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My Heart, My Son's Autism and What's Really Important

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In 2012, I had a heart attack — out of nowhere — at the age of 35. When I was finally wheeled into the hospital, I learned I would need to have a quintuple bypass that night. It all happened very quickly, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever step back into my home again.

I would be lying if I said the months leading up to this event weren’t stressful. I had many different issues hitting me from many different sides. Some problems were more pressing than others, but they all swirled in my head and they all lead me to that gurney in that operating room with that stupid little blue shower cap on my head.

My 18-month-old son, Lucas, was one of those concerns. It was still a few months away from anyone mentioning the word “autism,” but it was clear that he had significant delays. He never hit the same milestones as his older sister. While he was smiley and squishy, he had yet to start really developing skills that you’d expect from someone his age. On his first birthday, we had to prop him up with blankets for pictures, so he wouldn’t tumble over while sitting.

I loved him so much, and that’s what made it so stressful. My brain would strain with worry over how I could “fix” him. It ate away at me. I constructed ultimatums in my head — telling myself that he would be talking by this age or running by that age. In the end, all of those demands I put on myself and my son were pointless. He was going to do what he was going to do at the rate he was going to do it. There was no way to pinpoint a definite date. That bothered me. I can still feel the painful frustration, feeling like I had done something wrong.

At the time of my bypass, the last picture I had on my phone was from the night before, and it was of Lucas playing with a new toy. He had just been given one of those wooden peg boards that babies hammer into the holes. I remember how he not only couldn’t hammer them in, but struggled to even hold the mallet — I felt responsible.

That was the night before, though. This was the day that I was having a surgery so major that, up until a few hours earlier, I don’t even think I knew existed. I was convinced that I was going to come out of this thing as less than what I was going in. Best case scenario, the new me would have a long road to recovery. Worst case scenario — new me is dead me.

Spoiler alert: I did not die. I woke up the next morning sore in every possible way. It included such great moments as a tube down my throat and a fragile chest that felt like a garbage bag full of glass being held together by scotch tape. I laid in bed, moaning and flipping through channels for about a week. All I wanted was to be home again with my wife and kids. I just wanted to see them.

I didn’t care what they could or couldn’t do. I never laid in bed and thought, “Oh. But Lucas doesn’t speak.” That never even entered my mind. I didn’t miss him because of what he could or couldn’t do; I missed him because he’s my boy and he’s one of my favorite people on Earth.

All I wanted was to wrap my arms around them all again. Even the picture on my phone took on a different meaning. I no longer stared at it with a sense of sadness, lamenting over how he couldn’t hammer the peg. I looked at it with a sense of pride. This is my son and he’s waiting at my house for me. I can’t wait to see him.

When I finally returned home, things were different. They’re still different to this day. I don’t look at my family for what they don’t do, but for what they do. Today, at 7 years old, Lucas has autism and doesn’t speak.

Also, Olivia is 9 years old and doesn’t professionally sing opera. Life goes on.

The things my son does, though, are fantastic. He lights up when I walk into a room and claps when I get him up in the morning.

We share glances and expressions that say more than words ever could. He shares a bond with me that isn’t dependent on language. It’s a bond unlike any I share with anyone else.

On the day when I thought everything I loved was about to be taken away, I missed the things I had, not the things I didn’t. Once I realized that, my life changed forever.

Follow this journey at Hi Blog, I’m Dad.

Originally published: May 21, 2018
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