It’s so hard to conquer your fears and give yourself over to God, especially on the hard days. And my guest today has a lifetime of experiences that I know will be very meaningful to anyone who is facing similar challenges.
In today’s episode, we have the lovely Annie Kidd. Annie is a mother of two, and a nurse of circumstance who went through 38 years of caring for a child with five different heart defects—and she’s thankful for every day that God gives her.
Her daughter, Courtney, who had seven surgeries (including a liver transplant), became a pioneer to create other opportunities for sick babies with similar heart conditions.
Annie shares Courtney’s journey and also speaks about the difficulty of navigating breast cancer twice, going to college at the same time with her two kids, and reminds us that smiling and having fun is the most important thing for your children to see.
Listen to today’s episode to hear this inspirational story about faith, hope, and strength!
Key Takeaways with Annie Kidd
- Annie talks about how her daughter fought liver sarcoma and passed away on her 38th birthday.
- Why your health conditions don’t define who you are.
- Don’t rob yourself of joy today. Turn your worries over to God and take the signs he gives you.
- The power of conquering your fears, and giving yourself to God?
- How do you navigate the experiences of chronically ill children and remember your blessings?
- How having a chronically ill child gives you a better perspective on the world.
- The importance of giving your children hope and faith.
- Find joy in everyday life, whether it’s from practical jokes, scary movies—just always have fun!
- That it’s okay to give your child a break.
- Never give up hope and always try to buy as much time as you can.
- How do you find the touchstones of peace after your child passes away?
- The belief that our children are on loan from God.
- Tips for your own family’s medical journey
Annie Kidd Tweetables
- “The idea of gratitude:You have to choose the wins, and focus on what’s going well.” – Jamie Freedlund
- “Courtney gave me the strength and courage to keep fighting.” – Annie Kidd
- “I love to prove the doctors wrong.” – Courtney Kidd
- “Remember their condition does not define them, they’re so much more than that.” – Annie Kidd
If you enjoyed today’s episode of The Joy In The Journey, hit the subscribe button on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, or wherever you listen, so future episodes are automatically downloaded directly to your device. You can also help by providing an honest rating & review over on Apple Podcasts. Reviews go a long way in helping us build awareness so that we can impact even more people. THANK YOU!
Jamie Freedlund: Welcome, Annie Kidd, to the podcast today. We’re really glad to have you.
Annie Kidd: Hello, I’m really glad to be here.
Jamie Freedlund: We are inviting listeners to come along with us as we discuss finding joy in the journey. So, I really appreciate you sharing your story, and the intention is that it will affect others. They’ll learn and be inspired to bring a little bit more joy to their journey by hearing what we chat about today. So, I’m grateful for your time. So, I understand that your journey as a mom, like many of our listeners, hasn’t always gone as planned. So, would you start by just sharing a little bit about that with us?
Annie Kidd: Sure. Yes. So, when I was actually pregnant with my first child, which was my daughter, Courtney, I kept kind of getting this feeling, the whole entire pregnancy, like there was something wrong, just kind of had that mom’s intuition. And my mom and my mother-in-law were both nurses, so they told me I was really normal for my first pregnancy. So, then she was born, and it seemed that she was perfectly fine, but I still just had that nagging feeling. So, about five hours after she was born, the doctor and my mother-in-law came in and sat at my bedside. So, I knew that that wasn’t good.
And so, it was discovered she was brought up to Rush from Kankakee, and I couldn’t go because I had preeclampsia, and so, my blood pressure was really high. By then, it was discovered that she actually had five heart defects, really complex heart defects. So, she was born without her right chamber. So, she ended up, in her lifetime, having seven heart surgeries. The first one was at birth, then two years old, six years old, 20 years old, 31, and 32 years old. So, she did have a lot of heart surgeries. She ended up having a heart and liver transplant at Mayo when she was 32, so that was a miracle.
And then, in 2020, just last year, she had an eight-month battle at Mayo to fight liver sarcoma. So, she was doing great for five years with her heart and liver transplant, but then she eventually developed sarcoma and she ultimately passed away from that last year on her 38th birthday. In between all the heart surgeries, there were so many good years and so many fun times that we just cherish, so it definitely didn’t define her. It did take up a lot of her life and mine because I always stayed with her, but she just found joy every day in her journey, and we just always had a great time, even at the clinics, in the hospitals, so.
Jamie Freedlund: Yeah, thank you. I’m sorry about her passing. I know that it still has to feel really tender. You two walked the journey together for a lot of years, and I feel privileged to have met Courtney, and she really just was light like just emanated joy and faith, and she was just a great woman. So, I know that she came by that naturally from you as her mom. So, thanks for sharing a little bit about her. Is there anything more that you want to share with us about Courtney?
Annie Kidd: Yes. She just had a lot of faith. She was born a fighter, so her whole life, she just fought. And she didn’t know anything different. We were a really great team, her and I, I always stay with her at her bedside every single hospital stay, there had to have been hundreds, and that’s no exaggeration.
Jamie Freedlund: Oh, I bet. Even if I just think about how much hospital times seven surgeries has, and I assume, were there moments in the hospitalization that had nothing to do with going in for surgery?
Annie Kidd: Yes, I mean, she had many, many hospital stays, weren’t just for surgery – blood infections, stents in her liver, all kinds of different things, but we always just found our connection together when one of us was down, and the other one would be up, and we kind of just– we knew when one was having a bad day, and so, we’d cheer each other up. And we always, always looked at the positives. We never worried until we knew we had something to worry about. That was our motto. So many times, the doctors would say, “Well, you may need a heart and liver.” We don’t know yet, a heart and liver together is a more complex surgery than just the transplant.
So, Courtney would worry about that. And I’d say, not until they tell us that you’re going to get a liver, let’s not worry about that. She ultimately did get a heart and liver, but that was a good thing. But we just try not to worry about those things, and it goes back to when she was six years old and had a heart surgery. And her birthday is April 24th, and I was really afraid to buy her a bike that year because I was so afraid something was going to happen to her in heart surgery because it was her big– it was called a Fontan procedure, and I was so afraid that something was going to happen to her. So, I was talking to my mother, who lived in Arizona at the time, and like I said, was the nurse. And I just said, “Well, I don’t know if I’ll be able to go out in the garage and look at that bike if something happens to her.” And she said, “You’re being silly, you’re robbing yourself of joy today.” And ever since Courtney was six years old, that’s when I adopted that motto.
And so, we got her a bike, and obviously, she made it through her surgery. So, after that, I just never wasted time or allowed her to waste time, either worrying about things that may or may not happen. And we just try to always turn our worries over to God, and that just always got us through, so.
Jamie Freedlund: I really love that phrase, you’re robbing yourself of joy today, because I think that even when you don’t have a child that has a heart defect or something significant, it’s really easy with our children to go to that place of fear, even though nothing has happened. It’s like, what if this happens? And it is true, you’re stealing the joy before anything bad has even happened. And so, I love that you turned your worries over to God, and you chose joy, so.
Annie Kidd: I think the worst time was for Courtney’s heart and liver transplant because they told us on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being death, she’d be an 8 if she got her heart, and if she got a heart and liver, it’d be a 9, and she’d be gravely ill before she survived. So, at that time, she was 31 years old and she was on oxygen. So, I was just really nervous about her going to transplant because I thought, for sure, we’re going to lose her because it was going to be such a serious time. And I remember telling the transplant surgeon at Mayo, “I think we need to go home and just discuss this for a week or two.” And Courtney spoke right up and said, “No, I’m going to do it because I’m in a win-win situation.” And the doctor and I looked at her, and she said, “I’m either going to wake up with new organs, a new heart and liver, or I’m going to wake up in heaven. So, I’m in a win-win situation.” And so, she said, “I’m going to go for it, so you can’t argue with that.”
Jamie Freedlund: No, I think that says a lot about Courtney.
Annie Kidd: And I still wasn’t quite there yet, but God has performed a lot of miracles in our lives, and when you really prayed to him and opened your heart, he knows what’s in our mind and our hearts, and he will answer you back. You just have to listen for it. And I remember thinking, we got to come home for a week or two before we moved there. We’d be there for a year, they thought. So, I remember coming home, and the night before we left, I had this dream and I heard this booming voice that said, “Conquer and you shall receive.” And so, I woke up and I was like, “What does that mean?”
So, the first thing I looked up online said that you’ve given up all your fears to God and you say you’ve conquered them, but have you really? And it basically was saying until I would give all those fears up that I wouldn’t receive, or we wouldn’t receive the blessing is the way I took it. So, that afternoon, I was picking up medication in the pharmacy drive-up, and it was storming. It was like 10 a.m. in the morning. We were getting ready to leave to go to Mayo, and it was all black and dark and raining, and I was just sitting there, thinking about the dream I’d had and what it meant.
And so, I just said to God, “Can you just give me a sign everything’s going to be okay because I was still very worried?” And all of a sudden, it quit raining, and we got a double rainbow. I have a picture of that from when we write our book. Courtney and I started that together, but I’m going to finish it. So, we got a double rainbow that day, and right after that, a few minutes later, it started storming and turned black again. So, to me, that was my sign. So, after that, I just went into battle mode with my daughter, and she was in the ICU for 45 days, but we did survive it. It was a rough road, but I knew that we could get through it because I knew God was taking care of us, so.
Jamie Freedlund: Yep, he gave you that sign that allowed you to know you weren’t alone, which often, it gives us some strength to get through, for sure. So, what do you think the role Courtney played in your experiences? And how you were able to navigate them together? And I think you’ve spoken to this already a little bit, but is there anything you’d want to add to that about how walking it? I mean, you had a journey with her over several years. Birth to 32 is a long time to walk a health journey, so…
Annie Kidd: Yes, actually, she lives six more years after that 32 years. She passed away around 38.
