It was early morning, well before the sun was supposed to rise when my grandmother, Norma Foster, awoke to the sound of the ringing phone and the panicky voice of her youngest daughter, my mother, Betsy on the other end. Betsy was 9 months pregnant and due very soon and was having a little bit of a crisis. Having your first kid, you’re told a lot of things about what the experience will be like (i.e. PAINFUL!) When she had begun having contractions, she wasn’t sure if it was serious, because it wasn’t hurting. The thing about labor pains that no one had gotten around to telling her was that they don’t typically start until the water breaks. Mom wasn’t sure she was if she was in labor or not, so she called her Norma, the mother of five, who managed to provide her with the insight to get moving to the hospital pronto. They arrived at Colosseum Hospital in Macon Georgia and were admitted by 7 AM.
She had wanted to have a natural child birth, but Mom chickened out at the last minute and got an epidural. She describes the rest of her labor as “uneventful”, aside from squeezing my dad’s arm and yelling at him when he made mention of wanting to go out and take a smoke break in the middle. Other than that, no big problems, complications, or traumas, and I was born at 1:15 PM on September 5th, 1982, measuring in at 21.25 inches long and weighing 8.6 pounds. My parents had chosen to name me Samuel Allen Ward III after my father and his father before him.
My mother, Betsy Foster, and father, Allen Ward, had been happily married for about 3 years before I came along. Allen, named in long form after his own father, Samuel Allen Ward Sr., won the naming rights on their first born and decided to stick with tradition, thus naming me Samuel Allen Ward III. Once that was settled upon, they needed to figure out something to call me, being that Sam and Allen had both been claimed by Samuel Allen Ward Sr. and Jr. respectively. Fortunately, my mom had the bright idea of simply splitting the “Allen” in half, where they got “Len”, the name I’ve gone by in one form or another across the span of my entire life, as opposed to making me go by something like “Lil’ Sam” or “Lil’ Allen” for the rest of my life.
By all accounts, I was born a pretty healthy looking kid, the biggest one in the nursery at the time, with wide brown eyes and an exceptionally long neck that jokingly earned me the nickname of “E.T.”. The problems didn’t start until the next day when nurses informed my parents that they had placed me into an incubator because they couldn’t regulate my temperature and had no idea what was going on. These kinds of things were common in many newborns at times and easily fixable. My parents initially thought nothing of it and just assumed to wait it out while I “cooked”.
It soon came to be found that the problem wasn’t as minor as they’d thought, thanks to the worries of a keen ears of Dr. Minor C. Vernon, (Awesomest name ever!) who noticed a faint murmur in my heart beat, I was put under another series of tests which confirmed there to be a problem in the plumbing of my heart. Dr. Vernon had been on vacation in the days previous after my birth and came into my mom’s room with a sense of alarm in his tone, telling my mother that they were going to need to take me to Egleston Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. It turned out that there was a sizable hole in between the left and right ventricles of my heart, which caused the muscles in the left ventricular chamber to pump the blood into the rest of my system at a very weak rate. The medical name for the condition is an endocardial cushion defect with a hypoplastic left ventricle, and it’s a condition that in it’s time, was so rare and dangerous that practically every child who’d been diagnosed with it had died, including a young girl named Lindsay, who ended up being my roommate at Egleston and passed away at the age of six due to her heart’s advanced damage and the fact that at the time, the medical procedures to fix the condition hadn’t been invented yet. If that Dr. Vernon hadn’t come back to work that day, if he hadn’t given my heart and my problems a second look, this story would have ended a lot differently. In a rush, I was taken from my parents and fast tracked via ambulance to the children’s hospital as my parents watched the ambulance drive away.