A Letter from our Surgeon

We sent Corey’s heart surgeon, Dr. Luca Vricella, a Christmas card like we do every year. In it I included Corey’s first report card (all As, one B). I knew it would have meaning for the man who saved Corey’s life many times over, as it did for me. I wanted Dr. Vricella to know that his dedication and sacrifice to save the lives of children like mine is deeply appreciated, more than words could ever express. I wanted him to know that we think of him often, and I wanted him to see, with concrete proof, the kind of life my heart child has. How smart he is, how beautiful he is, and how none of it would be possible without this talented and selfless surgeon.

Today I came home to find a letter in the mailbox. Here is what it said:

“Dear Mrs. and Mr. Fleming,

It was wonderful to receive your delightful holiday card with wishes for the Holiday Season.

Many thanks for keeping in touch and the great picture of you with Mason and Corey. Hearing from families and watching their children grow happy and healthy is one of the true blessings of our specialty. Let me thank you in particular for sending me his 3rd grade school report card, it meant so much to me. When I took the liberty of sharing this with my own father, he told me that he wished that my grades were as good when I was in 3rd grade!

Although as always a little late, let me wish to you and your family a wonderful 2014, full of health, happiness and prosperity.

Sincerely Yours,

Luca Vricella, M.D.”

Corey’s going to pass out when I tell him his grades are better than Dr. Vricella’s! I love that guy.


Mardi Gras or Birthday Bash?


The question is this: what’s wilder – Mardi Gras or my son’s ninth birthday party at the bowling alley? I am here to contend that my son’s party wins. If you’ve been to Mardi Gras, maybe you got some fun-colored beads. Maybe you danced all night in the streets. Maybe you sang one too many renditions of “Margaritaville” and woke up with a tattoo that said “Pat” on your butt, only you couldn’t remember who “Pat” was, or is, or if Pat even exists on planet earth. But I bet you didn’t have a bowling ball dropped on your foot by a third grader.

This year we decided to celebrate the heart-child’s birthday by partying at the bowling alley. Every birthday is a victory over his CHD, and apparently nothing says “in your face!” to CHD quite like a bunch of third graders annihilating pizza, cake, popcorn and ice cream cups all over a bowling alley. When planning the party, we thought it would be a great idea to invite 5 of Corey’s classmates to take over one lane. Then, to add to the fun, we thought we’d invite some of Mason’s friends and give a second lane to the younger kids. We had 13 kids total, ranging in age from 2 to 9. I don’t know where my brain was when planning this party. Possibly in my butt under that Pat tattoo.

Everybody who was invited attended. The party started out fine. Parents dropped off their children, said goodbye, and initially the kids all concentrated on getting their bowling shoes on and starting their games. The big boys were pretty competitive to start, trying to out-do each other and actually knock down the most pins. You know, the actual point of bowling. But then two things happened. First, one of the boys demonstrated his Olympic-caliber bowling skills by scoring two strikes right out of the gate, which deflated the rest of them. Second, another group of kids showed up for a birthday party in the two lanes right next to ours. And they were girls. Third-grade girls. What do you think happens when a bunch of third-grade girls show up to bowl right next to a bunch of third-grade boys?

Well I’m going to tell you. The girls totally ignored the boys. They were fully intent on setting up their game and getting down to business. So the boys decided to step up their game. This started with the boys pulling their shirtsleeves up and comparing the size of their muscles, loudly. Did that get the girl’s attention? Uh, no. So they stepped up their game again and started a wrestling match right in the middle of the lane. Excellent. Wrestle Mania meets Third Grade Bowling Party. And guess what? None of the girls even glanced in their direction. In a last ditch attempt to get the girls to look his way, one of the boys decided a good place to sit would be on top of the ball return. Which of course inspired other boys to give it a try too.

Meanwhile, on the lane with the younger kids, people were tripping and falling, getting their fingers pinched, complaining “he stole my ball!”, yelling for more pizza, and just generally trying to kill themselves and everyone around them. Again, really, what the hell was I thinking?

We somehow managed to break up the wrestling match between the older boys, get everybody off the ball return, and get everybody back into the actual bowling game. At which point one of the younger kids rolled a ball down the lane with enough force to push a feather about two inches, and guess what? The ball stopped dead in the middle of the lane. To solve this problem, one of the other kids decided to throw another ball down the lane. Very helpful. So instead of one stopped ball in the lane, we had two stopped balls in the lane. When I looked back there was a ball stuck in the gutter. This feat defies all known laws of physics, because the bumpers were up, making it impossible for the balls to even go into the gutters. Right.

Then one of older boys, not to be outdone by the antics of the younger kids, managed to pitch a ball across the lanes, over the bumpers, and into the middle of the girl’s lane. I don’t know if this was a Hail Mary to get the girls to look at him or if it was an honest mistake. Either way, I hid my face in my hands to cover up the burning red embarrassment on my cheeks. The grandmother of one of the girls shot me the look of death that only old ladies can master – you know the one. You’ve seen it. It’s scary. So I did what any well-adjusted woman would do in this situation. I ran and hid in the bathroom until the balls were all off the lanes. “Um, I just have to wash this pizza sauce off my hands. Be right back!”

By the time it was over the place looked like a war zone and my cheeks hurt like hell from nailing a smile on my face for two hours. But really, despite the insanity, I will say that it was worth it. Because Corey had a blast at his party, and in the end, what else really matters?

Athletes with a Congenital Heart Defect

The Sochi Olympics are in full swing, which got me thinking about athletes with CHD. Everyone in the world of CHD is probably aware of Shaun White, but there are some other noteworthy people who’ve managed to become athletes despite their special hearts. For example, I met Brian Roberts, major league baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles, when he was part of an event for children with CHD. He’s a classy and inspirational guy. Here is a list of 10 athletes with various defects, including Olympians.

Ten Athletes with a Congenital Heart Defect

1. Aaron Boone – former major league baseball infielder (bicuspid aortic valve)

2. Beau Casson – former Australian cricketer (Tetralogy of Fallot)

3. Lauren Holiday – Olympic gold-medalist in soccer (atrial septal defect – ASD)

4. Nwankwo Kanu – retired Nigerian soccer player and Olympic gold medalist (aortic valve defect)

5. MacKinzie Kline – golfer who played LPGA tour (heterotaxy syndrome)

6. Jane Lee – marathon runner (Tetralogy of Fallot)

7. Ramie Mohlman – US Olympic gold medalist, FILA World Cup of Sombo Wrestling 2006 (unspecified heart valve defect)

8. Brian Roberts – major league baseball player for Baltimore Orioles (atrial septal defect – ASD)

9. Brandon Rouse – defensive tackle for Clemsen (coronary hypoplasia), passed away after collapsing and going into arrhythmia

10. Shaun White – Olympic gold-medalist in snowboarding (Tetralogy of Fallot)

The Great Agent Search!

When I decided to search for a literary agent in lieu of directly contacting small publishers, I considered just playing the numbers game and blasting query letters out to everyone and their Aunt Sally. If you throw enough stuff at the wall, something will stick, right? Then I changed my mind. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Instead, I decided to refine my search for agents down to a group that (I thought) was more likely to be interested in my work. The agents that I’ve been in contact with so far have been really classy, and I appreciate that so much, because I know how wildly busy they are. The number of submissions received daily by agents is astounding, so I am grateful for any feedback they have to offer.

One agent told me that she was sorry she wasn’t the right fit for me, as she only represents children’s books. That was my mistake – I’m not sure how I got from “the books she represents remind me of Where the Wild Things Are” to “hey she’ll love a book about CHD!” She said she understands the importance of my work on a personal level, as her nephew has CHD. That was good to hear. 

But I have some good news! An agency that I am very excited about asked me to allow them a three week period to evaluate my proposal and sample chapters exclusively. I happily granted that, and now it’s time to wait and hope that they see the importance of this book. And not because I’m so fabulous, but because Corey’s story of hope is one that needs to be heard.

In the meantime, I’ve settled on this as an author photo for the day when the book is finally published.