My city smells like burnt coffee. This city has been my home since I was ten years old. As a teenager I used to run before the sun came up and inhale the familiar smell wafting over from across the river. At 5am, a group of avid cross country runners from my high school team would meet on the side walk in front of a red brick church in my neighborhood. We would run the same course, same distance, every single Tuesday morning. Through the quint and quiet neighborhoods, down to the river walk and past the restaurant where my friends surprised me for my sixteenth birthday. We rounded the giant fountain, weaving our way through the parking lots of downtown and up to the children’s hospital. We stopped there at the corner to regroup. The fast runners stretched and jogged in place while the rest caught up. Once we were together again we ran as a pack to cool down all the way back to the church. As a teenager I knew it as the place where I took a break, a marker of where to stop and wait. While I stretched, above me there were hundreds sick children. I had no idea. Later, as a mother, that same spot also served as a marker but in an intensely different way. That hospital now marks the place where the greatest tragedy of my entire lifetime occurred. It marks the place that saw me at my very worst, broken and devastated. It marks the place that changed my life forever.
All those times that I stood there at the corner, I remember the lights glowing from inside curtained cover rooms, seeing nurses arrive to their twelve hour shifts and watching doctors who had worked all night walk to their cars where they could finally sit down for the first time in hours. I saw it from the outside but had no idea what happened on the inside. I honestly never even thought about it. I didn’t know about all of the pain, the suffering and the unbearable realities of sickness and death that lived inside that building. I also didn’t know about the miracles that were happening behind the walls I placed my hand on for balance as I stood on one leg, stretching the other. I didn’t know that it was a place full of hope, full of love and full of people who offer deep compassion and extraordinary care for sick children. I didn’t know that the doctors and nurses that I saw walking to and from the parking garage, either arriving or leaving their long and exhausting shifts, had spent the last twelve, fifteen or twenty four hours witnessing unimaginable grief as well as precious miracles. Some of them may have delivered a terminal diagnosis to a child just hours before. Some may have witnessed a miracle over night and watched a baby live who was supposed to die. Some may have watched a mother hold her child as he or she took their last breath. Some may have taken care of a baby who had been abused or sat with a child who had spent more of their life inside those walls than outside.
I didn’t know that one day, inside that very building, I would experience life and hope and miracles. I didn’t know that I would spend many nights on the couches inside it and shed gallons of tears in the parking garages, elevators, hallways and rooms behind those sliding glass doors. I didn’t know that the same year that I was waiting outside that hospital, a very special doctor was establishing an organization that would help hundreds of children from all over the world receive life-saving heart treatment. I didn’t know that one day I would be deeply connected to that doctor, that organization and the mission being developed and created inside those offices. I didn’t know that in that building I would hold one of my own babies as he entered into eternity. Even in my worst nightmares, I would have never imagined that my life would someday include the heartbreak and pain and sorrow marked by that place. How could I know? In 2005 it was just a stopping point, a place where I waited until I could keep running. In 2018 it was also a stopping point. A place where my son’s life stopped here on Earth. In 2018 it was also a place where I waited. I waited for test results and diagnostic reports. I waited to see if my babies would live to the next day. Thirteen years ago, I stood outside the building, barely noticing the place that would one day become intertwined with my life in the most intimate ways possible. That place that glowed in the muggy night air as I ran past, breathing in the smell of burnt coffee.
Our mission is to support international children receiving heart treatment in Jacksonville, FL.
My name is Courtney Hughes and I am Will's mommy. I am happy that you are here to read Will's story and make a difference with us!