There were times in Kyiv when my wife and I were nervous. There were times when we were anxious, confused, happy, excited and just about anything else one could imagine. We were there for several weeks, and a lot of life-changing events occurred, so it’s natural that we experienced the veritable gamut of emotions. When you travel to a foreign country and have two children while there, it’s going to be a rollercoaster ride regardless.
There was only one time, however, when we felt legitimately scared. It was a couple of days after one of our sons, Mickey, was intubated. The day after he was born, the nurses allowed both boys to spend a bit of time out of NICU and in our room. Not long after they brought them in, we fed them, held them, talked to them and enjoyed them. We were euphoric, as all of our struggles had finally led to these special moments – the first ones with your new babies. Every parent remembers that.
Suddenly, after we put them down for their post-feed and post-diaper-change naps, Mickey started aspirating. It began with a lot of hiccups, developed into nonstop coughing and finally devolved into both of those things mixed with screams. The nurses came and whisked him away, not telling us what was happening.
The next thing we knew, Mickey was back in his incubator in NICU with more tubes sticking out of him than we could count. We worked through an international fertility agency, so we tried tracking our contacts down so they could come to the hospital and translate what the medical personnel were saying. We did not know what was happening, and it was terrifying. No one at the hospital spoke English, and we spoke no Ukrainian or Russian.
After about a day of trying to get these folks to help us, we heard that they were ‘busy’ with another client whose healthy child had encountered some gas. These other new parents freaked out and demanded full attention from the agency people, which they apparently got.
Needless to say, my wife and I were far from happy about this, but we didn’t feel like we could rattle their cages too much. If we alienated them, we’d have almost nowhere to turn for any sort of help. We’d be completely cut off from any form of communication, even the periodic type we were receiving at the time.
We talked about all of this with my father-in-law, Mickey. Mickey is one of those people who knows seemingly everyone, but even he couldn’t possibly have contacts in Kyiv. Next thing we know, we got an email from Mickey’s lifelong friend, Kelly Heed. Kelly works at Collier’s International, and one of the many ways that Mickey describes his friend is as someone who “knows more people around the world than anyone I’ve ever met.” That’s a mouthful coming from my father-in-law, who’s about as outgoing as any human ever created.
Apparently, Mickey had told Kelly about what was happening to us. Kelly emailed us, letting us know that he had reached out to his Collier’s contact in Kyiv, Alex. Yes, Kelly had contacts in Kyiv. Kelly had attached a transcript of his correspondence with Alex. Alex was not in Kyiv at the time, as he was on vacation. Alex told Kelly that he’d have his assistant, Oksana, get in touch with us by way of the contact information for each of us that Kelly had provided in that transcript.
Literally within minutes of reading that email and before I could even respond to Kelly, I got both a text and an email from Oksana, telling us that she was available to help us in any way she could. Oksana spoke very good English, so if needed she’d be able to help us communicate with the doctors and nurses to find out what was wrong with our son.
Words cannot describe what a relief it was to know that we had another option for help. Now, I could get after our agency with my hair on fire and light them up the way they unfortunately needed to be lit up. I called them and told them to leave the burper alone for a bit so we could find out how our son was doing with the fight for his life. I made it clear that we would make it our never-ending mission to come down on that agency as hard as possible and in every way imaginable if they didn’t come help us immediately.
We had leverage. It was what we needed. Later that day, our agency people showed up and we got word that Mickey had been born with pneumonia. Things were uncertain, but he was trending in a positive direction and barring setbacks, he was going to make a recovery at some point before too long. We finally knew what we were fighting. Eventually, Mickey beat pneumonia and the boys were reunited.
We never actually met Alex or Oksana. Both of them offered to have coffee, lunch or dinner with us, but we were too swamped with everything that was happening. Regardless, we will never forget what Kelly Heed did for us in one of the darkest and scariest moments my wife and I have experienced together. Imagine being in a foreign country, where you’re totally illiterate and unable to communicate, where your newborn son is in serious medical trouble and you can’t even find out what’s happening.
What Kelly Heed did for us is something I’m never going to forget. What he did for us also reinforced a lesson for me: There is nothing more powerful than having good people in your life. Good people transcend geographic distance. They transcend cultural differences and language barriers. They’re there for you when you need them most, and most of the time you need them when you least expect it.
Having good people in your life is a gift that never stops giving. My father-in-law and Kelly Heed reminded me of that last summer in an unforgettable way.