The Sibenaller Family
Forsyth County Sheriff's Office
The Full Story
Just weeks before our daughter was born, we heard the words, “Your baby’s heart is not plumbed the way we expect to see it.” She was born with Congenital Heart Defects. Hours after she was born, our baby girl was transferred from Northside Forsyth Hospital in Cumming, GA to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA). Meredith, my wife, was still at Northside Forsyth in Cumming, I had a 5-year-old son (Joseph) at home who needed to be cared for, and my newborn little girl (Elizabeth) was now an hour away. I needed to be in three different places other than my daily job at the Sheriff’s Office.
At two days old, Elizabeth had her first successful heart surgery. Though we were able to take her home a week later, we had to have her back at CHOA, waiting for another heart surgery at two months old. This second, 24-day in-patient hospitalization consisted of inserting a heart Cath, open-heart surgery, and another surgery to place a feeding tube before we were able to bring her back home - all of this just 3 days before her first Christmas. My wife having just gone back to work from maternity leave, now needed to take another 8-weeks of unpaid time to care for our little girl during recovery.
I spent a lot of time traveling between North Forsyth and Atlanta. The expenses quickly added up. We were extremely stressed, exhausted, and trying to navigate the world of raising two kids, all while adapting to the new "heart world" we were unwantedly welcomed into. Our blue-line family recognized our needs without us saying anything. As first responders we are the ones expected to help others, and we don't like to admit it when we are in over our heads, needing help too. The B.A.D.G.E. organization stepped in to help alleviate some of that monetary burden.
However, our story does not end there. Eating was a huge struggle for our little girl. Being intubated, aspirating, severe reflux, fatigue and her heart not working exactly as it should, took a big toll on her desire and her ability to eat. She had a feeding tube for the first couple of years. When she was 4, she needed intense feeding therapy to help her learn to eat regular foods. We had to travel 5 days a week to Atlanta, spending 8 hours a day in therapy. Again, B.A.D.G.E. heard what was going on and supported us through it all.
Two days before Thanksgiving 2020, we received the dreaded call from Elizbeth's Cardiac team, who decided it was time to move forward with her third open-heart surgery - Elizabeth was only 5 years old. Two hours after her cardiologist called, I received a call that my dad’s cancer was back, and the prognosis was not good. It was a really tough day. Due to my dad's diagnosis, we lost a big part of our village (support crew). I now had to care for my son, be at the hospital with my daughter & my wife, and still try to spend what time I could with my dad. My wife and I both had to take more time off work. Joseph, my son, was now in virtual school due to the Covid pandemic and our daughter’s health. Again, B.A.D.G.E. stepped up when this first responder needed help.
Everyone has heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” When our daughter was born, we learned that to be very true. We are happy to say that B.A.D.G.E. is part of our village is now, as well as the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office. We are forever grateful for the support we received, even when I tried to be "Mr. Tough-Guy" and pretend I didn’t need it. B.A.D.G.E. is a wonderful organization to step-in and support our local first responders. In Public Safety, we are always there for others on their worst days, but B.A.D.G.E. is there for us on OUR worst days.