Incompatible with Nature

a Mother's Story

""This captivating memoir about a mother’s fight to save her baby's life who was born with only half of his heart in a foreign country where the mother neither knew no one, nor could speak the language, will inspire you to persevere, be determined and never give up when confronting any challenge. This is a story you will never forget!"

Dean Ornish, M.D.
Founder & President, Preventive Medicine Research Institute
Clinical Professor of Medicine, UCSF
author, The Spectrum

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"Tracie is a hero. May many parents learn from her experience."

Dr. med. Dipl. Psych. Alex Gillor


"This story of Marc offers an example of how a determined mother never lost hope and how she pursued a worldwide search to provide the best possible options to save the life of her suffering child. I am certain this narrative will move the reader of this well written, compassionate and compelling human story."

Aldo Castañeda, M.D. Ph.D.


"A parent’s inspiring memoir, full of love, humor, and heartache. . . linguistic richness to be found throughout the text."

KIRKUS REVIEW


"Beautiful phrasing throughout. Author’s emotional recounting of this story, showing great strength in re-living it, springs from some lovely wording and visual descriptions such as bridging over their challenges. Author conveys emotion in tremendously sensory and experiential descriptions, such as roaring from the pit of her stomach. We feel her confusion, her shock, her fear, and we are hit experientially with her description of the doctor’s words as instruments of torture. Very well put. Author paints settings very well, adding sensory details that make scenes come to life, and dialogue is instilled with energy and connection. Very well done. We learn from her experience the difference between changing one’s mind and not accepting the minds of others. That’s very powerful and one of the greatest gifts of this book. Very well done. The doctor’s resistance to releasing her son to American physicians’ care moves the reader, since our hearts sink at the idea that they would be concerned with a sense of admission that they cannot handle her son’s case well enough. Author uses all caps in her reaction so well. We’re screaming alongside her. Author has crafted a moving account, one that can be of great guidance to any readers facing a similar situation. Well done. Author’s writing voice carries us confidently through some unthinkably difficult moments, yet still embraces us. "

25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards judge's commentary


"Unconditional love paired with drive and courage characterize the overwhelming life story of Marc. Through this I get energy for my work and my life."

Sonja Klima - President of the Ronald McDonald House, Austria


"Tracie Frank Mayer’s INCOMPATIBLE WITH NATURE is simultaneously a well-told tearjerker and heartwarmer, full of poignancy and passion that will have readers crying, laughing, and celebrating all at the same time."

Heather McNamara for IndieReader


"I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for your contribution to the collection of the Biomedical Library at the University of Pennsylvania. Your book will be a great asset to the collection and will help our medical students to connect with patient and parent experiences. Additionally, since we are the default library for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, your book will be able to reach a highly targeted audience, pediatric cardiologists.

Thank you again for your generous donation and I will be sure to have your name listed as the donor in the cataloging record."

Melanie E. Cedrone - University of Pennsylvania


"Please accept this letter of thanks for the book “Incompatible with Nature: a Mother’s Story” that you recently donated to the Countway Library. Donations like this are one of the many ways the Countway Library of Medicine is able to maintain such a rich and comprehensive collection of materials to assist us in supporting the students, faculty and staff that use this library for their learning and research needs."

Leonard L. Levin - Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine


"Congenital heart defects are a leading cause of infant illness and death. There is certainly an urgent need for more public awareness. I wish I would have had an inspirational story to read some thirty plus years ago when my journey began. We can research facts and figures, but stories are how we learn best.

We live for inspiration.

Life is full of disappointments and none of us is immune. The improbable seems a lifetime away, but the truth is that we win some, we lose some, and sometimes we lose a lot. We struggle daily to navigate existence and regardless of the magnitude of our challenges, we seek inspirational stories of faith and hope, especially when courage is tested.

Incompatible with Nature–a Mother’s Story is a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit.

My message: Never give up!

It is my hope that Marc’s and my story will encourage you to never give up when you have to fight for something in your life–whether it be a health issue or or any other challenge! Hang in there! Be courageous in your conviction and be convinced of your courage.

To achieve our highest potential in life, sometimes we have to be fighters. So be driven. Push. Understand that character is developed in difficult times. Life is too short and too valuable to be nonchalant.

We can defy adversity. We can develop our ability to be resilient in the storm. EVERYTHING is possible because, as my daddy used to say, “It ain’t no givin’ up and no givin’ out” and that is the heart of everything!

My fight with adversity is a tale that will give hope and encouragement to anyone facing any battle not of their own choosing.

Here’s to life. Never give up!"

