This is the time of the year when we begin to think more about how blessed we are in our lives. A job, health and friends, our faith – any of these can top the list of things for which we are thankful.

The list somehow just doesn’t seem complete with the word “family” being included.

It’s easy to take family members for granted. We all do it. The idea that “they will always be there because they have always been there” is an easy one to cling to, though reality has a way of showing us just how crazy that idea truly is. As we grow older and experience the lost of a loved one, we realize that we must make each day count because tomorrow may or may not come.

A year ago we learned one of Dad’s heart valves was dangerously narrow. The narrowing had been going on for awhile, but it is as with most things in life – if it isn’t causing immediate problems then it’s put on a back burner to think about later. Last November that back burner went front and center in our world when we were told that his moderately narrowed valve was now severely narrowed. Given two options – to wait and see what another year would bring or get something done – the first reaction was let’s wait and see. No one really wants to face a heart procedure but then reality steps in.

Dad was soon seeing symptoms of chest pain, tiredness and breathlessness. That decision of waiting soon turned to a discussion of figuring out what could do to fix the valve. He had gone through a quadruple bypass some 10 years earlier and wasn’t looking forward to having his chest cut open again for a valve replacement.

Looking back now, all I can say is that God stepped in to show us the way. I was at work and shared my concerns of Dad with my co-worker and friend Patti Slaughter. She told me of a friend’s mother, who was in her 90s, had recently gone through a heart valve replacement procedure but that the procedure did not involve cutting open the chest to get to the heart. In fact there was no “cutting” involved. The procedure only kept the patient in the hospital for a couple of days; the success rate was high and the stroke rate was very low.

I think I was meant to share my concerns with Patti because she had the knowledge that would lead Dad to the solution to his condition. I believe that sometimes God speaks to us through those around us.

With the knowledge in hand, Dad was able to go to the Cleveland Clinic and be tested to determine if he was a candidate for the TVAR procedure. Developed at Cleveland Clinic, the procedure follows a heart catheterization where by doctors go in through an artery to reach the heart. The new valve travels the same way so doctors make sure the size of the valve needed and the size of the artery are compatible in order to move the valve via a balloon through the artery and to the inside of the damaged valve. The old valve remains but has no effect on the movement of the new valve, but rather acts as place to anchor the new valve.

The tests proved favorable for Dad to have the procedure and we waited for it to be scheduled. As we waited to hear when it would happen, Dad’s symptoms had worsened as we were warned that they would. If we thought things were getting really bad we were to go to a local emergency room and be transported to Cleveland and the doctors there would move him to the head of the line for those patients scheduled for the procedure.

We probably should have done so but didn’t realize how bad it had really gotten. Dad couldn’t do much without feeling chest pain or being out of breathe. However, when they symptoms become a part of every day life, one doesn’t always notice they are progressively getting worse. We only realized when the doctor doing the procedure told Dad that the valve opening had flattened down so that only a few drops of blood was coming through at a time and his circulation was just enough to keep his extremities alive. The doctor wasn’t sure he would be able to get the balloon through the valve opening but he made the effort, giving a harder push than what is normal and was able to force the balloon through the opening. After that, the procedure went as expected and by that evening Dad was up and walking. He was awake and talking within moments of being taken to the short stay area. By the next afternoon we were driving home with a follow-up checkup scheduled for the next week.

So as Thanksgiving nears, I think of how blessed I am to have Dad with me this year. I’m thankful for God’s intervention, for a friend’s sharing of a potential solution, for the doctors who alerted us to the problem and for those who provided the solution.

As we all know Thanksgiving will soon be overshadowed with the anticipation of Christmas – the season of giving. Already, stores have begun putting Christmas decorations, candy and more on the shelves. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we took our feelings of thankfulness and realizing the many blessings we have ourselves and translated that into the “season of giving” by helping those who may not be as blessed as we are. There are many programs through which we can help others in need – the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign, Toys for Tots, clothing drives to collect gently used coats or other clothing, donating to a local food pantry. There are plenty of ways by which we can help others if we keep our eyes and ears open.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday, how about challenging yourself, family and friends to count their blessings and then translate that number into acts of kindness for others during the Christmas season. I once heard said that we should try to be a blessing to others. Wouldn’t that be a great way to live each day of our lives because if we are truly a blessing to others then we are making the most of each day no matter what tomorrow may bring.

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