Michelle Annette Misener was born on October 2, 1975. She was born one month premature and had several medical issues during the first year of her life.
Growing up Mickey (her nickname) did the typical little girl things. She loved sports of all kinds, particularly swimming. She also loved music, playing both the piano and flute.
But Mickey had a heart disease that we were not aware of. What makes this heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, so deadly is the fact that the very first symptom a person experiences is usually a cardiac arrest.
That is what happened to Mickey as she prepared for her first day of Jr. High School. She had gotten up early to get ready. Mom had given her permission to shave her legs for the first time as she took her bath before school. And that’s when it happened.
Mickey’s brother, Jeremy, began to yell to his sister through the locked bathroom door. The tone of his voice said he was not pleased. But there was also a sense of concern in his voice.
As Mickey and Jeremy’s dad, I had witnessed and heard many such moments before, but something inside my head said something was wrong with Mickey. I then went to the bathroom door and pounded asking Mickey how long she would be? No answer. So I ran downstairs to get a screwdriver to pop open the door.
Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. There, with her face in the water of the bathtub, was my little 12 year old girl. The plastic shaver floated near her head in the water.
The next several minutes are still somewhat of a blur. I remember pulling Mickey out of the tub. Jeremy began to scream. Judy, Mickey’s mom, also began to scream once she saw me doing CPR on Mickey as I told her to dial 911. With each breath I breathed into Mickey’s lungs, and with each massage of her chest, I prayed that God would somehow spare Mickey’s life.
It seemed like an eternity before the emergency medical personnel arrived. They took over the CPR while I got dressed. Judy had quickly called a good friend to come and stay with Jeremy and our other daughter, Jamie, who was still sleeping at the time.
There was a cold silence as Judy and I raced behind the ambulance to the medical trauma center in a neighboring city. I remember it was rush hour and I’m sure that more than one driver was mad as a result of our swerving in and out of traffic right on the bumper of the ambulance.
Once at the hospital doctors and nurses began pouring into Mickey’s room. EMT’s had been able to get Mickey’s heart started again on the way to the hospital. Now, nurses began putting numerous IV’s in her arms as doctors tried to determine what had caused Mickey’s cardiac arrest in the first place.
Within a few hours Mickey was in the pediatric ICU of the hospital. A respirator was enabling her to breathe. There seemed to be more pumps pushing in fluids and drugs than I had ever seen before. Monitors told us that Mickey was stable.
But the doctor’s report was not optimistic. They were sure Mickey had had a complete cardiac arrest. They had no idea how long it had been between the arrest and my finding her in the bathtub. The doctor’s immediate concern was swelling in Mickey’s brain and her lack of response to stimuli.
For 38 days Judy and I sat by Mickey’s hospital bed. Some days it seemed like she was improving, but most days she held her own at best.
On October 13, 1988, Mickey died in that hospital room. Our little girl was dead, and I felt like someone had literally reached into my chest and pulled my heart out. There was actual pain in my chest.
That day we began our dark journey through the pain of grieving the loss of a child.
Judy and I have found that there are a lot of resources regarding the grieving process, but few are able to adequately address the grief a parent feels at the death of a child.
Thus, Smile Again Ministries was started to help parents deal with this grief, and the pain that always accompanies it.