Tracie Frank Mayer


Read chapter 16


In a Tizzy

Three months later. No doubt I looked hideously unsettled. This was due in large part to wondering whether or not Helmut and I were doing the right thing. My lower limbs felt as though they were becoming unstuck from my torso, as if the muscles beneath the skin were melting reluctantly down cylinder extremities, clumping at my feet, making each step heavier than the one before, yet like good little soldiers, heel and toe continued to yield to circumstance and the carpeted gangway beneath my feet. Alternatively, simultaneously: I was downright slap-your-knee-kiss-your-grandpappy-giddy with glee!

With Marc fastened to my hip, I angled my way down the corridor. Contented, collected faces interrupted the catastrophic images blossoming in my mind.

“What if the Professor is right?” I kept asking myself.

All the preparations of the last weeks leading up to this very moment filled the far reaches of my mental heartland. The Professor’s furrowed brow. “It’s such a high risk,” he said. “Not a good idea...perhaps a lack of oxygen...can’t say for sure...you must ask yourself if this is really necessary...of course the authorities would have to be informed...if they’ll allow it—”

“Would you do it?” I shot at him. He tilted his head and slightly shrugged his shoulders. His lips didn’t bend. The look in his eyes told me to shelve the idea. I wanted to cry. I did cry.

And then I scrambled. Just the idea of having no option, of being shackled, seemed to squeeze my very essence into a claustrophobic vise-like grip. I made some calls. Based on the information I gathered, it was clear that this was not going to be easy. I surely would not get the Professor’s cooperation. So I decided not to let the left hand know what the right hand was doing. I had to make this thing work.

After speaking with Dr. Tinschmann, the world looked different: hope recovered. Part of our conversation centered on the fact that I needed a letter stating that despite Marc’s heart defect, he was indeed in good health. “Not a problem,” he told me.

This document was delivered to Dr. Sommer, the doctor in charge of the department of the company I thought could best accommodate us. He was extremely patient and kind and though we by no means locked horns, his demeanor indicated that he ran a shipshape department which was fine with me because as far as I was concerned, I’d done my homework: the letter he requested was in his hands. Thinking I had circuited the Professor’s negative crosscurrent and that my mission was almost accomplished gave me such an adrenaline rush I nearly swooned.

A dream was about to come true and I was certain no thunderbolts were going to come hurling out of the sky striking me between the eyes. Yes! I thought, that oughta do it! And then? Dr. Sommer apologized for all my inconvenience, but he really did need to have the document signed by the Professor, the cardiologist. My engine reversed slap-bang! What? Didn’t he understand I wasn’t going to get a stamp of approval on a letter of this nature from the Professor? Why make it complicated? Did he need his own little personal guided tour of the state of no optimism? I was doing my damnedest to stay the hell away from there! Why wouldn’t the letter he had in his hand suffice?

The necessity for Plan B had never occurred to me so I just tried to squirm my way out of this by feigning ignorance of German, German accented English and just basic common sense. To no avail. I was given a standardized form called a Medical Statement of the Diagnostician for the Professor to fill out. There was no getting around the issue. What could I do? All he could do was tell me no. And that would never suffice.

It looked as if the Professor had taken the document and slung the ink onto the page. His scribble and the paper appeared to be intentionally disconnected, the words looking as if they were in a hurry to go somewhere, like they were agitated, as if he’d reluctantly done the deed. With Ach und Krach as the Germans say.

“Marc may on and off need oxygen,” he noted in answer to one of the questions. “Three to four liters per minute. His parents have expressed the wish for a medical attendant and will make the appropriate arrangements.”

Ugh...Rewind, replay, rewind, replay. My brain must’ve looked like mincemeat. I didn’t dare ask Helmut his opinion. No way. Not again. It was too late now anyhow. We’d been updownbackwards plus forwardsinsideout on this to the point that he finally believed (as I did deep in my heart, profoundly deep) that we were right-side up on this issue. Optimism is his virtue. He’s adamant about not funneling energy into worrying until he has to. (I used to be like that, honestly.) And my response to that: okay, fine, great. But what if when you have to turns out to be too late?

“Tracie, then I would still deal with it then and not before!” I could hear him, his voice pitched higher than normal, just this side of pissed off. “Not even one minute before! So why should I worry me now? I am not blöd!”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with being stupid, Helmut! I just won –”

“Stop it, Tracie! Just cut the mental masochism! You’re losin’ it, kiddo,” I told myself. “Dr. Tinschmann told you that you can’t live in a glass house. And he also said that he didn’t anticipate any problems. Life is for the living, so come on! Get a grip! Affirm everything good starting now! And lest you be confused, the Professor didn’t swear on a stack of bibles, cross his heart, hope to die, sure as the Amen is in the church, guarantee in writing something would go wrong—”

“No he didn’t, damn it! But he did say that if something happened it’s not like a hospital would be right around the corner. And that’s what scares the living daylight out of me. This goddamned if!”

“You don’t have to be scared. You’re not going to need a hospital. And in the unlikely event –”

Taptaptaptap...taptap! On my shoulder, startling me. I turned around and looked into his eyes.

