much a part of the game. Sometimes you have to fail to succeed. Sometimes we have to change the way we see the world and others living in it. Sometimes it’s our fears that hold us back. What is fear? This invisible choice we allow to decide for us? Why would we allow a ghost to make our decisions? That’s weird.

I will try to finally address my own fears in the posts ahead. For the first time since many of you have come to know me and my wonderful family I will try to open up in ways that scare me to death. I want to talk about the abuse I faced as a child that placed me in foster care. I want to talk about the impact that having never met my father had on me. I want to talk about never feeling what love ever felt like until I held my own child in 2008. By addressing these situations there is always a price. I have always been told to keep our family secrets silent and I’ve always been ashamed of my past. I’ve met too many hurt people along the way and this blog has introduced me to more. It has now become a moral obligation of mine to finally talk about how far I’ve truly come no matter the price I pay.

Today though, we celebrate many years of good health to come. Momma is out grocery shopping with Izzy, Cassidy is out on a boat crabbing with friends and I am just now finishing this post while looking at the last photo in the set below of my precious Izzy bug’s smile and gosh darn it, I’m crying again…but it feels so damn good.