Home for the Holidays

By U.S. Army Capt. William Leasure, 7th Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentDecember 13, 2017

Home for the Holidays
William Leasure Jr. lies in the arms of his father, U.S. Army Capt. William Leasure Sr. at their home outside Fort Hood, Texas, Dec. 12, 2017. William Jr. recently arrived home from Houston following an extended medical treatment for a congenital he... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary and reflects the opinions solely of the author

As the embers flare on the old Yule log, I'm often given to reminiscing on holiday seasons past as a kid in Pennsylvania. With Perry Como crooning from an old, wooden stereo, amid a sea of pumpkin pies and sugared delights, being anywhere but home for the holidays seemed unfathomable.

Thirty years later, this New Year started out with the anxious busyness of a military unit preparing to depart for a nine-month mission overseas.

As I packed my oversized deployment bags for a U.S. Army adventure in Europe, I did so with the news, still fresh in my mind that our family would be welcoming a new addition in late August.

I took great comfort knowing that, despite the time away, I'd be home for the holidays in 2017 with this new little person to acquaint myself with.

As February reached its midway point, I left the balmy 80 degrees of Central Texas and arrived in a snowy Stuttgart, Germany to begin my tour.

I kept in close contact with my wife, Elisa, who gave me regular updates from every doctor's appointment to ensure I didn't miss a beat.

I was grabbing dinner after work in May when I received the call that the gender of our little one had been determined. I nearly dropped my döner kebab right there on the cobblestones when my wife told me were having a little boy.

To put this in perspective, I already have a wonderful son, Brett, who is a 19-year-old sophomore at Sam Houston State University. In between Brett and this new baby, I had three daughters. Knowing this would be our last, I secretly hoped that I could have another little man to maintain some semblance of gender balance in our household.

The previous year had been an especially tough one for our family. My father fell ill while I was stationed overseas in South Korea. After a manic 18-hour return trip, I made it home to Pennsylvania just in time to say goodbye to a great man.

As I stood there in that mountain cemetery in Appalachia, I felt the tinge of a loneliness that comes when a man loses a true friend. He would always ask me if I'd make it home for the holidays. I never found a reason, I have no excuse, and I regret it every day.

Fast forward to that spring street in Bad Cannstatt, Germany, still shaking from the baby news, the void I had felt was filling with the gushing thoughts of father/son adventures that lie ahead.

A few moments after spilling the news, my wife and I knew the name for our baby would be the same as mine. The separation that often bends military families would find rigidity with another "Billy" around the household for my wife to banter with.

A few hours later, my wife called back with troubling news.

The sonographer spent an inordinate amount of time looking at Billy's heart. My wife was referred to cardiac specialists who diagnosed Billy with a rare condition called Right Atrial Isomerism.

The disease has a poor prognosis.

Billy's internal organs were flip-flopped. His stomach was on the wrong side, his liver was in the wrong spot, he had no spleen, but, most concerning, his heart had formed with a very complex defect within the right side of his chest.

I spent my evenings in Stuttgart pouring over research.

With much of the medical literature predating 2000, I dug into support groups on social media. I found a treasure trove of community-moderated information there from families with similar diagnoses who had found viable treatment options for their children.

I soon discovered that one of the top hospitals for pediatric cardiology was just a short drive southeast of Fort Hood at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. TCH was considered one of the top centers in the country for the treatment of this condition.

I took a week of leave from Germany and flew to Houston to consult with the doctors with my wife.

While we were in Houston, the staff thoroughly tested our unborn son with cutting-edge technology and spent hours discussing our son's treatment plan. Billy would need surgery soon after birth and would require a long-term stay in Houston.

I arrived home early in Aug. and moved my wife three and a half hours away to Houston to await delivery. As we entered the 39th week of pregnancy, another challenge fell in the way. By fell, I mean rain, and by rainfall I mean the most in recorded U.S. history as Hurricane Harvey collided with Houston.

Between our hotel room and a hurricane shelter, we watched the rain pour down, praying that my wife wouldn't go into labor. As the storm broke, the road to the hospital cleared. My wife went into labor Aug. 31, just as our doctor was finally able to make it back to work.

Billy spent the first few days of life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit waiting for his first heart surgery. He had a Blalock-Taussig Shunt placed via open-heart surgery on Sept. 11 and spent another month in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit.

Through all this, I returned to work at Fort Hood and, eventually, welcomed my comrades back from our rotation to Europe. As I lay alone in bed each night, I had time to put the past year into perspective. I only wanted one thing more than any other, our little boy, in our home.

Slowly, the situation improved.

Billy was released from the hospital in mid-Oct., provided we keep him local in Houston. Our Thanksgiving feast was held in a tiny apartment next to the hospital. As Billy awaited his next surgery in Jan., our cardiologist informed us that she felt Billy would do well spending the holiday season at home.

It was then I realized how life had come full circle.

My children had their mother and brother at home as they decorated the tree and hung their stockings by the fireplace. That certain something that was missing had finally clicked back into place.

Despite my journeys around the world, in the end, it was Billy whose homecoming meant more than any other.

I can't guarantee what his future will hold, but I dream, if the fates allow, that we will spend every holiday together as I serenely cherish this feeling I have in the perfection of the present.