By: Danette Dooley
Goulds resident Danny Ridgeley never thought he would get to experience the joys of becoming a father
As Danny Ridgeley speaks about the incredible joy of becoming a father, then the heartache when told, just hours after the baby’s birth, that she had a life-threatening heart defect, his tears are about as controllable as the weather.
COURAGE & RESILIENCE
During an interview at his home in the Goulds, Danny apologized several times for not being able to control his emotions. This proud father’s story is one of hope, courage and resilience.
Danny will never forget the call he received when he got home from the hospital, just hours after the birth of his first child, Julia. “I got a phone call from my wife saying the priest was called. When you hear that, you know your child is in trouble. I panicked. I didn’t know what to do,” Danny said.
Danny called his parents (George and Mary Ridgeley) who came to his home and drove him to the hospital. By the time he reached the Janeway, he said, his daughter had been stabilized and baptized.
Shortly after her birth, doctors discovered that Julia had a serious heart defect that required immediate surgery that couldn’t be done in this province.
“The aorta and the pulmonary artery were on the wrong side of her heart,” Danny said. Less than 10 hours after the birth, the infant was transported by air ambulance to the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.
Danny caught the first flight he could get to Halifax while his wife, Valerie, was recovering from the birth in hospital in St. John’s. She joined Danny at the hospital in Halifax as soon as she was released from hospital a couple of days after Julia’s birth. Less than two weeks after her birth, Julia underwent surgery to repair her heart. While not being able to hold his baby was heartbreaking, Danny knew everything possible was being done to save her life.
“When they strolled her to the operating room doors, a calm came over me. It was like – okay, it’s out of our hands now.”
Julia remained in the hospital in Halifax for about six weeks and was then transported to the Janeway in St. John’s.
“(Surgeons in Halifax) had to leave her chest open to leave room for swelling. It was brutal seeing a baby like that, especially your own child,” Danny recalled.
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After two weeks in the Janeway, Julia was well enough to go home. At age 10 or 11, staff at the Janeway’s cardiology department suggested – because Julia was born with a life-threatening illness – she could qualify for a wish from the Children’s Wish Foundation.
Thanks to Children’s Wish, when Julia was 12 years old (and her sister Kayla was five) the family embarked on a trip of a lifetime – a Disney cruise.
“If there was ever a place called heaven, that was it. We had no worries. We swam with the dolphins; we got to see the Mayan ruins. The girls got to see the princesses. It was an incredible experience,” Danny said turning the pages of a scrapbook Valerie put together.
JOYS OF FATHERHOOD
Danny’s life story is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. Diagnosed with cancer at age seven, he lost his leg to the disease at age 14. His health hasn’t been great over the years. Danny has a serious heart condition — unrelated to his daughter’s heart defect — which led to his early retirement from the provincial government. He continues to be under the care of numerous specialists.
With Father’s Day approaching, Danny said, his thoughts go to how lucky he is to not only be alive but to experience the joys of fatherhood. Something he said he never thought, earlier in his life, would ever happen.
“When I was growing up with cancer I never thought I’d get to be an adult… Then when I became an adult, I came out of remission. I had a tumor in my spine. So, as a young adult, I never thought I’d get to see marriage. Then, I met my wife a few years later… we hit it off, got married two years later. And now we have two beautiful children.”
Danny says he’s “a very lucky husband” and that he “counts his blessings to be a father. When they were growing up, I let them do my nails, curl my hair, I did the tea parties — I wouldn’t change things for the world.”
While Julia continues to see a cardiologist regularly, she is now a healthy 18-year-old who recently graduated from St. Kevin’s High School in the Goulds. Julia, who plans on studying business at Memorial University in September, said she has learned a lot from her father over the years.
“My dad has taught me that, even when you are at your lowest point, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve never seen my dad’s disability get in the way of him volunteering or driving me and my sister around – whether it’s to dance, piano or even to get food. When my dad was at his sickest he was always so strong for everyone else around him,” Julia said.
11-year-old Kayla also has kind words to say about her father. “Daddy always goes out of his way to help others. It makes me want to help others the way he does,” she said.
And both girls are indeed the icing on their father’s cake. “I couldn’t be prouder of Julia and Kayla is now following in her footsteps… We don’t have plans right now for Father’s Day. But, looking back on my life, just to be here with my family, my wife and two daughters, that’s all I ask for,” Danny said.