Two broken hearts can sometimes make a whole.
This was the case for two McPherson boys whose hearts are physically incomplete. Although they didn't know each other, both thought they were the only ones in the area who had had undergone multiple surgeries and countless hours in the hospital.
A homemade gift, however, recently united them and likely ignited a lifelong friendship of mutual understanding and camaraderie.
Caden Monroe, 10, son of Catie and Kerry Monroe, was born with a life-threatening congenital heart defect. Not long after his birth, it was discovered he had no pulmonary valve and his pulmonary artery was narrowed and unattached.
He had his first surgery when he was 1 week old and the second when he was 3 months old. He received his first donor valve and artery after his first birthday, and since they do not grow with him, he received his second when he was 6. He will need another when he is a teenager.
Zander Gorsuch, 9, son of Shannon and Quinton Gorsuch, first became noticeably ill in December when he experienced an episode of more than 200 heartbeats per minute. He was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and a heart rhythm problem. After tests and medications, he was sent home with an AED machine.
Several months later, after suffering from an episode similar to a heart attack, he was eventually put on a Berlin heart machine until a donor could become available. The donor came five weeks later.
Although healed for the time being, both boys must have regular checkups to ensure they are healthy.
Paying it forward
Zander returned home Friday and was welcomed back to McPherson with a celebration Monday. At that event, he met Caden.
The story of their meeting began four years ago when Caden had his most recent surgery. He was given a care package that included a fleece tie blanket that he still treasures. Ever since the day he received it, he said he wanted to connect with another heart patient by making and giving a blanket of his own. Although his family thought he would make a tie blanket, he insisted on going a step further and sewing a quilt.
“That blanket was special to me, and I wanted it to be special for someone else,” Caden said.
With the help of his grandmother, who knew little about quilting before she took on the project, he spent a month putting the quilt together every day after school.
“When he sewed, he was determined,” Catie Monroe said. “It was going to be perfect. It meant the world to him in giving it to someone who has gone through what he had gone through. It was very important to him to let someone else know they were not alone in their journey — that there's somebody else that had done those same things.”
Page 2 of 2 - Caden wanted to give it to another patient at the hospital he stayed in, but because of privacy laws, he could not give it to anyone face-to-face. But soon the family saw a write-up about Zander in the McPherson Sentinel and knew Zander was a heart patient he could connect with.
“People were so wonderful to us,” Catie said. “The community pulled together and helped and supported us and it's kind of like paying it forward. It makes you feel good.”
‘I’ve walked in your shoes’
On Monday, Caden was proud to show the quilt to Zander. Caden's grandmother said he looked forward to it for days.
The quilt will be displayed at McPherson banks for the next several months. On Aug. 4, a winner will be drawn out of raffle tickets bought and sold. Proceeds will help the Gorsuch family pay for medical expenses.
“We've got a lot of help from the school, our church and the community,” Shannon said. “It's been really fantastic.”
Caden and his grandmother, Paula Orth, also made Zander a pillowcase to keep. On it, Caden penned the words, “I've walked in your shoes.”
Zander said he thought the pillow was the softest pillow he'd ever felt.
“I thought I was the only one in McPherson that had heart problems,” Caden said. “Then I met Zander, and I don't feel like I'm the only one. It feels pretty good.”
The gift will represent a friendship the two families believe will be a lifelong friendship.
“They might have broken hearts,” Orth said, “but their hearts are full.”
Contact Jenae Pauls at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel.