Cherishing a second chance

Cherishing a second chance

Lani Salinas

Staying alive seems effortless, doesn’t it? 

   It was, until my heart skipped a beat. Nothing would ever be the same again. 

   Taking steps on the foul line, I was about to enter the dugout. My body shut down; my heart shut down. There was too much blood pumping through my arteries too fast, forcing them to get clogged. My heart didn’t have a chance.

    I fell to the dirt as life coursed out of my numb body. “Lani? Laners? I think something is wrong with Lani.” 

   “We thought you had just tripped on a few softballs that were around you,” teammate Emily Brands said.

  My coach jogged over to my side. My eyes were flipped, foam started coming out of my mouth. I was gasping for air. 

   My dad came running from his car to my side. 

   “Lani? Mija!”  No response. 

   “Somebody call 911!! Lani!!” he said, shaking my body. “Mija, Mija!!”

“I didn’t know what to do, you were just laying there,” Jose Salinas said.

   “911, what is your emergency?” 

   “My daughter isn’t breathing, her lips are blue. I don’t know what’s happening!” 

   “Where are you?” 

   “Huizenga Park in Zeeland.” 

   “Okay, an ambulance is on the way.” 

   “What is your name?” 

   All he wanted was to get me help.

“I could tell you were having a hard time breathing. You were turning blue,” Jose Salinas said. 

   “Jose Salinas. How I can get my daughter to breathe again!” 

   “Okay sir, does anyone there know CPR?” 

   A silence occurred while people looked at each other, realizing that nobody knew what to do. 

   “No, just please tell us what to do!” Salinas said. 

   My coach leaned over my motionless body, starting to follow the instructions from the dispatcher. Pressing his hands against my chest, he began to perform compressions. Eventually, everyone heard the sirens from afar.

   My dad was kneeling by my side. “Lani! Mija, please wake up!” 

   Suddenly, an off-duty firefighter came running from the condos next to the park. He was grasping onto a Lucas – Chest Compression System. The first responder came to my side and started assembling the contraption. While putting it around my body, another man at the park saw what was happening and pulled out an Automated External Device (AED) from his truck. The bystander ran to the field and handed the device to the first responder.

   Sirens. So close, but so far. Little did I know, my guardian angel was about to pay me a visit. Unaware of what was happening, I saw my guardian angel standing across from me. 

   He walked out of a cloud of bright white fog and told me to go back. 

   “It’s not your time,” he said. 

   “What are you talking about? What is going on?” I said.

   He reached his hand out towards me, my body urged me to reach back and touch his finger. When I touched his finger, all I saw were butterflies.

   The paramedics and cops had arrived. The paramedics came running to my aid as the first responder caught them up. 

   “What happened?” 

   “She was just walking, and she collapsed.” My father wanted to be by my side, but the cop moved him away so they could work on me. My dad turned around to call my mom about what was happening. 

   “Jen, Lani collapsed.” 

   “What do you mean?” 

   “She was just walking to the dugout and she collapsed, the paramedics are working on her right now.”

“I had never heard your father cry so hard before,” Jennifer Salinas said.

   He turned back around to look at me and his heart sunk deeper than the biggest shipwreck.

   They put a white sheet over my body. “WE LOST HER, JEN!! They put a white sheet over her body!!” 

   “What do you mean we lost her?” my mom said. 

   While the paramedics started working on me, they had to cut my shirt open and my chest was exposed. They put the sheet over me to give me privacy. 

   My lifeless body was laying there with no pulse. 

   “Clear!” They shocked me once. No pulse. 

   “Clear!” Shocked me twice. No pulse. Final shock. 

   “Clear!”

   “She has a weak pulse, let’s get her going.” 

   “Jen, they found a pulse. We are going to Zeeland Hospital, meet us there,” my dad said.

   “Okay! I’m on my way!” 

   The paramedics tried lifting me on a stretcher through the opening of the softball field, but it wouldn’t fit. So they wrapped me in the sheet, put me on the stretcher, and raised me over the fence. They loaded me in the back and I was on my way. 

   When I arrived at Zeeland Hospital, they tried to stabilize me and tried to find out the problem. The ER team decided to put me in a CT scan to see what was going on. Before I went in, they gave me an anesthetic.

   Because it’s my luck, I was allergic to the anesthetic. 

   I got taken out of the scan and my body was ice cold. I was turning blue, my organs started shutting down; I was so fragile.

   The doctors didn’t know what to do. They were confused about what was going on with me. Aeromed arrived ready to take me to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. They wheeled my body to the plane and I was on my way.

