There is a family with an empty chair at the table today. I don’t know who they are or who once sat in the chair. I just know it is empty.
There is also an intact family filled with gratitude and grace, every seat at their table filled. Though both families have a story I can only share the one I know. It’s about an Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota family who celebrates each day because strangers gave their son a life-saving gift. It’s a story of grace, gratitude, and giving.
When, 14 years ago, Natalie and Ben Bushaw learned they would become parents they assumed they would have one child. Months later they learned one baby was two nearly conjoined twins who, if they survived, would be born with significant complications. Rejecting suggestions of selective reduction they drew upon their strong faith and took the pregnancy to term. Their four-pound boys were born in June 2003 with multiple congenital defects – and gumption.
The simple explanation is that Owen’s problems centered on his GI tract and Logan’s on his heart. The University of Minnesota campus became a second home as the boys visited more than 200 times for both minor and major procedures. By age four they’d undergone 18 heart, hand, and bowel surgeries. Despite a few hiccups Owen and Logan did remarkably well.
Until a year ago, when it became clear Logan’s single ventricle heart would not perform much longer. So last summer Logan, Owen, Natalie, and Ben, a teacher and boys basketball coach at Simley High School, traveled to St. Louis, Missouri for the heart transplant they’d always known was inevitable.
Enter the family with an empty chair. I do not know the circumstances that led to them making a life-saving gift to Logan last summer. What I know is that Logan’s perpetually oxygen-deprived lips are now pink instead of blue. With fully oxygenated blood pumping through his body he can run and play, as a 13-year-old boy should.
I met Natalie years ago when I joined the Parent Advisory Board for the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital (since renamed University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital). Today we serve on a different committee that supports mothers and children’s health. We share a debt to those at the University who doctored both the Bushaw boys and my daughter, who underwent a bone marrow transplant there in 2005.
One thing remains constant. Natalie always has a smile on her face and in her voice. How does she do it, I’ve wondered. Why is she so upbeat when she could be so depleted?
This I know. Resilient people don’t travel alone. They find strength in solidarity. Natalie, public relations director for Life Time Fitness, started a CaringBridge site before the boys were born. It’s their “go-to place for comfort, reprieve, safety, prayer requests, journaling, chronicling, and solace.” Posts, visits, prayers and comments number in the hundreds of thousands. There is a power that comes through CaringBridge to provide extraordinary strength, Natalie says.
Resilient people also reach out and give back. Natalie doesn’t just give back. She leads. In addition to chairing the Parent Advisory Board the past 10 yeas she has twice chaired FashionFest, a major fundraiser for Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Giving back has become a family activity. Their Logan Loves Foundation is getting off the ground with a mission to bring joy and healing to children during hospital visits by providing products and services that Logan, a “professional patient,” knows they will appreciate. It has unexpected benefits. This past week, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes and Logan distributed gifts to kids at Masonic Children’s Hospital then talked about Logan’s heart, Xavier’s football experience and more.
Another hallmark of resilient people is they are not just grateful. They express their gratitude. Natalie’s gratitude is best exemplified in a letter she penned to Logan’s donor family this week. It reads in part:
As I write this note, we are approaching the five-month mark from the day our 13-year-old son received the gift of a new and perfect heart. We know this means your family is also approaching the five-month mark of losing someone you loved very, very much. With that in mind, and Christmas just days away, when many of us as Christians will be celebrating the greatest gift of all, we wanted to reach out to you and share our eternal gratitude for the gift of life you gave to our son and to our family….
Our own hearts – both our physical and emotional – cannot fathom the sorrow then and now that you feel and for that, we are so truly sorry and so very sad for your loss. As a family who tries to live out loud in our faith and trust in the Lord, we have prayed so hard that you found comfort, peace, strength and joy in celebrating the precious person you lost and knowing that he or she was able to provide life to others. And, now as Christmas approaches we are humbled and honored to say thank you for the most precious gift we could ever have asked for from strangers and hope this letter provides a gift of solace. …
We have big dreams for Logan and pray he will continue to be a compassionate, funny and zestful kid who loves God and others. We trust he will make the most of the life he’s been given by our Lord and by your family.
Amen to that.