Would you volunteer to care for your spouse’s love child?
When I visited Debbie and Gary Fuller in late April, they were sharing a studio apartment with – and caring for – Solana Cortez, whose recent double-lung transplant aimed to save her life from Cystic Fibrosis.
Solana seemed bright and friendly, excited to see her lifelong millstone becoming a milestone. We discussed their unusual journey.
One quiet evening in 2009, Debbie answered their home phone. A woman’s voice asked for Gary, who took the call. Afterward, he told his wife of 26 years, “That was my girlfriend from college. Apparently, I have a 27-year-old daughter and she’d like to know if it’s okay to contact me.”
How would you have reacted, if you were Debbie?
“That night,” Debbie recalls, “We were faced with a huge decision that we wanted to make together. Amazingly, it took only moments. We decided that, ‘of course, we wanted to take the next step’.”
When they dated, Gary had told Debbie of his collapsed summer romance that involved a pregnancy. His girlfriend’s parents had proposed he sign away his paternal rights; he complied.
“For nearly three decades, we heard nothing about the child’s birth or gender,” Debbie explains today. “We just never talked about it. We were happily married and busy raising our own family.”
Reality and Convoluted Emotions
Now, though, reality came calling. Debbie’s emotions that first evening were not always in line with her thinking.
“What did Solana want?” Debbie wondered. “What was she like? How was this going to affect our family?” Debbie was committed to doing the right thing, even amidst convoluted emotions.
In an earlier article, my wife and I told Gary’s story. He and Solana met and had a moving reconciliation regarding his youthful decisions. He determined to be the father she had never had.
As the Fullers included Solana in their lives, bumps came. “I didn’t feel threatened,” recalls Debbie, “but at times found myself resenting the emotional energy that Gary put into this new relationship with another woman. Our teenage daughter didn’t accept the new family dynamics well. For several years it profoundly impacted her relationship with Gary.”
“While I was busy sorting out my own feelings,” she continues, “I found myself acting as mediator and coach for my husband and daughter. Their situation is much improved now.”
“My emotions have gotten a workout!” Debbie reflects. “But throughout this journey, I’ve had opportunities to make many decisions based on doing the right thing, rather than following emotions alone.”
As a person of faith, she draws encouragement from the words of an ancient Jewish prophet: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”
Good News and Beyond
Cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease affecting the lungs and digestive tract, has no known cure. To qualify for a lung transplant, patients must be so ill they can’t survive without it. As Solana expressed it, “All my life, I’ve been waiting to be sick enough for a chance to live….”
When a lung transplant door opened suddenly, Solana and Gary shared a short, tearful farewell, the outcome uncertain. Eight hours of surgery later, Solana was breathing with new lungs.
A charity covered transplant cost. Family mobilized to care for her during recovery and beyond. Friends launched a website, www.Solana-Story.com, to encourage others in similar relational and medical circumstances. They also hope through the site to raise funds for Solana’s substantial longer-term care needs not covered by health insurance.
Gary told me recently, “I do have a remarkable wife and I’m still amazed at her response to Solana. They had many hours for meaningful conversation and became friends during our post-transplant stay. Debbie’s currently preparing a birthday package for her. Faith in God does make for some unique bonding!”
So…if faced with Debbie’s decisions, what would you decide?