Jamie Freedlund: Oh, yeah, 38th birthday.
Annie Kidd: 38th birthday. I would just say the life lessons that I learned from that, and I think both of us, is not to take life for granted. And parents of chronically ill children, I think, know this. Well, obviously, we all know this, and it’s a huge blessing because many families don’t have children with chronically ill or special needs, just kind of go about their day every day, and you expect them to live their whole life, whereas every day, we tell them how much we love them, we kiss them. And it makes the whole family closer. I feel like it’s a huge blessing knowing that they may not always be with you. And again, just don’t let today’s worries rob you of your joy in that day, find something every day to be thankful for.
Even when Courtney had her transplant, I wrote on her dry erase board in the ICU every day. We found something to be thankful for every day, even when she was out and had an open chest for 14 days. She wiggled her toes, she did this, she did that, got her Foley catheter out, whatever the joy of that day has or the happiness, just to be thankful for everything. It gives you a good perspective of life, especially in the ICUs and in the hospitals.
Jamie Freedlund: Now, I think that’s such an important message, and it’s one that I know that I’ve tried to share with families, and this idea of gratitude that you have to choose the wins and focus on what is going well, and like you said, getting catheter out. I mean, those things other people would be like, “Why are you celebrating that?” I’m like, “Well, you have to celebrate. You have to find something to be grateful for each day.” And that, I think, is the heart of joy in the journey, the fact that you get to choose how you’re going to look at the day and what you’re going to– and your milestones might look different and things that you’re celebrating might look different than the family in the room next door or the family with the healthy kids at home. And that’s okay.
And it’s something that I know with our journey with Mattea, it for sure has changed our perspective with our kiddos in the way we look at our journey with them, and that I don’t walk through each day thinking my children are going to pass away, but I also have a different appreciation for the gift that each day truly is. And I think it really shifted the way that we parent and the way that we live each day. And it sounds like maybe, you can relate to that a little bit.
Annie Kidd: Yes, absolutely.
Jamie Freedlund: Yeah. What life lessons or truths became clear to you through this walk with Courtney?
Annie Kidd: Well, she definitely inspired me to be a strong person. And as parents, we have a lot of worries. These are our children, but we have to just give the children hope and faith, and let them know that we’re there for them, and they depend on us, they watch how we model for them. So, if we’re nervous, if we’re anxious, I remember a few years ago, we got a family picture taken, and right away, Courtney said, “It’s because you think I’m going to die.” I’m like, “It is not,” because she was having a big heart surgery, but we hadn’t had a family picture in a long time.
And so, every little thing, they just kind of look at you. And so, no matter for the clinic or the hospital, we always tried to have fun. So, we would play practical jokes on the nurses, the doctors. We’d love scary movies, so we would be watching Scream, Freddy Krueger at 9 a.m. in the morning with all the blinds closed, and the doctors would come in for a round, what on earth are you girls doing? We were like, it’s October, we’re watching scary movies. So, we just always had fun. We always got passes and went on wheelchair rides and popped wheelies and went to church at Mayo. We used to go down to the subway and eat our meals and try and get passes and get out of the room so that the kids could feel normalcy.
Some of those hospital stays, as you know, could be 45 days, two months, sometimes a year. I mean, you just don’t know, but as moms, it’s difficult in parents, but we have to keep their spirits up and give them the courage to just keep fighting and just model that for them. And so, I was always careful to not discuss my worries in front of her until she got old enough for me to discuss it with her. And she always said it was easier when she was little because we would just say, you’re going to have another heart surgery, you’re going to do this, you’re going to do that, and she just accepted it, but as she got older, then she became more– it’s really important to teach your kids to become their own advocates.
And so, she was so good at that. Even though I was always with her at her side, she learned to advocate very well for herself and to ask all the right questions that I’d normally be asking for her. So, as a parent, that got a little easier as they got older, but in some aspects, it got more difficult because now, she was part of the decision-making, too, not just my husband and I. So, it was kind of different, but…
Jamie Freedlund: And that probably felt empowering, like you were teaching her these great skills that were important for her and her health, but on the other side of it, I’m sure you didn’t always see eye to eye with what she wanted. And so, that would be challenging as a parent, for sure.
Annie Kidd: Oh, yes. I’ll tell you a quick story really quick.
Jamie Freedlund: Yeah, please.
Annie Kidd: Some parents as they get to be teenagers and whatnot can relate, but when she was, I think, around 15 years old and she had to– actually, now, she was older, she was 17 because it was her senior year, but her heart was out of rhythm in atrial fib for a long, long time. So, we would go up to Rush, and they would shock her heart back into rhythm. So, homecoming, prom, and winter ball that, each day, she had gotten her heart shock back in a rhythm so she’d have burn marks. We’d cover it with burn cream, put her dress on, and off she’d go to her dance.
