A Heart Angel

Meet Thomas James, TJ.

Thomas James, TJ, was my little brother and a heart warrior. He was born July 11, 1994 with an undiagnosed heart valve defect. My mother always felt like something was not quite right since he always had a bluish tinge to his skin, but the pediatrician was very adamant that everything was all right. Finally, after speaking with a friend who was a nurse, she sought out a specialist. At 3 months TJ was diagnosed with an improperly formed heart valve and underwent his first open heart surgery shortly thereafter.

I was 6 years old when TJ was born and did not fully understand all the medical things that were happening. I remember knowing that he would be in and out of the hospital for surgeries and that he would have to have open-heart surgery at regular intervals to replace the artificial valve as his heart grew.

When TJ was not in the hospital or recovering, he was a fun loving, mischievous, little boy. He was my best friend, but we would still fight as siblings would. He loved cars and planes, but his favorite thing in the world was trains. He dressed up as Thomas the Tank Engine two Halloweens in a row. My father would take us on the local commuter train on his days off because that was TJ’s favorite pastime. TJ’s famous line was “see the light!!” as he would look down the track from the platform waiting for the train to arrive.

He had undergone 4 open heart surgeries by the time he was 4 years old and had a very pronounced “zipper” on his chest from being cracked open so many times. 

On the day of his passing, he was doing well. It was a rare snowy day mid-March. We played outside, built a snowman, and sprayed it with green food coloring in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. We went inside to warm up and drink hot chocolate. Everything was normal.

At bedtime, I walked past my parent’s bedroom and TJ was laying with my father watching his favorite show, Scooby Doo. Everything was normal. I climbed into bed and heard my dad yelling my brother’s name. I remember feeling hopeless and confused as I heard my mom call 911 and watched my sister start CPR. We followed the ambulance to the hospital where they pronounced him. It was March 16, 1999. 

I remember hearing the news and understanding what it meant, but not really processing it. I felt confused, angry, and sad. It was a good day. He was fine. How could this be happening? I saw my dad cry for the first and only time, I watched my mom shut down and then put herself back together as she still had 2 children who very much needed her. I remember that I felt like I needed to remain strong for my family.

My brother passed away at the age of 4, I was 10. I think of him every day as I watch my own children, ages 6 and 2, play with some of his old toys that we had kept from his short lived childhood.

He was comical and his bright blue eyes and smile could brighten any room.

My youngest is named James Michael, taking the middle names of my brother and father-in-law who both passed suddenly from heart complications. James was born on Valentine’s Day and I see so much of TJ in him with his personality and pure joy of life and the world around him. I very much believe that my heart warrior in heaven hand picked James and sent him to us and the day that is so well known for hearts. ❤️

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