Grace scores two goals – Something good happened in Erie, 3/7/2019

#Heartstrong Grace Faulkner (front row, center in red) with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.

For as long as this weekly series has existed, we’ve sought out good news from established local sites and given them a boost and a unique spin. This week, there will be no link. We’re trying something different.

To start, I want you to think of the happiest moment of your life. Take all the time you need. What is it? A first kiss? Game-winning shot? A championship-winning shot? A wedding day? If you’ve ever witnessed the miracle of childbirth, there’s a great chance that was the moment that came to mind. That’s what it was for me, anyway.

Think back to it – you remember everything. The temperature of the room. The sounds, and the quiet. The nervousness. The excitement. The waiting. The crushing gravity of knowing whatever happened that day, however it turned out, your life would never be the same. You didn’t want it to be the same.

The moment arrives, and an indescribable emotion washes over you. Human life is in your hands. I believe it’s as close as a human being can get to experiencing God on Earth. You vow right then and there to do whatever it takes to protect that precious child, for as long as it takes. You’d jump in front of a speeding train if it would save your kid.

For Alisia Faulkner Lunger, that last part was put to the test when her daughter, Grace, was born with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. That’s a very rare (fewer than 20,000 diagnoses per year) heart condition where an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes a rapid heartbeat. Do you know what it feels like to have one of the best moments of your life followed quickly by confusion and panic and terror? Alisia does.

It’s stupid, of course. The idea that you could save your kid by jumping in front of a train, or trade your kid’s pain for your own. Life deals what it wants, when it wants, and no amount of bargaining can turn back the clock. It dealt Grace Faulkner a difficult hand and her mom and family were doing their best to make it work.

So, what did Alisia do upon hearing her daughter had a “very rare” disorder? The trauma of being faced with such a long-term hardship has a way of turning it all into a montage, I suppose. You turn into a quasi-doctor, trying so hard to focus on and absorb every little detail every doctor and nurse tells you, day after day. You check their work. You ask a million questions. You Google a million things. You worry. When you add it all up, you wonder how you got through and how much all your donated mental energy helped.

So, no, this hasn’t been easy. Grace is ten now and recently, her condition worsened to the point where she was accepted into the Make-a-Wish Greater PA and WV chapter. You’re probably familiar with Make-a-Wish, but if you aren’t, it’s a terrific program from which you’d never want your kid to benefit. It grants a wish to kids with a “critical illness.”

Believe it or not, that’s where this story gets really good. Grace is a huge soccer fan, and she wanted to see the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) play. Her wish was granted. Make-a-Wish began making plans for her wish to come true.

Before all that could materialize, though, Grace’s heart took a turn for the worse. The extra electrical current caused her heart’s mitral valve to prolapse. Grace had to have surgery right away. The procedure she had was called a cryoablation, which turns out to be a risky and difficult thing to do. It carried the risk of shutting down all electrical activity in her heart. After all they’d been through, and despite being in the most capable hands, Grace was at risk of dying of a broken heart before she got her wish. The doctors kept trying the procedure, but weren’t having success. They tried it eight times, and on that eighth try…it worked. It worked! Grace’s heart was repaired, and with it, those of all her family and friends.

The only thing left was to party. Grace finally got to see the USWNT play in Chester, PA on Thursday, 2/27/2019, with the game carried live on FS2. She rode in a limo and met the entire team, and they were wonderful.

Grace Faulkner meeting the USWNT.

Grace Faulkner, with a happy heart and a personalized USWNT Jersey.

She chatted with the coach. Grace even brought a gift for each player. She kicked the ball around with them, sat on the bench with them.

Grace Faulkner, kicking the ball around with the USWNT.

During the match, the U.S. team conceded a late goal against Japan and played to a 2-2 draw. Grace Faulkner scored two goals, too, in a way. She has her health, and had the night of her young life watching a game she loves played by the team she loves to watch.

Grace’s story is certainly something good to happen in Erie. I’m going to outsource the last word to Alisia Faulkner Lunger, because she sums up this journey beautifully:

It’s a world where going home means until next time…. a world full of scars that tell stories of lifelong cardiology appointments and a rising fear with every ache or chest pain… a world where parents sacrifice everything and do anything to give their child the care they need…. A world full of medical teams who give everything they have to save these little hearts…A world full of children who beat the odds… are given a second chance… where we are all forever changed. It’s a world where a mended heart becomes #heartstrong ❤️

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