And one time, it was time for her, we had to drive up to Rush, and so, she was driving by then and she just disappeared. She said, “I’m not going.” And so, I had to call her cardiologist and tell her that I can’t find Courtney. So, she’s not coming. And she’s like, “What do you mean she’s not coming?” So, she had just had enough and ran off to one of her girlfriends’ house, and she did come back home, but it just made me realize that the kids, they get tired of all this stuff. We have to give them a break sometimes, and she just wasn’t ready to go back and do it again. So, it can be difficult, but we just have to support them even when they’re standing up and saying, “I’m not going to do this again.” Even though they know they’re going to do it, we just have to give them the time to come to terms with it and adjust their thinking to it, so.
Jamie Freedlund: What a great story. Thank you for sharing that. And she’s being a teenager, expressing that she just needed a break. So, good for you for being a mom willing to see that, and not just being angry, so.
Annie Kidd: Right.
Jamie Freedlund: If you’re comfortable sharing, you’ve had your own personal health diagnosis that came in the midst of Courtney’s battles. Would you share a little bit about that experience?
Annie Kidd: Sure. So, in January of ‘19, I developed breast cancer, and then I had surgery and chemo for five months and then six weeks of radiation. And I ended on August 28th, and Courtney had called me and told me that she was running a high fever and didn’t feel well. So, I brought her to Mayo a couple of days after I finished my radiation. Actually, my husband had to bring her, which was the first time ever in my entire life or hers that I wasn’t with her, and I had to stay behind and finish my radiation. None of my physicians would let me go to Mayo. So, I was really mad, but they told me that those are your boost radiations, and then I had to stay behind.
So, my husband and her went to Mayo. It was five years post-transplant, and her liver bile duct was blocked, so they put in a stent, came back home. It seemed simple enough, and the very next weekend when I saw her, she looked jaundiced and she began running a fever, so I brought her back to Mayo. By this time, I was done with my radiation. And on September 4th of that year, just a few days after I finished, she was diagnosed with end-stage liver cancer that had already gone to her liver, her pancreas, her small intestines, and her peritoneum.
So, she fought a really hard battle for eight months at Mayo Clinic. I lived there with her, and we got to come home two times, once at Thanksgiving and once at Christmas. So, we were there from August until she passed in April. And then, she had many, many hospital stays during that eight months. I believe she had 21 hospital stays. She had about 16 liver stents because her tumors kept blocking her bile duct. It got to the point where we had to tap her belly two and three times a week, and this was during COVID in March. So, we were pretty much the only ones in Mayo Clinic. She got discharged on a Friday. By Monday, the entire system closed down.
Jamie Freedlund: Oh, no, geez.
Annie Kidd: Yeah, when COVID started, it was crazy watching that happen, but we were still able to get into the clinic to receive blood products and for her to get her belly tapped every three days. So, she did that for maybe about two months. They had full 4 to 5 liters off each time. So, she fought really, really hard, but she ended up getting sepsis and having to go on the ventilator. And we ended up taking her off the ventilator on her birthday because my husband and I just felt that God gave us to her on her birthday, and what a great day to send her back to God.
I read an article a long, long time ago. I think it was in the newspaper under memorial, but it was this little girl who was like nine years old, and they every year, put a memorial in there. And I remember the words, I have it cut somewhere here, probably in one of my old purses, but I carry it around for years. But I loved that they said in this little memorial that God had loaned her or loaned the mother or father of this child was on loan and that he could call them back any time and that we can’t be angry with him. So, I remember that for years and years. I used to pray to God, if you’re going to take her, please let it be when she’s not living in our home, that she’s not a little girl, where I have to go up to her bedroom and take it apart. And I just always thought of that.
So, when she did pass, even though it was so heartbreaking, I’m just very, very thankful to God that he did commit her to us for the 38 years, that she was on a loan that long because when she was born, they told us to take her home and love her because she wants love. And they created the Blalock-Taussig shunt when she was two. Again, they didn’t think she would make it to kindergarten, and then when she was six, they created the Fontan procedure. So, many more surgeries and procedures were developed over her lifetime.
So, what I would say to the parents is never give up hope because medical technology is always changing, and things happen so quickly. Something that could have been an open heart can now be laparoscopic, new procedures, all kinds of diagnosis, different things developing. So, that’s really important as well to never give up hope and just try to buy more time. We always tried to buy more time with Courtney. And it did work. So, we are very, very blessed.
Jamie Freedlund: Yeah, it sounds pretty incredible to go from, she was an infant, and they didn’t feel like they had a long road vision for her medical care, and to have so many miracles along the way and medical discoveries, as you said.
Annie Kidd: Courtney, she was very, very happy and pleased that God would use her life to help the babies. So, the way they did the Fontan’s when Courtney was little, it was called a Fontan procedure, which is a Gore-Tex shunt that goes from one chamber to another when you’re born without a chamber. They realize that sewing that onto the outside of the atrium is what caused this chronic atrial fibrillation. So, when she was 21, they revised her Fontan and they tumbled it through her heart. She was very ill after that heart surgery, too, but that’s when they started doing them differently for the children. And so, Courtney was one of the pioneers.