“Frau Mayer, is everything alright?”

“Yes, Doctor Spatler. Thank you. Are you...are you okay?”

“Oh, yes, I’m fine, fine. Everything will be fine. Don’t worry.”

He patted my shoulder again and smiled a genuine smile. I smiled back. It was fake. I turned back around. Marc was getting restless, fidgety. I wished he would be still.

“…like I was saying,” I continued telling myself, “if something happens, Dr. Spatler is here. I mean he’s from the German Rescue Squad for Christ’s sake. If you had any more of a security blanket, you’d probably smother.”

“Yeah, but see, that’s what I mean. Exactly the reason for my uneasiness. If everything is really going to be okay, then why is it even necessary that he’s here?”

“What? You have to be kidding me, right? You know damn good and well why it’s necessary; it’s called Peace of Mind, Insurance, Whatever Gets You Through the Night, The Only Way This Whole Thing was Gonna Happen – it was your choice. Be thankful that it all worked out. Be positive. No heebie-jeebies. No Professor phobia.”

“I am thankful, it’s just that –”

“I know, I know, I know, I know, I know. Marc is almost three years old now and we’ve come such a long, long way in that short time what with the colds and lung infections that dragged on for months and runny noses and fevers and vomitings and bronchitises and efforts to nip them all in their buds and taking it on the chin those times Dr. Tinschmann gave the yellow light to the bugs belonging to the group of not-such-a-bad-guy viral infections, those ones conducive to building antibodies which every kid supposedly gets and worrying, worrying, worrying while we held them all under careful surveillance and then of course the almost weekly doctor visits and blood tests and the trips to the physical therapist...

“But hey! Now look! We made it! The antibiotics and cough medicines – they all worked! And after months of being rolled and pulled and encouraged, on a Monday afternoon you’ll never forget, at two years, one month and twenty-six days this man-child stood up and took a first step and clapped his hands and yelled out “Bravo!” as he braved his next and you screamed and hollered until you were nearly hoarse and you know you’ll always remember that time you overindulged his taste for chocolate pudding just so you could hear him say ‘pud’n’ till he eventually got the runs and—”

We were moving. “Oh my God, this is it. Breathe, girlfriend. Breathe. Think warm and fuzzy.”

Marc’s restlessness snapped me out of my thoughts. “Marc be still! Mommy means it, now, darn it!” I said, squishing him down between me and Helmut who at that very moment decided to reach over and affectionately squeeze my knee. I hate that.

“Calm, Tracie, calm. Cluster into yourself, feel the peace in this peaceful moment,” I said to myself.

“Umhmm. Peace. Well...at least I won’t be able to see this mass of stainless steel and hydraulics pitch and yaw and roll…”

“You’re not exactly hang gliding here,” I continued.

“You know, who would ever believe that I used to sit back, relax and just love this? And now I’ve got extra oxygen tanks packed away and medical assistance on standby from the German Rescue Squad and concerns about the physiological considerations imposed by pressurized cabins and these damned blotches are popping out on my face and my arms and I feel like a branding iron is poking me. I mean half the fun is supposed to be in the getting there! Isn’t it? Will somebody please square this circle?”

“Are you finished?”

“I haven’t even started.”

“You might as well do what you’ve always done under these conditions.”

“What’s that?”

“Sit back and relax.”

I finally quit talking to myself, sighed and briefly squeezed my eyes shut. The sound of takeoff swelled and soon we were soaring, soaring, soaring. Higher and higher until we reached our cruising altitude above bad weather and warnings, ribbons of air trailing the jetliner’s logo.

Compass.

Control.

Cockpit.

This was it. After three years away from my native shore I was on my way back. I was actually, really and truly, finally taking Marc home!

I turned my fears over to the Autopilot. That one really in control, way up high.


“Why won’t this child stop fidgeting?” I asked myself.

Goodness gracious! He squiggled and wriggled and shifted nonstop from my lap to Helmut’s, doddering and tottering along the armrests exchanging child’s banter with the passengers behind, in front and to the sides of us who to my complete irritation kept initiating conversation with him in German, and seemed to get a kick out of watching him then talk to me in English, especially the flight attendants, particularly the one who brought him some flight souvenirs, one of which was a mini replica Lufthansa airplane and of course then it was “Wwwwwrrrrr, gück mal mein Flugzeug Papa!” and in the next breath it was “Wwwwwwrrrrr, look at my airplane, Mama!” and little arms laced the air but couldn’t reach quite high enough which prompted little legs to aid in the ascent and it was as though he thoroughly, but thoroughly understood that this was his first trip on an airplane and that he was on his way to see his family and friends who lived far far away and there would be a mountain of love and kisses and toys and sweet, gooey Bonbons just for him and oh boy!

