Watching the children of Todd and Pamela Christensen running through a water sprinkler and splashing in a pool, you would never guess that three of the four children have rare heart defects—unless, of course, you notice the scars on the chests of the twins, Faithe and Hope, and their youngest brother, Elijah.
Faithe and Hope are aptly named. Because of them, their parents have learned many lessons on the principles of faith and hope. The lessons started when Todd was a recent graduate from Boise State University and Pamela was expecting the twins.
Todd thought he had a job lined up with the Idaho Department of Commerce, but it didn’t work out. His only job offer came from a prospective employer in Australia who wanted to hire him for nine months. Every time the Christensens prayed about finding a job, the employer from Australia called with a better offer. Finally Todd accepted the position when he was promised a year of employment.
That was November 1, 1996. The twins were born in Idaho on December 29 that same year. While performing a routine checkup the day after their births, the doctor detected a heart murmur in Hope. She was diagnosed with truncus arteriosus, a rare form of the “blue baby” syndrome that requires open-heart surgery within four or five months.
Their doctor knew that the Christensens were moving to Melbourne, Australia, in less than a month. He told Todd that if he had to choose one hospital in the entire world that had the best medical care for truncus surgery and the doctors with the best record for performing it, he would name Australia’s Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
“As a father of about 12 hours, I just lost it and cried,” Todd recalls. “It was a testimony to me of our Father in Heaven’s love for His children.”
The family soon moved to Australia and received medical treatment for Hope. While Hope was in surgery, a nurse looked at Faithe and asked if she had been tested for the same heart condition. The pediatrician had previously told Todd and Pamela that the babies were fraternal twins with no risk of sharing the problem, but when Faithe was tested, it was discovered that she had the same condition as her sister, only on the opposite side of the heart. Faithe underwent surgery 21 days later.
Todd gave each baby a blessing before the surgeries. “I remember blessing Faithe that she would be strong and be able to help her sister. I remember blessing Hope and having the strong impression that she would be able to run and have strength throughout her entire life and that there would be medical techniques that would provide for her needs.”
“The whole time we were there, we never had any worries or concerns in our minds that we would lose our children,” Pamela adds. “You can’t deny the comforting of the Spirit.”
After 12 months in Australia, the family moved to Tacoma, Washington. Because the work of the Melbourne surgeon had been so skillful, Faithe went three years beyond the initial prognosis of when she would require more surgery. She had corrective surgery at the end of June 2004. Hope had undergone similar surgery the year before.
After a healthy son, Joshua, was added to the family, the Christensens again heard the diagnosis of truncus arteriosus when their second son, Elijah, was born in January 2003. He had surgery at the end of May that same year only days before Hope’s second surgery.
The Christensens were able to share their feelings of peace, prayer, and faith with hospital personnel. One doctor acknowledged their belief in a higher power. “I can understand that,” he said. “My hands are guided at times.”
“The many, many priesthood blessings that these children have received because of this [condition] are very evident,” Pamela says. “Not in miraculous healings, but in the fact that Faithe and Hope run and aren’t weary. They’re vibrant and alive. Kids with this condition can be so tired and exhausted that walking up and down stairs can leave them breathless and their hearts beating irregularly.”
She adds, “Their quality of life is just astounding considering the ticking time bomb that’s inside their chests.”
In spite of ongoing surgeries for their children, the Christensens remain upbeat and positive and hope that medical advances will help their children someday. Many changes have already occurred in the years between the twins’ surgeries and Elijah’s surgery.
In the meantime, the tender little spirits of Faithe, Hope, and Elijah act as missionaries to nurses and doctors, who often comment about how happy and active they are.
“They’ve been blessed with physical trials,” Pamela says, “but they’ve also been given a larger portion of the spirit of love and happiness in their lives to help overcome the trial they have been given.”