Kids born with her heart problems never live to be in their 30s or 40s. So, we had her for almost 40 years. So, she had many surgeries that created new avenues and new opportunities for the babies because there are so many, and they say one in every five pregnancies can be born with some type of congenital heart defect and just a small hole in their heart. So, that was neat. She was really proud of that.
One thing I forgot to mention is after Courtney passed away in November of that year, my insurance company made me wait for a year to get scanned, and when I got scanned again, I had a different form of breast cancer, and it was very aggressive. So, this year, I had a double mastectomy, and they wanted me to go back on IV chemo, but after myself being on chemo and Courtney, I just declined. And so, I take oral chemo twice a day, probably for life, we’ll see, but right now, I’m doing really good. And I definitely get my courage from Courtney. She inspired me so much and gave me the strength and courage to keep fighting. She still does.
If you would ever look at her body, she had so many surgical scars and she was proud of all of them. Those were all her battle scars. So, when I look at my own body now, I just know exactly how she felt. She just wanted to live so much, and I know she would want me to keep fighting and not to give up. So, she inspires me every day, still.
Jamie Freedlund: I can only imagine. I’m sure she’s on your mind every day, and I just love the things you’ve described that she owned her scars as battle scars because so many people, I think, it would be not a view that they would take. And I love the way you described her desire to help the babies. And congenital heart defects are so common. Our daughter had one, and it’s incredible, the technology and the medicine that’s out there, but it takes pioneers like Courtney to know if it’s going to work and help doctors to learn. I’ve gained an appreciation for the phrase to practice medicine. And in a beautiful way, I love medical professionals, and they’re always trying to improve. And I love that you’re a nurse, so I don’t know the answer. Were you a nurse prior to Courtney’s birth? Or did you become a nurse over the years?
Annie Kidd: No. So, over the years, she just got more and more complex, and I just couldn’t understand her anymore. She got very, very complex. So, actually, I graduated from Olivet when I was 42. I went back to school. So, my son, myself, and my daughter were all in college together.
Jamie Freedlund: Good for you.
Annie Kidd: I had them for 17 years, yeah. When my son started walking, I was very sad. So, I came home and told my husband, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. So, I opened a daycare, and then I was going to do it until he was in kindergarten, and I ended up doing it until he graduated high school. So, myself and Courtney both graduated from Olivet. She had a degree in child development. She had her foster care license. She loved children. She was very big on My Time with Jesus, the youth group at our church. She loved kids, loved kids.
And so, she just had so many obstacles. The first call she got for a five-year-old foster child, she was a male having a heart surgery, so she had to decline that one. And then, her second one, she went through all the classes again, a year or two later, and she got another call, and this time she was fighting her battle with cancer. And so, she couldn’t, either. And she just said, the only regret she ever had was she couldn’t have any children or got to be a mom. So, I told her, in between my pregnancies of my son and my daughter, we had a miscarriage. So, I told her that baby had a soul. So, when she got to heaven, she probably could take care of that baby. I really believe that. And her donor, we know, was a 17-year-old girl. So, she also told me when she got to have met her, her donor would become her best friend, so. It just brings me such joy.
Jamie Freedlund: Yeah, she’s definitely going to be a mother. It just might not have been here on Earth. So, how special, and it sounds like she influenced a lot of children with her love. So, that’s how special.
Annie Kidd: And her faith, yes.
Jamie Freedlund: Yeah. So, where do you seek peace since she’s passed? I know that this is–some of our listeners may have lost a child, and there’s just an unsettling, sometimes lack of peace that comes even in the midst of them just being sick, and where it’s sort of been your touchstones for peace along the way.
Annie Kidd: I think just really, really trying to keep their memory alive. I never knew the importance of talking about a loved one that’s passed until now, how important that is, because a lot of us have loved our mothers and fathers and things like that, aunts, uncles, grandparents, but children, that’s a whole new ballgame for me. And so, I just try to keep her memory alive through really promoting congenital heart disease and organ transplant awareness and through her Courtney Kids scholarship funds. So, we have a scholarship every spring for someone that’s trying to get their degree in child development.
Jamie Freedlund: Awesome.
Annie Kidd: So, yeah, because Courtney loved children, and I just think that would be something she would have wanted. We serve Thanksgiving dinner and put up seven Christmas trees at the Gift of Life Transplant House where we stayed each Thanksgiving, and we’re going to do that in her honor with our family, all of us do that.
Jamie Freedlund: How special.
