On Love And Transplants: How A New York City Mom Found A Home In Omaha

by Joey Hoffman
Originally Published: 

Mistake No. 1: Invite a gaggle of girls for a sleepover at the downtown Omaha Hilton to celebrate my daughter’s 12th birthday.

Mistake No. 2: Slam three slices of deep-dish pizza and a brick of chocolate cake while sprinting to catch the elevator down to the lobby.

Mistake No. 3: Beg the hotel shuttle driver to zoom us to Starbucks.

Mistake No. 4: While the younger ladies giddily slurp tall, frothy confections, I nurse a grande cup of Alka-Seltzer.

Mistake No. 5: Upon returning to our hotel room, they bunk by the TV to watch The Theory of Everything. My theory? I need more cake.

Jazzed on sugar, I join the crew. During the most profoundly heartbreaking part of the film where Jane, Stephen Hawking’s wife says, “I did the best I could,” the girls’ eyes well up.

I cackle uncontrollably.

“Mom, get out,” my daughter, Daisy, points to the adjoining room. My daughter literally sent me to my room.

Our life has not always been sleepover hijinks and laughing so hard our abs ache, watching my daughter self-combust over new Converse high-tops, or my horror at the floozy fashion aimed at 12-year-olds at Forever 21. “You’re insane,” I say when she eyes a tiny crop top and shorts that wouldn’t cover, as my Jewish mother would say, her tuchus.

Image courtesy Joey Hoffman

In utero, Daisy had gastroschisis, a life-threatening condition in which the intestines protrude through the abdomen and develop in the amniotic fluid, pinching off blood supply. Her first home—and my second home—was a New York City neonatal intensive care unit where she lived for seven months and survived on tube feeds and total parenteral nutrition, an IV fluid that kept her alive, yet threatened to destroy her liver.

When Daisy was 3, I discovered Nebraska Medicine’s intestinal rehabilitation program in Omaha. Before we arrived and the team could examine her in person, they estimated that we would return home with a treatment plan in one week, a few months at most.

Before we left, our neighbor bound through our front door. “You’re going to Oklahoma?” she asked. I’m a typical New Yorker. I thought that going out of town was going upstate. Growing up, I fantasized about owning a SoHo loft with giant, arched windows so the sun could wake me like an urban rooster. As it turned out, I lived in a Greenwich Village apartment building where it seemed there were more Jews than there are in all Nebraska. I lived my dream of writing for New York magazine’s “Best Of” issues and covering restaurants for Time Out New York.

But my biggest dream, always, was to be a mother.

Three months after we arrived in Nebraska, my little girl’s cirrhotic liver failed, and she was listed for a small bowel, liver and pancreas transplant, which she received on July 20, 2006–her re-birthday. Back then, I refused to say “transplant,” a frightfully futuristic word that I could barely hear, let alone say. But the universe, I realized, has a funny way of providing exactly what we need. Our world-renowned transplant team proved to be just that. So we sold our New York home and bought one in Omaha. I didn’t even know where Omaha was until months later when I looked on a map.

For years, those who knew our story would ask incredulously, “You moved from New York to Omaha? Was that a culture shock?” Er, yes. When a kid slumped at the wheel of a black, muffler-free TransAm blew past one day when I was out walking our shepherd-husky Sadie, I was sure he’d flip me the bird. But instead, he smiled and waved. At Target, the checkout woman asked, “Do you need help to your car?”

So yes, I have grown to appreciate the ease: a place where kids play outside until dark, five-minute rush hour traffic and the low cost of living. I seemingly bought our first home in Monopoly money. Ironically, my own funny girl has shared the stage with Tony Award winners here in Omaha at the Holland Center, our version of Carnegie Hall.

Image courtesy Joey Hoffman

And I have unwittingly transformed from hair-on-fire neurotic—I once begged four operators to give me a coveted 212 area code, not 646, God forbid—and learned to create space for help to show up, like a kind old aunt toting snacks and gifts and unbridled compassion. When I encourage Daisy to also tweak her mindset and accept what is (“Feel the fear and it will wash through you,” I’ll say), she deadpans: “Buddhist.”

Flying into Omaha now, I see the skyline (which I call “The Building”) and still pine for my Manhattan. But I’ve realized that home is an internal state, and I’ve realized that a city girl can thrive outside her natural habitat, as long as she’s got love—and Alka-Seltzer.

This story originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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