The adventure of it all and though it just seemed too good to be true, I was a wreck because I didn’t know if all this activity was demanding too much oxygen of him which could possibly land us in a sea of trouble high in the sky, the very thought of which made me so nervous that Doctor Spatler had offered to give him a light sedative if that would reduce my tension.

“Is it necessary?” I asked him.

He laughed. “I really don’t think so,” he said.

“Good. Then just give it to me.”


The plane landed without any bumps. We were all in a tizzy, and Mama and Daddy were just beside themselves.

We were standing, loaded down with grandchild, purse and carry-ons waiting to disembark. I couldn’t believe it! I was finally here! With my child! With Helmut! And all of us in one piece! Suddenly, I saw an official-looking woman hastily making her way up the walkway through the throng of people crowding the aisle.

Her eyes glanced over Marc and then she looked to me. She spoke English. American English. Seattle English.

“Are you Mrs. Mayer?

What was this about? “Yes I am – why, what’s the mat—”

She hurried on, “Is the baby alright?”

“Oh yes, he’s fine! Great! We had no problems at all.”

“Oh, well, that’s wonderful,” she said, “because we got a message that the child was ill and needed to be immediately expedited off the plane.”

I didn’t know who this woman was, how she knew us or anything about Marc. The flight was a breeze. Nobody called the Professor, the thought itself was ridiculous, and even if someone had – they would certainly not have had any troubling news – so what was that all about?

Daddy. He told the authorities on the ground just before we landed that there was a sick baby on board who had to immediately – that’s read be the first – to disembark the plane. I was told that this was probably at about the same time Mama, overcome with emotion, anticipation and the hallelujah of it all let the lid slide off. She screamed.

“Theresa!” Grandma Ella, a lifelong family friend said.

Mama snapped her head in her direction and scowled. “You shut up!”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard Mama say that like that and mean it to anyone – except Daddy. They just couldn’t wait to see their grandson.

The first glimpse of the familiar faces of the bosom of my family electrified me. I didn’t dare break my gaze; afraid heaven would disappear before my blurry eyes. Unbelievable. The great divide was now reduced to just a few feet.

I handed Marc to Helmut and rushed into Daddy’s opened arms.

“Hey sugar! There’s my stuff!” He enfolded me in his arms, then stood back, looked at me, firmly wibble-wabbled my shoulders and pulled me close and hugged me ferociously again. I reached over and seized hold of Mama’s neck and held on for dear life and my sisters clasped on and Auntie Christine and Gramma Ella were in there somewhere between all the squeezes and hugs and tears and shrieks of delight and “Oh my goodness, look at you! You look great! Girl, you do too! He’s so big! How was Marc? How was the flight? Helmut, how you doin’, son? Girl, how do you feel? Honey, you look wonderful. Did you have any problems? See? I told you everything would be alright! Just give it to the Man upstairs! How are you, honey? Look at my grandson! Ain’t he fine – looks just like his granddaddy. Wipe those tears, you’re home now! How was the flight? He’s so cute! Giiiiirl, wait till we get home. Mama put on a pot of red beans and rice! Give me my grandchild. Just give him to me. Marc, honey, don’t you want to come to Auntie Christine – your grandma don’t want you…”

Marc became frightened at all the hoopla and Mama raised her arms and patted the air shushing us all into quiet. The moment was almost holy. Marc looked around at all the unfamiliar faces and shyly smiled. Daddy’s nose looked kinda red, like how it did when he had a cold. I noticed his finger linger just a moment under the frame of his glasses as he adjusted them and his emotional center, but I knew what time it was with him. I was after all his Waterloo.

This was a memorable moment, underlined. It signified a salutation to “ain’t no givin’ up and no givin’ out” and to “gettin’ up and gettin’ on it” and to guts and grit and survival, all the stuff Daddy’s grandmama had taught him and what her forbearers had chiseled into her and how with single-minded intent, no matter how frayed his edges, he’d done his best to bequeath unto me bits and pieces of that inherited quilt, providing me with a pattern to weave my way amongst life’s silk and bristle.

It was as well a tribute to Mama’s optimism, her unwavering faith and belief in the power of prayer and in me to do my best in caring for her grandson and the countless times she comforted and consoled me and kissed it (albeit through the telephone receiver) all better. No wasted efforts by any means.

“I don’t wanna hear that shit your grandma’s talkin’ ‘bout,” Daddy said reaching towards Marc. Oh well, so much for social graces.

“Come here to your granddaddy, boy.”

He lifted Marc from Helmut’s arms, leaving no room for disagreement and kissed him over and over again, grinning alternately at him and at each of us as he hammered his thumb back and forth into his chest. Marc chuckled.

“My grandson! Mine! A man-child!” he gushed. “Looks just like me. Tracie honey, you’ve finally done something right. You done good, girl. Made your daddy proud.”

Horns blasted and a brass band played.