Annie Kidd: Yeah, that’s really awesome. And just the importance of speaking to her throughout the day, my husband and I, our grandkids, our granddaughter is one, she was even here when she was born. Courtney, in the ICU on the ventilator, held her picture of her ultrasound, but she never met her, and she has her middle name, but she knows who she is because she walks around my house and my son and daughter-in-law’s house and kisses her picture all the time. And whenever we say Courtney, she runs right to her picture. I have her cross on, and she always kisses her cross. And so, it’s just really special to us that she didn’t even know Courtney, but she’s going to grow up knowing her, and…
Jamie Freedlund: She will.
Annie Kidd: Also her granddaughter and niece, who is five years old as well, she knows that her Aunt Courtney is in heaven, and whenever she needs help, she always looks up to Courtney. One day, we were trying to find a video, and she wanted Home Alone 2. And we have all of Courtney’s videos in a cabinet, and we were looking and looking and looking and looking. I got on my knees, we’re looking, I said to her, “I think maybe you took it home.” She said, “No, grandma, it’s here.” So, she stopped what she was doing and looked up to the ceiling and said, “Aunt Courtney, please help us find the video.” And the very next video she touched was Aunt Courtney’s, so I found Home Alone 2. So, they thought that was the greatest thing that Aunt Courtney really can help her from heaven. So, that was pretty awesome.
And the kids just really talk about her all the time, we all do. Every day, I wake up every morning, and her picture next to me, and tell her good morning and tell her, I know she’s having a wonderful day in heaven. And I just take great comfort in knowing she’s happy and healthy with God. And there’s the love and peace I know she’s experiencing in heaven is more than we can possibly imagine. And as parents, we always want the very best for our children. And what better could there have been that happen?
We just have to change our outlook on life. She can’t be here with us and in person, but she still is here with us every day, her energy, her spirit. She still makes us laugh when we talk about the memories, and I truly believe that she is watching from heaven and she’s just proud of all of us and how strong we’ve been, and again, like I said, our children are just loaned to us, and we have to try not to be angry when God calls them home.
Jamie Freedlund: Oh, those are beautiful words. Thank you for sharing them. Those are very special things to you and your family. I love that you, even all the littles in your family know her name and talk about her, and that’s something in our home, photographs, I have so many photographs around my home and I think they hold memories, and they help us to know those who came before and those who aren’t with us right now.
Annie Kidd: How many years has it been since Mattea passed away?
Jamie Freedlund: It was 2010, so it’s been 11 years.
Annie Kidd: And I’m sure you’re always wondering what would she be like today?
Jamie Freedlund: It’s interesting. I had so much peace at her passing, Annie, and this is more between us. So, I don’t know that I’ll put this part on the podcast, but we had a super special moment when she passed in the hospital room, and I just had so much peace in the midst of really, you know, and it was her time like, I was so grateful, like I felt like heavenly father’s like, “Yep, it’s okay. This is when she’s supposed to go.” So, I don’t focus so much on, “Oh, she would be in this grade,” because I feel like she wasn’t supposed to be here. She has a work to do somewhere else, so. Sorry to get emotional on you, but…
Annie Kidd: No, no, I know. That’s how I feel about Courtney, too. And she, definitely, at 38 years, we weren’t ready to lose her, but her work here was done. And so, I always say that’s the reward that she got to go to heaven. And so many people ask me, “Aren’t you mad at God? How could you not be mad at him?” Mad at him? He gave me this gift for 38 years. And her passing was so beautiful and wonderful. Everything couldn’t have been more perfect. She had her pink pajamas on, her pink hair, her pink fuzzy socks, her pink rosary, her pink prayer shawl across her. And we listen to Christian music, and I have been whispering in her ear. She was on the ventilator for nine days. How wonderful heaven was going to be. We had talked about it so much.
And when her heart rate got down to four beats, I looked at my husband, I said, “Her guardian angel is getting ready to take her soul right now.” And so, we just played this amazing music about heaven. And it couldn’t have been more perfect or peaceful unless I could actually see her guardian angel with her soul, but that’s what I envisioned, and it was beautiful and peaceful. And we just tried to not be sad until afterward. It was her birthday, we had a birthday party that morning with all the nurses, everywhere were guests. We decorated her door, come in. I had got her gifts, and we gave her her gifts. And yeah, it was just really beautiful. All her doctors and her transplant surgeons and transplant cardiologists, everybody came to say goodbye, and as sad as it was, it was a really amazing experience. I feel like it was something very heavenly, very sacred, I’m trying to say it’s a very, very sacred moment where– yeah, so sacred. And this was April 24, so we were about a month into COVID, and no one was allowed in the hospital.
Jamie Freedlund: Oh, I can imagine. I’m grateful you could be with her because I heard so many nightmares.
Annie Kidd: Yes, Mayo made an exception. The day I admitted her, they told me that we had to leave. So, I had written up a whole bunch of everything, her medication, her history, everything, a whole notebook, in case that would happen because I knew COVID was really serious, and there was a possibility. So, when I left her that day, I didn’t know if I’d see her again because she was very sick and had a high fever. And we weren’t gone more than 50 minutes, and they called and said, “We need you to come back. The doctor says that you’re allowed in the ICU because she was so complex.”
