When Becca was three years old, she was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer). She had her left leg amputated because the tumor had taken over the bone, and went through 9 months of chemotherapy. She was the only survivor of the original 14 children in her ward. Unknown at the time, a long term effect of one of the drugs used was heart damage (which we found out in her early teen years).
After getting married, Becca became pregnant. This greatly weakened her already damaged heart, and at about four months into her pregnancy, she was checked into a hospital, to have immediate access to emergency equipment in case she went into heart failure. Around week 34 (6 weeks early), the doctors were concerned her heart was not going to be able to continue supporting her and the baby, so the decision was made to get the baby out. Becca was given a 50/50 chance of surviving labor and delivery, whether they induced labor or did a C-section. After a rocky 48 hours or so, we were blessed to have both Becca and our little granddaughter survive.
For a while, doctors were able to manage her heart through medication. Three years later, in 2005, she was sent to the Mayo Clinic for open heart surgery, where they were able to repair one of her valves. Once again, her heart issues were able to be managed through medication.
In April of 2010, Dave and I were on a ministry trip in Africa. While in Tanzania, we got a call telling us to come home right away, as Becca needed immediate heart surgery to put in a VAD – Ventricular Assist Device (a pump to keep her heart going). She needed to be put on the heart transplant list ASAP, but had some other health issues that kept her from being put on it. The pump would keep her heart going while these issues were being dealt with.
So on her 28th birthday, she had a ten hour surgery to be given the heart pump. Having the VAD meant she had a drive line coming out of her abdomen from the pump, which was attached to a small computer strapped around her waist, which was run by two very large battery packs, also strapped to her waist (or she was plugged in to a wall unit overnight).
Upon leaving the hospital, at all times everywhere she went, she had to take a bag with spare battery packs and a spare computer in case something malfunctioned. Three of us were trained on the equipment (her husband, my other daughter, and myself) and knew we only had 5 minutes to fix a problem, should one of her alarms go off.
Within a week of getting home from the VAD surgery, she had a stroke and had to be taken back to her hospital (UW Madison, WI) by medical helicopter. The stroke took most of the mobility of her left arm and hand, which left her needing a motorized wheelchair. Within the next year, she had a dozen ambulance rides and almost 2/3s of the year was spent in the hospital (including most holidays and family birthdays) with various issues and complications.
Exactly one year and one day after getting the heart pump, she caught the drive line connected to the battery packs on a fence, which partially sliced the wire and caused the pump to keep shorting out and jolting her like seizures. Once again she was transported by helicopter to UW Madison hospital and was taken in to surgery to remove the VAD. The decision was made not to replace it, for multiple reasons I won’t go into.
Four months later, when in her van with her husband and 8 year old daughter, Becca had Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) along with a brain seizure. The EMTs were miraculously able to revive her, and Becca had her third medical helicopter ride to UW Madison hospital. She spent a week in the cardiac ICU and another week beyond that in the hospital recovering. The trauma affected her brain a bit, causing some memory loss and some fuzzy thinking from that point on.
A month later, she was again admitted back into UW hospital for heart related issues and that evening was rushed into the hospital’s Trauma ICU in septic shock (blood poisoning). Becca spent almost two weeks on a breathing tube and other equipment running all of her organs. Her doctors were shocked that through the medication and ICU care, she came out of it! Eventually, her organs started functioning enough that she was taken off of all the equipment and given a normal room back on her heart floor.
After being released, she was readmitted three days later, needing treatment for fluid overload (a normal procedure for her). The night before being dismissed, her heart gave out for the final time, and on October 12, 2011 she left this earth to receive her complete healing – including being able to dance with Jesus on two legs.
You can find out more about Becca, and how God helped Laura in her time of suffocating darkness and grief after Becca’s death in her book When Tragedy Strikes: Rebuilding Your Life with Hope and Healing after the Death of Your Child.
In memory of Rebecca Diehl Howard and dedicated to all my children… I will always need you.
Below is a video our daughter Kim made in memory of Becca – her only sister.