by Traci Chapman
Jessica Blackwood thought she had life all planned out. She had a beautiful daughter, a great job, greater husband and was pregnant with her second child. Little did she know how much a routine medical test would change everything.
“We were getting the ultrasound to learn the baby’s gender and something was just off – they said it was probably their older equipment, but they set me up with a specialist,” Blackwood said. “We knew, we just knew, something was wrong.”
It was. Blackwood and her husband Matt soon learned their baby – a little girl – was seriously ill. At 22 weeks, the couple first learned about hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital heart defect that results in insufficient formation of the left side of the heart. HLHS meant their as yet unborn child, whom they would name Reagan, would need a series of three open heart surgeries before she was old enough to attend school.
While an understandably stressful time, Blackwood also found peace as she and Matt prepared for their daughter’s birth.
“Because Reagan wasn’t born yet, we had time to look at options,” she said. “We decided when it was time we would go to Dallas; Reagan ended up having surgeries first when she was nine days old, at six months and again on Jan. 2 of this year.”
It was in Dallas a new idea of Blackwood’s future began to crystallize, she said. First there was the frustration of having to step aside as medical professionals handled her tiny daughter’s treatment.
“It was so difficult for me as a mother to watch others care for my brand-new baby and then try to explain the best way possible what Reagan needed – and me still not have a clue what was going on,” Blackwood said. “I was paralyzed with fear, so lost, so traumatized, and I was frustrated because I didn’t know how all this worked and how they were going to take care of my little girl.”
That’s where an idea germinated and then began to grow – Blackwood would leave behind her managerial job and jump into something completely different.
She would become a nurse.
That decision was reaffirmed when the couple became acquainted with an organization formed to help families like the Blackwoods. It was called Mended Little Hearts and it was a Godsend to the family, Blackwood said.
“They were just amazing,” she said. “We were going back and forth to Dallas, there was so much going on, and they were the first organization to stand up and help.”
That was two years ago, and Blackwood’s life has moved beyond anything she would have expected when she first learned she was pregnant with Reagan, she said. She is set to graduate from Redlands Community College’s School of Nursing in May, not long after Reagan’s second birthday, and has established herself as a beacon to families going through challenges similar to what her own experienced.
Blackwood has done that through social media and outreach, including her position as lead coordinator for the Oklahoma City office of the organization that did so much for her. Mended Little Hearts of Oklahoma City hosts educational programs, provides a lifeline and support network between families and resources, as well as promoting congenital heart defect disease awareness.
Her work there led to a last-minute job helping to coordinate OU Children’s Hospital’s February 2018 Heart Week activities and ongoing sponsorship of the Heart of a Warrior softball tournament, in its third year set for April 28.
“Over the years Heart of a Warrior has hosted so many events that have benefited families who have a child suffering from a medical condition that requires them to stay long periods of time in the hospital, as well as donations to the Ronald McDonald House and NICU at Children’s Hospital,” Blackwood said.
The NICU is where the 29-year-old Blackwood’s hopes to be as she readies for the start of her nursing career, she said. After going through what she did with Reagan, she believes that’s where she belongs, working in yet another way to help families make it through the medical and emotional challenges that come with a congenital disease.
“When you have a child with a congenital heart defect, there is no cure, there’s always going to be medication, there’s always going to be procedures,” Blackwood said. “I want to be there for those people that are facing that frustration and that terror that goes along with this and other conditions like it.”
More information about Reagan Blackwood’s journey, and that of her family, can be found on the Facebook page, “Walk the Beat with Reagan.” To learn more about Mended Little Hearts of Oklahoma City, go online to http://oklahomacity.mendedlittlehearts.net/; the Heart of a Warrior softball tournament will begin at 7 a.m. April 28 at Kingfisher’s Briscoe Sports Complex. More information about the tournament, including how to sign up, is available at https://www.facebook.com/HeartofaWarrior3/.