Jamie Freedlund: What a gift, I mean…
Annie Kidd: It was such a gift, I will never, ever. That’s the thing, for eternity. I will be grateful to God that I got to be with her. Other than that, one time with Kevin, I was with her at her side every single day. I slept in the hospital with her next in a cot for years and years. And so, if I couldn’t have been with her, I don’t know what I would have done. And then, at the end, they let my husband come too, but I got to be with her from 8:00 in the morning until 9 or 10 every night. And so, I would just whisper to her that heaven was coming and how blessed she was and how lucky she was and all of those things. And it was a very beautiful, sacred moment, like I said. And I will always be grateful to God that she was able to pass like that with us.
Jamie Freedlund: I can appreciate that, yeah. Okay, I’ll ask you a couple more formal questions. We’ll go back to the script, so to speak, but I personally, really love this exchange, thanks. So, parents listening could really benefit from your experience. So, what are sort of tips, ideas, thoughts that you have for moms and dads traveling this medical journey right now with their kids?
Annie Kidd: Well, I have a few tips, I think, that I’ve just learned over my lifetime with Courtney. I had her when I was 19, so I was a young mom then.
Jamie Freedlund: A lot to manage as a 19-year-old mom, let alone…
Annie Kidd: It was. It really was. My husband was 21, and I was 19. So, yeah, we were just scared or even let her cry, but Courtney once told me that she was blessed with her life and she would– well, actually, this was her last couple of months. She told me when I was saying, I’m sorry that you were born with all your congenital heart defects and all your hospital stays and just the things that robbed you of, but she never looked at it like the things that she was robbed of. She always turned it around and looked at the things that she was blessed with.
And so, she once told me she was blessed with her life and wouldn’t change a thing because it’s the life that was meant for her to live. And so, I thought that God’s going to be really proud of her when she gets to heaven. And I just always think, faithful servant when she got there, and I know on her birthday, it was just amazing, but some of the things that I think that I would like to share with parents is always, always go with your gut instinct. There have been times when I didn’t go with my gut instinct, and then it’s gotten us into trouble.
When she was 12, she was in the hospital for 21 days with a mechanical mitral valve. She, again, had a heart surgery for that, and they put her on Coumadin for two days, and we got home. She had a really, really, really bad headache, and it went on all day, all night. And so, I was getting really worried about it. I had called my mom and mother-in-law, the doctors. And everyone kept saying they thought it was just a sinus infection, she had been diagnosed with that. And my gut just kept telling me it’s something different.
Well, I did bring her to the emergency room. Everyone else told me just to kind of watch her overnight and see, but I did bring her in the emergency room, and she had a brain bleed. And she was in heart surgery at Rush by midnight. They brought her in for a CT scan. I could see all these people arriving with their jumpsuits and I thought, “Oh, somebody is really sick here,” not knowing it was my daughter. They had come to airlift her to Chicago. And so, she ended up having a brain bleed. And I feel like if I would have gone with my own gut hours before, the brain damage she would have been a lot less. I mean, she still was able to go to college, but it was really difficult for her. She had to take algebra three times to pass it, but she was just very determined that that was not going to slow her down.
Enjoy each milestone, take a snapshot in your heart, just try to enjoy each of those milestones. Like you said before, the milestones might be different than other children that may not have special needs, but they’re still their milestones. And we got to just cherish that and take a picture of that. Our milestones may not look like someone else’s. And try not to compare to other children. It was my first child, so I didn’t have anything to compare her to, but this is the life we were blessed with, to be their mother, and we just shouldn’t compare to other children who don’t have special needs. Try to worry less and give your worries over to God. Count your blessings each and every day, even on the rough ones, the roughest ones. Sometimes, those are the days we need to count in the most because, otherwise, we just give in to the fear and worry. And give your child strength and hope and a positive attitude by modeling that yourself. Try to talk to other adults about your fears in private so that, if they’re having an upcoming surgery or procedure, and you have fears, you want them to go in there with a positive outlook and with a good attitude and feeling good about it.
For many, many years, Courtney didn’t even really know what fear was or to be scared because we always just said everything was going to be okay. God was going to take care of her, and she believed that, and he did over and over and over. The roads were rocky sometimes, but we never gave up faith or hope. And so, I think that’s really important. And let’s see. Let your child know that God blessed your family with your child’s special needs. It’s a blessing. God chose us to be their parents, I really believe that, not everyone could handle the same situation as some of us chronically ill mothers do. I think God chooses the strong ones because he knows that we can do it. And just remember, their condition does not define them, that doesn’t define their life, remember their life and who they are.
And when Courtney was little, that kind of did define us, oh, we’re going to do this until the next heart surgery. And she couldn’t ride her bike with the family until the next heart surgery, but after about age seven or eight, again, back to that bike experience, we just…
Jamie Freedlund: Yes.
