So my idea to build a boat came in December 2015. We were going to our 18 week OB appointment to find out whether we were having a girl or a boy! Our daughter, Anne Haven, eluded the sonographer’s attempts to discover that she was, in fact, a “she” until finally it was confirmed. Our joy and excitement, however, was only momentary. At the end of the ultrasound we found out that our daughter had an echogenic spot on her left lung. We had no idea what this meant, and our doctors didn’t really either. We had to wait through the holidays until we had an appointment in Greenville with a specialist. We were to find out that the doctors suspected a lesion on her left lung that could potentially endanger her heart, and therefore, her life. As we began our journey to Anne Haven’s birth, following her progress closely with weekly ultrasounds and daily tears and prayers, I found I needed a way to escape the anxiety. Woodworking was and is a great passion of mine. In woodworking, I found my escape.
I started to plan my project and a small boat came to mind. Over the next couple weeks I drew plans for the boat after lots of researching. I knew that I didn’t want to take the last step and make it seaworthy, though.
Over the next 5 months we followed all the doctors orders regarding Anne Haven. We would go each week for our ultrasound, neither of us sleeping the night before. Always we were waiting for the other shoe to drop. Each week the news was uncertain. The lesion wasn’t getting smaller and sometimes was getting slightly bigger. Ultimately, we were referred to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for further diagnosis. There, in February 2016, after exhaustive tests that included a fetal MRI, fetal ECHO, and hours-long anatomy scan, Anne Haven was diagnosed with congenital lobar emphysema. The upper lobe of her left lung would need to be removed. When this would take place, the doctors only hoped could be a while after her birth. We were advised to relocate to Philadelphia three weeks before her due date in case her breathing was severely complicated at birth. We left our home and family, not knowing when we would come back or what our baby girl would have to go through just to enter the world. We were fortunate enough to stay at a Ronald McDonald House in Southern New Jersey. Anne Haven was born two weeks early on May 10, 2016. Just to add to the magic of her birth, Anne Haven was born on my late father, Joseph Tunstall Jr.’s birthday. He had passed away a year and a half prior. Anne Haven was a true miracle, breathing on her own soon after birth. She spent less than a week in the NICU and we were allowed to take her home to North Carolina a few days before she turned two weeks old. We returned five weeks later for the surgery that removed half her left lung. She’s now as healthy as any other child.
Each step of this miracle journey included the baby steps I took to build this boat that came to represent Anne Haven, herself. This labor of love that helped ease my fears each night, was an external way to work hard for my baby girl. It also provided me a time to talk with God. We spoke of my fears, my daughter, and my plea for her life.
Just before our relocation to Philadelphia and Anne Haven’s birth, I finished the boat. This project was complete. Anne Haven’s successful surgery and recovery marked another project complete. The two were so intertwined, that now this boat is a reminder of this amazing and miraculous event in our lives.