Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Day 1: Jamaica

Friday February 15, 2013

I have seen the scenario unfold on virtually every TV drama ever broadcasted, yet I never imagined that it actually occurred in real life. Surely the 2 am panicked phone call containing a family emergency was nothing more than a fictional plot twist to keep the audience engaged in a show. To my horror this fictional plot twist was now my reality.

I was on a missions trip in Jamaica with a team of Mel's students when the call came. Brian, our Jamaican contact, came into my room and roused me from a deep sleep. I could not see his face in the dark and even without my glasses on I knew something serious was wrong from his minimal attempt to be quiet. He handed me his phone and said I needed to call home immediately. Ray, my pastor, had just called and there was something wrong with Eliana.

The shock of these words made me sick. This had to be a dream, or maybe something I ate. I made the call in a daze and Mel answered after three rings, which felt like an eternity. My heart sank with the onset of her voice, this was serious!

Mel replayed the sequence of events that had played out over the preceding hours but all I heard was, my baby is girl is sick. I felt so far away, and so much guilt for the distance between us. Never before in my life have I ever wished for a super power, but in that moment I wished like nothing else that I could leap out of my own skin and fly to them both. After a moment the more logical part in my brain thankfully kicked in. I cut Mel off mid sentence, I told her I would call her back and that I would be there soon.

I woke Cam, Mel's colleague and our close friend, who was sleeping in the next room to relay the story. He and Brian took to the computer to plot a course home for me while I packed up my gear. Thirty minutes after my initial call to Mel the three of us were on the road to Montego Bay, the closest airport. I did not have a ticket home yet as our Internet connection was very limited. We did find a flight out of Montego Bay to Miami that left at 8am but had no idea of availability and what connections to Winnipeg there would be.  

We arrived at the airport around 5:30 am to find that none of the ticket agents were there. Thankfully Brian had an apartment nearby where we anticipated a better Internet connection. The connection was strong at Brian's apartment and we were able to try hundreds of different flight combinations. After an hour of Cam and Brian working on my flight we succumbed to the fact that my best option would get me back to Winnipeg around 7:45 pm. Fourteen hours from now! We booked the tickets and I called Mel to share the news and get an update.

In the time since we last spoke things had gotten significantly worse. The plan now was to try and transport her to Edmonton where the cardio centre for western Canada was located. I was trying so hard to be strong for Mel over the phone but I know my voice betrayed me. I had to get off the phone with her before I broke down completely. I was filled with anger, praying and crying I questioned God and the course of events like I never have before. I was making myself physically nauseous, convulsing, and fighting the urge to smash everything around me.

When I pulled myself together I left the room I was hiding out in to join Cam and Brian. Our new mission was to look at flight options from Winnipeg to Edmonton in anticipation of Ellie's move. There were none. At least there were none that departed after my 7:45 pm arrival. I was not going to wait any longer than I had to to see my family. I started doing the math, could I drive to Edmonton before the red eye flight, who would come with me on the drive, surely it would not be safe to go alone. While all of this was playing out in my head Cam was able to plot out a course from Montego Bay to Edmonton which would get me there around 11:45 pm. Thankfully this new flight was on Westjet again, the company I had booked my flight to Winnipeg on. Our hope was that once we had confirmation that Ellie was indeed being transported to Edmonton we would go to the Westjet ticket agent and try and get me on to this new flight.

At 10 am Jamaican time I had confirmation from Mel that the transfer was happening and they should be there by mid afternoon. With this news the three of us headed back to the airport to try and switch my flight from Winnipeg to Edmonton. At this point I did not care if I had to pay for six different flights home as long as I got there. Thankfully it did not come to this. The ticket agent was very sympathetic and made all the arrangements for me. I would be in Edmonton tonight baring any further disasters. All there was to do now was wait.

The next few hours of waiting sucked to put it mildly. I called Mel one more time before I went through security and lost access to Brian's cell phone. Her voice was noticeably worse, was Ellie gone? Had I missed her? My head was getting light, I wished Mel would just spit the words out so I could begin to process this new horror. Ellie's heart had stopped beating while the transport team was inserting her breathing tube. They had to perform CPR for five minutes before she was stable and her heart has beating again, albeit with multiple chemical and mechanical aids. 

Armed with this news I board my first flight, to Toronto. I was filled with the anxiety that my little girl could die before I got there. The flight was uneventful until we neared Toronto. A snow storm had settled in and was dumping layers of snow on the city. We circled the airport for thirty minutes waiting for a runway to be cleared for our arrival. When we finally did land, the freezing snow had jammed up the departure walkway which prevented us from leaving the plane. My connection window was shrinking, the flight to Edmonton departed at 9 pm and it was now nearly 8 pm and I still had to go through customs and recheck my bag. Eventually the doors opened and I began my sprint to customs. Thankfully everything was fast and I made it to my next terminal on time for boarding. That is if boarding had been on time. When you are in the throes of a crisis you get tunnel vision, had my plane not just been delayed, what made this plane so special that it is perfectly on time? Of course my connection was also delayed.

When we finally were able to board we were 45 minutes late. We then sat there waiting to be de-iced and for a runway to be cleared for another two hours. I arrived in Edmonton at 2 am. Our cousins Jon and Sara thankfully were there to pick me up and take me to the hospital.

Ellie had survived the transport and was stable. 

I could hardly see her through all the tubing and machines, but she was alive and in one of the best infant cardiac facilities in North America. 

Where do we go from here?


  1. Dan, Mel, Eliana, I love you guys. Eliana is our little cupid. Strongest little heart of gold.
    I'm following your story, and I've been sending lots of prayers, hugs and kisses.
    Love you so much, Chrissy

    1. Mrs. Bailey and Mr. Bailey this is Matthew Moniz, you guys are in my prayers and I only hope the best for you guys! Your little loves you and you love her! i know that this will all pull through, and hoe you guys will be back in winnipeg soon. we miss you, i will keep on praying for you.

  2. I am a friend of Anna Randall-Gryz, she is the one who let me know if this situation. I have never met you, but I have two small kids of my own and my heart goes out to you. Most of all, my heart goes to Eliana. I look forward to reading about the day when you take her home again, with all of this behind you.