Maliya came to Jacksonville in August 2018. She was the third baby we sponsored for heart treatment through Patrons of the Hearts and her life has made a bigger impact on me and everyone around her than any of us could have expected.
Taylor and I got to meet Maliya’s parents, Tonya and Malon, shortly after she arrived in Jacksonville. We had communicated briefly over text before meeting them, but didn’t know the full details of Maliya’s story or condition until we got the chance to spend time with them. We sat at dinner with them in complete awe at their faithfulness, God’s goodness and Maliya’s strength when we heard what they had been through over the past months. Maliya’s heart condition was serious, her oxygen levels were so low for such a long period of time that it is an absolute miracle that she even made it to Jacksonville. All those numbers and stats, the range for normal vital signs and distress signals were all still so fresh in my mind. Will had only passed away five months before Maliya arrived and I could still invasion his monitor with all the numbers indicating how his body was functioning. When I heard Maliya’s numbers I was terrified and amazed all at the same time. What amazed me even more was her parents. They were so calm, confident and joyful - three words I am certain no one would have used to describe me when my babies were sick. Malon, Maliya’s dad, is a Pastor of several churches in Grenada. His faith and trust in Christ was astounding and so encouraging to me. As he spoke I kept thinking about the hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” and the lyrics that say “on Christ this solid rock I stand.” He confidently and boldly stood upon the solid rock of Jesus and it was apparent and inspiring. I felt an instant connection with Tonya, Maliya’s mom. She was so sweet, genuine and I quickly realized she was brilliant as well. Her love for Christ and love for her daughter poured out in every word she spoke. We went home from dinner so thankful to have met them, so impressed by their knowledge, their faith, their persistence.
Over the next few months, Maliya remained in the hospital, undergoing heart treatment, including an open heart surgery, experiencing the highs and lows that every high risk patient seems to go through. I got to spend more time with Tonya and the more I was around her the more I recognized her strength and perseverance. Through every high she praised Jesus and in every low she clung to Him, proclaiming His sovereignty and trusting in Him. We went out to dinner, on a trip to Walmart and she even spent Halloween with us. Every time we were together she smiled, she laughed, she genuinely asked about my children and cared about how we were doing all the while her daughter was in the ICU, sometimes stable and doing well and sometimes unstable or in distress. Regardless of her circumstances, Tonya always exuded joy that can only be found in Christ.
In December, Maliya went home. Although I had spent time with Tonya over the past five months, I had never met Maliya. I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t go back to the place where I had held Will for the last time. I couldn’t go back to the place where I had watched him breath his last breath. I didn’t have enough strength to enter into that space again. The day before they left for Grenada, I finally met Maliya for the first and only time. My brother and I went to the Ronald McDonald House to say goodbye and record Maliya’s story. Her dad walked out of their room and down the hallway with her. She was tiny but had a huge presence. She had sweet dark eyes and fabulous curly hair and was loved so very much by her parents. We said goodbye and stayed in touch as the Peters family settled into their new normal life at home for the first time since their daughter had been born.
On January 20, 2019, I got a text from Tonya. She was letting me know that Maliya was in the ICU and they were waiting to hear what was wrong. On the morning of January 21 I missed a call from Tonya and expected to hear that Maliya was doing better. When I reached her later that morning, I fell back onto our couch, unable to believe what I was hearing. She told me that Maliya wasn’t going to make it, her heart was too weak. I had been on Tonya’s side of the story for almost a year, sharing with people that my son was sick, telling friends that the doctor’s didn’t think he would make it through the night and eventually sharing that he had passed away. At that moment speaking to Tonya, I understood how everyone else must feel when they talk to me. Helpless. Wordless. Overwhelmed. I was unable to form a thought, let alone a sentence. Disbelief and anger shot through my body. “No,” I thought to myself while trying to offer something comforting to Tonya, “not Maliya. Not after everything she has been through.” I was heartbroken over Maliya’s death, knowing the pain that her parents were feeling and being deeply familiar with the grief journey they had just entered into. When Will passed away I kept having this feeling that he was somehow missing out. I was mad that he didn’t get to grow up. I was mad that he didn’t get to experience all the things that this world had to offer that we so often take for granted. I felt the same way about Maliya. Then I remember that while we might be missing their lives here on Earth and desperately wanting them to be here, Will and Maliya and all the children gone too soon, they aren’t missing out on anything. What they have gained far outweighs anything this world has to offer.
