Let’s Break the Ice on the Estate Planning Conversation…

My six year old son, Sawyer Aaron Greenfield, is my hero and the inspiration for everything I do.  Really.  So I like to share his story whenever I can because it tells you who I am and where I come from.  It also breaks the ice, no matter what the context.  Here goes:

Sawyer was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect when I was 20 weeks pregnant.  Like a scene from a medical drama on network TV, my husband Josh and I heard the radiologist say words in a language that sounded like Greek back then: “Your baby has a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. You’re going to need to see a cardiologist at Children’s.” The next 16 weeks felt like sleepwalking—multiple fetal echos, countless ultra sounds, growth scans, an emergency c-section and then an 18-day stay in the Beth Israel Deaconess NICU. Finally, we brought Sawyer home knowing he would need surgery to repair his walnut-sized heart within months. A teeny, tiny, four pound greyish/yellowish alien who slept all day and night.  For five weeks we held him like a doll in preemie clothes, taking turns asking each other, “Does he look blue to you?” Going through the motions and pretending that we were parents of a typical newborn. Despite the in utero diagnosis, attentive pediatric care, and parents and grandparents who slept with one eye open watching like medically-trained hawks for early warning signs of a “Tet spell”, Sawyer’s condition turned on a dime and he required emergency open heart surgery at eight weeks old. He was only six and a half pounds and his oxygen saturation level had plummeted into the 50s in an instant. As we look back on it now, his condition was truly dire in that moment. The images from the Cardiac ICU still flash past me six years later like scenes from an episode of ER. They probably always will.

For years after the repair we would drive into Boston to see our son’s cardiology team. They would monitor his heart, his growth, his development, his feeding. Each time we would leave with a little more stability, a little more confidence, a little more distance from the trauma. “Just feed him and love him,” the world-renowned pediatric cardiologist would say as if it was just that simple. But there was always another specialist to see, more work to be done. They sent us to an endocrinologist to monitor Sawyer’s slow growth, a geneticist to test his DNA, a neuropsychologist to explore his fragmented speech and motor development and a neurologist to look at his overall picture. Forever navigating through the vestiges of his congenital heart defect long after the repair. Forever looking for answers as his heart continued to heal.

We got Sawyer linked up with the early intervention program and eventually with the school program in our town where he has been on an IEP since age three. We got him the services and support he needed to progress and develop into the courageous, hilarious, challenging, ridiculous child he is today. And we met other heart families—wonderful, amazing, incredible families. Families whose support and love have made this scary and intense and sometimes heart-wrenching experience something of a badge of honor among a gang of warriors. Heart families who have each other’s backs from across the country, no matter how hard things get (and unfortunately they do). We even made it off the Pediasure and on to the growth chart (sort of), learning along the way that it doesn’t matter if your child eats mac and cheese in front of the TV every single night for dinner as long as he is growing and developing. Just feed them and love them. We are still learning to let go a little, take down the “scaffolding” and let Sawyer be a regular kid. That’s a work in progress but it gets a little bit easier each year. He started Kindergarten in the Needham public school last Fall. He’s learning to read and swim and make friends on the playground. We are so proud everyday.

On the day of the fetal anatomy scan nearly six years ago, a wise and compassionate doctor told us that by seven years old Sawyer would be riding his bike with skinned knees and his heart would be fully repaired.  She said his heart defect wouldn’t be something we could ever forget but it wouldn’t impact his life day to day. On that day, nothing sounded further from reality for us. But time, and excellent medical care, supportive services and a wonderful community of heart families, heals.

As a parent of a young child with a pretty serious medical history and ongoing educational issues, I know that proper planning for his future is a top priority for me and my family.  What will his needs (and of course his baby brother Bennett’s needs) be in the future?  Will we be able to properly support those needs?  Who will be able to carry the torch for them if Josh and I aren’t able to?  As an estate planning attorney, these are the hard things that keep me awake at night.

If you have young children, or children with special needs, or healthy older children in college, or you are over the age of 18, or you are recently retired, or recently married, or recently divorced, or you haven’t pulled out those documents in 20 years, or you are in the final chapter of your story, a good estate plan is a gift you can give your family that will not only allow you to sleep better but also provide a solid foundation for their future.  What could possibly be more important? Sometimes this conversation can be hard to start.  But there you go….I broke the ice and started it for you.  Now make the call and schedule an appointment to begin your estate planning conversation today.