Annie Kidd: Yeah, I mean, that was a simple thing. My mom said to me, “Don’t let it rob you of your joy today, buy the bike.” And I was more worried about me and how I was going to handle seeing the bike if she had passed away, instead of thinking of her and that joy it would bring her. So, that’s really important. And our kids are just so much more than their condition.
Jamie Freedlund: Absolutely. They’re kids first, regardless of what they’re battling or going through or overcoming.
Annie Kidd: Yep. And we just have to make it as normal as we possibly can, even in the clinics and the hospital stays. Our family used to drive up and bring her frozen manacles pizza, and we put the pizza pizzazz on in the hospital room and just make it as fun as you can, watch movies, have visitors, and Courtney’s sad days is when I’d reach out to our community support. And you when she was in for sepsis, her time before last, she was in the hospital for 31 days and she was getting really low, I could tell, and she was starting to say things like, “I think everyone at home forgot about us.” And I was like, “That’s not true, Courtney, you know.” And we’ve been gone for many months.
And so, I just put it out there to Facebook land and voyage. That day, she got so many balloons and stuffed animals and flowers, and she just couldn’t believe it, chocolate. And so, that really picked her up. So, as parents, we just have to do whatever it is that we need to do to pick up their spirits and give them encouragement because it’s rough on us. So, you can imagine how rough it is on our kiddos.
Jamie Freedlund: How true, yeah, it sounds like you definitely knew how to be the fun mom. I love even you describing earlier doing wheelies in the hallway and just finding ways to make it fun. It’s choosing joy, for sure, so…
Annie Kidd: Because I know Kourtney would want me to tell you this because she thought it was so funny.
Jamie Freedlund: Yes.
Annie Kidd: The child life specialist brought us a leg, and it looked like a human leg. It had veins, toenails, everything. Courtney was having swelling in her legs, so we put the leg under her blanket and pulled her other real leg farther so the doctor couldn’t see it. We heard her cardiologist was on the floor. She had the same cardiologist for 32 years, a pediatric cardiologist. So, we called her into our hospital room, and the nurses were all in on it, and we told her that we couldn’t get a pulse, and then her leg was swollen and that it felt cold. And so, she checked her good foot first, and then she pulled back the blanket and was feeling her veins and everything. And it took her a couple of seconds before she realized that it was a joke and that it was a fake leg. And Courtney thought that was so funny. That was her 12-year-old heart surgery, so she thought that was just great.
Jamie Freedlund: That’s so fun. And I love that the staff went in on it with you.
Annie Kidd: Yes. So, it was great.
Jamie Freedlund: You need to have some fun along the way. So, I’m going to leave you with one last question as we wrap up. What do you think it means to have joy in the journey?
Annie Kidd: Again, I just think to have joy in the journey is every single day, you just have to count your blessings, try to have fun, make it a joyful journey. It doesn’t have to be all sad and gloom and doom. There are going to be times that are like that, but again, we just have to find joy in the journey. Every day, count your blessings, try to have fun, try to make the most of your life that you can make of it. And that’s what Courtney tried to do. She was very faithful. She was very active in her church. She loved children. There was no obstacle that she would not try and reach.
Her favorite saying was, I love to prove the doctors wrong. And so, she always, always proved the doctors wrong, and she took great pride in that, just always tried to find a way, and again, using her life to help others, especially the babies that are being born these days. So, as a parent, that gives me great pride as well that her life had meaning, it had a purpose. She used to tell me that when she got to heaven, she was going to tell God, “God, you have some explaining to do,” because of everything she went through, but I teased her and said, “You know what? It’s all going to make sense to you when you get there and exactly why you were born with all your congenital heart problems.” And her transplant, it just hurt. Her life had meaning and a purpose. And I feel like that was revealed to us when we get to heaven.
Some days, I still sit here and think, why? Why did she have to pass away when she was 38? Why couldn’t it have been longer? But we’re just blessed with all the years we have her and just still finding joy in the journey, it’s still a long journey without her, and just look forward to the day when we can be together again, but in the meantime, we’ll just keep fighting forward and get through it, hard times as well, so.
Jamie Freedlund: Absolutely. I can’t thank you enough for being on today. I was really looking forward to our time together, and it didn’t disappoint. You just emulate your positivity and your courage. And you definitely modeled that for Courtney. And you can see the way that you talk about her is just a beautiful gift to us. So, thank you for sharing.
And I know that there are some moms out there who are listening that gleaned some just beautiful nuggets of truth from you that will help them have a little bit more joy, too, on their journey. I look forward to hearing about this book you’re finishing, and I hope that you share it with us, and we’ll share it with our listeners when you release it. So, we’d love that.
Annie Kidd: Okay, sounds great. Thank you so much, Jamie. I hope that we can inspire some of the parents out there and just give them the courage and strength they need and just keep moving forward and try to count their blessings. And on the rough days, just remember to turn it over to God and to talk to God. He knows what’s in your heart, and just listen, and he’ll give them the strength they need.