“Give me Jesus, you can have all the world,just give me Jesus” - Jermey Camp
I sat at my desk on a cold sunny day at the end of January with my computer propped open. My girls were napping and my son was at school. Our home was quite and peaceful as I turned on the live stream of Maliya’s funeral service. I watched as the camera zoomed in to show her laying in her tiny casket wearing a beautiful white gown, looking perfect and whole. I listened to the stories of how Maliya’s short life had touched so many already and then tears streamed down my face as I listened to Maliya’s mom speak about her daughter. We didn’t have a funeral for Will. I still can’t bear to imagine what that would have been like and I'm not sure I would have survived it. Amidst all the sadness and pain and grief, Tonya stood there, in front of a crowd of people and spoke about her daughter and about Jesus with so much grace and confidence that I was left completely astounded and in awe. Watch the video below and you will be too.
I have copied the letter that I wrote and read for Maliya below. It’s hard to put words together that adequately express the impact that Maliya has had on my life. She is special and she will continue to bring glory to God until we are all reunited again. I am so thankful to know this family and so grateful for the life of sweet Maliya, she will forever hold a very special place in our hearts and lives.
You are a very special little girl. I remember getting a call from Dr. Ettedgui in the summer asking if we'd like to sponsor you to come to Jacksonville for heart treatment. Without hesitation I said yes. You arrived and I got word of how sick you were, we prayed. I was never brave enough to come to the hospital to meet you. My little boy, Will, passed away there a few months before you arrived and I couldn't bring myself to go back. I did get to meet your parents though. They love you so much. The first time we met we sat at dinner, listening to your story in awe of all God had already done in your short life. You, my dear, are a miracle. I felt an instant connection with your mom, she was so brave, so confident yet sweet and thoughtful. She handed me a thank you card, a touching hand written note expressing her gratitude to us for sponsoring you through Patrons of the Hearts. I felt like I was the one who should be thanking her for showing me such genuine, courageous strength.
You went through your first surgery and you were doing so well. In October I was at Disney World with my children. I was strolling my youngest daughter, Caroline, while she was napping when I got a text from your mom. You had declined and the doctors were scared your heart was getting weaker. All the feelings I experienced when my son was sick came flooding back and I ached for your mom and dad. I prayed for you and asked God to heal you. He did. You got better and got to stay with us longer to undergo your second procedure. Your daddy had to go home, he needed to work and get your house ready for your return. You mom stayed here. She spent every single day with you, taking care of you and learning all she could. She is so smart. I loved getting to spend some time with her. We went to dinner and we even got to go shopping for you. She was so excited to pick out all the things you needed as you got ready to go home. While you were here everyone fell in love with you. All your nurses and therapists still talk about you with such fondness. You truly made an impact on us.
After four long months, you were discharged from the hospital and came back to the Ronald McDonald House with your mom and dad. Finally, I got to meet you. I was sitting in the hallway, talking to your mom when you dad walked out with you. You were so tiny, buried in his arms and at first I could barely see you. When I got a closer look I saw that you were the mighty little girl that I had heard about for all those weeks. I remember when we first met your parents your mom told me that you had never been home. You went straight from the hospital in Grenada to Wolfson Children's Hospital. Looking at you, I imagined the joy that your parents would feel walking through the door of your house with you for the first time the next day. Your mom was thrilled, beaming with excitement.
I don't know why some lives are short and others are long. I want my Will to be here with me every day and I know your parents want you back too. I don't know that we will ever fully understand why you, and Will, were only here on Earth for a short time but I am confident that you made a bigger impact in your short life than most of us will make with a long one. Your life has and will continue to glorify God, who created you. Your parents will never stop telling your story and you will continue to inspire people from all over the world. You have already impacted a community miles and miles away from your home. During our first dinner with your parents, your dad said that he wanted to write a book one day. I hope he does. Your life is precious and I look forward to seeing you again one day. Until then, know that we love your parents and they have a whole community who loves them too. They will be sad and miss you every single day they continue to live on this Earth. But thank God that we have hope in Christ. We rebuild our lives on that hope. You showed us how, Maliya. You showed us how to be resilient, tenacious and unwavering. I pray my daughters have your fighting spirit. 2 Timothy 1:7 says,"for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." That's you, Maliya. Afraid of nothing but full of love.
All my love,
Courtney, Will's Mommy"
Our mission is to glorify God by supporting children undergoing life-saving heart treatment and creating a caring community for their families in honor of our son, Will.
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!