Sunday, May 11, 2003

Dayla Porter

Dazzling Mother's Day gift


My granddaughter did not spend a dime on her mother for Mother's Day. The Amazing Rosie made a flower of construction paper and pipe cleaners. (Are they ever really used to clean a pipe?) She pasted a gap-toothed picture of herself in the center of the bloom. Rosie knows what her mother loves.

Most of us moms, if we're lucky, have a lopsided ceramic ashtray. Or a cardboard pencil holder. Something fashioned by little hands. I'm not sure we believed our mothers when they said the best present was one we made ourselves. Not until we were on the receiving end.

I also remember my mom saying when I was sick or hurt that she would gladly take my place. Which I also doubted until I leaned over a hospital gurney and watched them stitch up my own daughter. I'd take it without Novocain. With a dull needle. With gratitude.

A miracle

Lori Porter has watched her daughter struggle for breath since the second they laid Dayla on her stomach in the delivery room. Six days later, the baby girl had her first surgery. Big surgery. She'd been born with multiple heart defects. When she made it to her first birthday, she came back to Cincinnati Children's Hospital for open-heart surgery.

Twelve hours after she was wheeled out of surgery, her little heart stopped beating for a time. Brain damage, Lori and her husband, David, were told. The infant was blind and deaf. They prayed. And Dayla was hooked up to a kind of heart-lung bypass called ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation). Pulmonary atresia. Tetralogy of Fallot. Lori rattles these terms off matter-of-factly.

But she stumbles a little when describing the miracle.

"They don't know how she got it back," Lori says. "She just started seeing and hearing again." Pneumonia, medication, some serious scares. And parents who never took things for granted.

"We would cry when we'd see her bending down to pick up a tiny piece of lint off the floor." School, learning to ride a bike.

"Spunky," her mother says.

But then, Dayla ran out of steam. "She was sluggish, tired," Lori says. The Porters thought she'd need a valve replacement and were told instead that she needed a transplant. The wait began in August.

After the child spent two months in the hospital, doctors at The Heart Center at Children's put her on a new drug called milrinone, which allowed her to live with her parents at the nearby Ronald McDonald House. "It gave us some sense of normalcy," Lori says. They made cornbread. Did homework. David drove to and from work in Wilmington - an hour each way if traffic was smooth - to stay with them. They dared to plan a birthday - Dayla's 10th - on Wednesday.

At 10:30 p.m. May 5, they got the call. A heart was available, surgery the next day. "She's sitting up, talking, another miracle," David said Friday.

Dayla knows what her mother loves. She delivered a spectacular gift: A promise to be with her mom today.

And on her birthday. And the day after. And the day after that.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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