   My body was still in shock from the medicine given to relax me when I arrived at DeVos. When I got there, the doctors were confused why my body was still ice cold. Turns out that the allergic reaction was hurting everything on my insides. They finally found out what was going on after a few hours. 

   The doctors said that my body went under so much trauma that it was best to put me in an induced coma. I was in a coma for the next three days, my body awaiting stability for heart surgery. 

   On that third day, my eyes opened to a bright light beaming into my face. I looked around to see my family members standing around my hospital bed. Confusion coursed through my body. I turned my head to see my Tia Lupita holding the guard rail. “Her eyes are open. Mija, everything is going to be okay, we all love you very much.” 

   I got put under again so I could go into heart surgery. My family waited about eight hours for me to get out. They were given a buzzer to alert them if there were complications during the procedure. Halfway in the surgery, my family got a buzz.

“We started panicking. We thought we lost you,” Jose Salinas said.

   When the surgeons cut me open, the realization of how bad the scarring in my heart became apparent. The surgeons informed my parents that instead of putting just a defibrillator in me, they would put a pacemaker/defibrillator instead. 

   Under anesthetics, a surgeon had to insert a device to help me live. I got a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted into my heart. The box beating 80% of my heart at the time was my only hope to have a long lasting life. I woke up from surgery a few hours later in pain that I had never experienced before.  

   An 18-day road to recovery was upon me. Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapy (PT, OT, ST) for 6 hours every day in Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation.

   8:00 a.m. PT. – I couldn’t walk on my own. I had a belt wrapped around me that people held on to so I wouldn’t fall. It was my favorite part of the day. I got to do things that I loved, but were taken from me. I was gaining my strength back.

   11:00 a.m. OT. – I learned how to do my everyday tasks again. When I flatlined, I lost oxygen in my brain. I suffered from short term memory loss. I had a hard time doing everyday tasks. Remembering how to shower myself, to flush the toilet, and the saddest of all, walking. I had a hard time keeping my balance so not only would I work on it during PT, I also worked on it during OT.

   3:00 p.m. PT. – PT was my least favorite part of the day. I struggled more than I ever thought I would. My memory took such a hit that I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t remember the simplest things. I had to make lists all the time and I would have to memorize them all. I got angry when I couldn’t remember something. 

   The mental stress that I endured in that building is unthinkable. I beat myself up most days. I didn’t want to accept that I couldn’t be the person I was before. I was doing so well before and it was all taken away in a second.

   I put myself in such a dark place; I didn’t know how I was going to get out. I wanted to go back to my game so bad, but I wasn’t allowed to.

   After I was discharged from inpatient rehab, I didn’t have sports anymore. No more soccer, basketball, or softball. Trying to handle the pain of getting something I loved taken away from me without my choice was unbearable. 

   I was angry at the world. What did I do to deserve this? Why me? What did I do to make this happen? Nothing. Nothing I could have done would have changed the outcome. 

   The realization of that conclusion took me a long time. It hurt so bad that I wanted to hurt myself. I know, it sounds stupid. But when you are doing something for years and it gets taken away in a day, I didn’t know how to get used to it. 

   I wasn’t allowed to play for about 11 months. I didn’t train, I didn’t touch a softball, I didn’t even want to go and support my team. Seeing the girls out on the field taking the game for granted that I would do anything to have back, filled my body with pain. Putting up a persona was how I got by. Making sure everybody thought I was happy and was embracing life happily.

   It eventually hit me that it wasn’t healthy for me to do that anymore. I had to be true to my feelings no matter how much they hurt. I opened up to my parents and got help. They were there to help me when I couldn’t help myself.

   About a year after letting go of the sport, I went to a cardiology appointment for a checkup. Every time I went, I always asked him if I could go back. But this time was different, he didn’t shut the idea down.

   He gave me very high restrictions that I had to agree to. With those restrictions, I was finally able to return to the game I loved. I went out and had fun, something I didn’t do too much before my incident.

   That appointment changed me. I had a new way of life. I surrounded myself with people that stayed by my side when I went into a dark place. The best thing of all, I got to be a part of a game that I’m passionate about. Now I get to experience it in a different way.

   I now play on an amazing travel team with teammates I wouldn’t trade the world for. The laughter, joy, and excitement they bring lifts my spirits so high. 

   I realize that it’s not about the technical aspect of the game anymore. It’s about the love and passion that you put in it. I took experiences for granted before. I try to not do that anymore. I’m not saying it’s always the easiest thing, but I’m trying. 

   I got my second chance at life. I get to make memories that thousands don’t get. I’m going to live my life having fun, but working with a special heart.