New Heart

One seldom meets with heroism, and rarely in a mere child. Ethan Lindberg was just six months shy of seven years old when my family first had the privilege of meeting him last fall at Children’s Hospital of Boston (CHB). We were newcomers. Ethan had been there since May. Members of the incredibly dedicated medical staff were pulling every trick they had up their sleeves in an effort to conjure the multiple complications resulting from congenital heart defects. What Ethan’s heart lacked in physical strength it more than compensated for in courage.

I learned about Ethan before actually meeting him as his family was so gracious to take the time, despite the stressful situation they found themselves in, to reach out to us to show us the ropes before we ever arrived in Boston. They’ve always been an incredible encouragement as well as indispensible guides for navigating the rough waters between the Scylla of living with congenital heart disease and the Charybdis of risky treatment.

Ethan was one of those patients who before you meet them you torture yourself trying to think of some clever way to cheer them up and brighten what you assume must be a very dull day, only to find yourself walking away from meeting them with a big smile on your own face and an extra spring in your step. For Ethan, despite the very trying circumstances God saw fit to throw his way, there was rarely a dull moment—at least not for those who had the pleasure of making his acquaintance. Much of Ethan’s exuberance was derived from his love of music. If I didn’t know better, I would think that Ethan was born with earbuds, so ubiquitous were they.

I don’t mean to make light of Ethan’s situation. He spent many a long day piled upon day in hospital and was often in great physical discomfort, even in little ways. For example, certain medicines he took forced him to limit his liquid intake, leaving him with constant thirst. Yet Ethan refused to allow his physical condition and surroundings to defeat his spirit.

One morning when our George was in CICU, Elisabeth returned to the room after a short break and reported, “I happened to walk by Ethan’s room and he was having a dance party with his nurses.” Later that day we ran into Ethan’s mom, Jessica, who said, “Oh yeah, he starts every day that he feels physically up to it with a dance party.” Isn’t it amazing that God often instills those whom he plans to call home so early with wisdom beyond their years? Wouldn’t it soothe so many of the world’s ills were we all to take Ethan’s prescription of starting off the day by dancing?

It became painfully clear that Ethan’s condition was deteriorating and that without a heart transplant he would not be long for this world. But it was not a simple matter of finding a suitable heart. His body had to get itself just right before successfully receiving a new heart. And the heart he was born with would have to sustain him in the meantime.

Despite the astonishing efforts of his parents and the medical staff at CHB, it was not to be. The Lindbergs and the CHB medical staff have officially set a new standard for the phrase “They did everything humanly possible.” I would be remiss not to add that much of what Ethan and his family has endured over the past seven years has forged the path for so many heart babies who have come after him, both now and for generations to come. Great strides have been made in treating congenital heart disease, and we all owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Ethan (and the entire Lindberg family), as well as others like him, for his heroic courage and steadfast, indefatigable pioneering spirit.

Other than an all too brief stay at home punctuated by visits to a local hospital, Ethan would remain in CHB for more than a year before going home for good—but not home to the Midwest to await yet another procedure. This time he left the hospital completely whole and with his new heart. You see, on Tuesday, June 12, 2012, at around 6:30 in the morning, Ethan went home to be in Heaven with his Lord , where there are no more needles, no more painful surgeries, no more respirators, no more prescriptions, no more uncertainly, but where I’m sure there is endless music and dancing.

Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing.
Psalm 149:1-3