Thursday, September 7, 2017

One Dreamer’s Story

“You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one”

-John Lennon
Our nurse, traveling with us to Flagstaff so we could take our son on his first trip.

I have a medically fragile son that requires around the clock nursing care. My son’s day nurse has worked for our family full-time for almost 2 years. She has become a back bone to our everyday life, and of course we are very close with her. Here is part of her story.

What do you do for a living? What makes your job challenging and unique?

I’m a pediatric home health nurse. I have had to save my patient’s life more than 100 times. It happens almost every day because he is a critical patient. I think I go above and beyond in my work because I’m very emotionally attached to my patient. It’s more than a job to me and more than a paycheck. It’s his life and I want to make sure he gets the most out of every day. I like to challenge myself and him with everything from feeding skills to one extra minute of therapy. I like helping him achieve those little goals.

Where are you from and how did you end up in the United States?

I was born in Mexico City. I was brought here when I was 7 years old by my parents. My memory can only go back to the time we crossed the desert. That’s when my life started. I don’t have memories of living in Mexico and have only heard stories from my family. We walked 3 days and 2 nights in the desert and I didn’t understand what was happening. My parents were scared and I didn’t understand why we had to hide from cars and sleep outside under leaves. I didn’t understand why we were walking and carrying our water. I remember my dad telling me when we got there I could have an ice cream. I could never have an ice cream in Mexico. I did end up getting the ice cream from a nice man at the first McDonald’s we saw.

Why did your parents bring you here? Why didn’t they come legally?

My parents wanted me to have a better future. Initially they thought they could just work, save money and return to Mexico. They never got to go back. They saw I could have a better life here and didn’t consider the obstacles I would face later in life. I have a 7 year old sister and a 17 year old brother and they were both born here and are citizens. They have never been to Mexico.

There was no money or resources to come legally. Financially, my parents were not in a position to afford a visa. If they were in a good financial position, they would have never left their families, community and where they were raised to find a better future. There was no path to citizenship for them. There is no way to become a citizen by applying on your own. It’s much more complicated than people understand.

What is DACA and how did you become a recipient?

DACA is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It’s a program that started in 2012 and you have to qualify for it. You have to have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and you also have to be less than 30 years old. There were many specific qualifications like background checks, finger prints, listing every place we have ever lived, proving we were here since we were 16 and that we had never left, we had to go to school and have no criminal record. Once you were approved for all of that, it deferred you from being deported. It also gave you the right to have a driver’s license. You pay a fee of $465 ever 2 years for the permit and have to reapply after those two years. The permit gives you the right to work here legally.

I became a recipient when I was 24 years old. Since I was in college before that, I was not able to use a college scholarship I received. I also had to pay out of state tuition in cash. I could not receive any state benefits, scholarships or grants. I know people that were not able to qualify for DACA. The qualifications are very specific and rigorous. My husband could not qualify because he arrived here 6 months after he turned 16. It’s very difficult to become part of the program.

Do you pay taxes?

Yes I pay taxes just like a citizen. My friends and family that cannot work legally also pay taxes. They have an ITIN (individual taxpayer identification number) that is similar to a social security number that is issued by the IRS. If you don’t have a pay stub or W-2 you file taxes with a specific form. Many people want to do the right thing. They want to live a life just like everyone else. In a way, I think it makes them feel a part of the community. It also gives them hope that they could become legal citizens. It’s proof that they are “good” people and the only bad thing they did was come here illegally for a better life. They want to prove that they follow the rules.

Since you and your family pay taxes, you must be able to receive benefits like a citizen correct? Like financial aid, Medicare, etc?

No. With DACA, we are not allowed to use any federal money. If we want to go to school, we have to pay out of pocket unless you get a private scholarship. We cannot receive FASFA. My parents cannot receive Medicare and have no health insurance. We pay into those programs, but cannot receive any funds.

Once I went to the emergency room because I had a traumatic miscarriage and had to call 911. We got a bill for over $5,000. It was more than I could afford. We avoid going to the doctor at all costs.

Did DACA change how it felt for you to live in the U.S.?

Having DACA made me feel so much safer. I didn’t go places without worrying about if I will return home. I felt different about myself. I always had so many boundaries in my life and couldn’t build a future. I could never consider what I wanted to be when I grew up. Having DACA made me feel like an equal. Even though I had to pay more for school, I still had the same chances for a job as anyone else. I always wanted to buy a house for my parents to live in. Two years after receiving DACA, I was able to buy a house for my family. I worked 2 jobs while in nursing school to buy the house. I would only sleep on breaks during work but my employers were very supportive of my dream. My restraints were gone and I suddenly got to break free. I was unstoppable. I would say I had new hope for my life. Not only did I have hope for myself but also for my siblings. I wanted the American dream for them as well. They had never dreamed of living in their own home or a family vacation or going to summer of camp. I had to help raise them in the summers so my parents could work. I was walking on Cloud 9 for a long time. I gave them a home and took them to Disneyland. People would ask me how I didn’t sleep for 3 years during nursing school but I was so energized by my new life. My sister would always say she wanted to be just like me. I know I have done well for them.

*We take a break to cry. Our family, children and friends are huddled around Miles's nurse to hear her story.*

How does it feel to know our President has ended the DACA program?

It’s terrifying. It’s devastating to think what you have been able to build in 5 years could be destroyed in 6 months. I’m beginning to think, what will I do with my house? My career? Do I even have a future here? What am I supposed to do? I don’t know if I should go back to a place where I was born to do… who knows what? I wouldn’t know what to do there, what to look for, how to live. Everything I know is here. I’m afraid my family will be split up.

If you could educate people on your situation, what would you tell them?

I don’t believe we are taking away anyone’s job or opportunities. We are not taking anything from Americans. Just because we are getting a chance to be like other Americans, it opens doors for us, but doesn’t close it for others. We all fight for who we want to become and who we want to be. The fact that I work as a nurse does not mean I’m taking the spot from another nurse. If they aren’t a nurse, it’s most likely because they don’t chose to do that with their life. There is room for all of us.

What’s your plan now?

I don’t know what my plan is. It would be easier to answer that in a sense of what I hope for. I don’t know what the future holds and everything is uncertain. I’m hopeful that if congress doesn’t allow us to be citizens, they let us continue to work and go to school legally. Without that, there is no plan for me even though I would like to be a citizen so I could do more with my life. But compared to having nothing, DACA is all I have. I don’t mind paying for it if it’s the only option. It’s hard to have hope. Everyone tells me to be optimistic and I really want to, it’s just hard to hope for something that won’t happen. I don’t know if I can change any of this. I wish there was something to hope for.

Would you or someone you know like to share their DACA story? Please contact me at

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Caleb's City ICU Tour and a New Diagnosis

Our first family photo.
I have been a bit vague about things we have learned about our baby Caleb lately, mainly because there have been a lot of differing opinions. After I had Caleb, we spent 2 days in the hospital and he struggled with hypoglycemia over the next two days. His blood sugar kept plummeting down to 30 and they would tell us to just give him formula, which he hated and would gag and vomit as we bottled it to him (my milk had not come in yet). My friend had just had a baby and pumped for us. We snuck it into the hospital and would syringe it into his mouth as he gobbled it up. Ultimately, this stabilized his blood sugar. Now in hindsight, he would have benefited from some NICU time, but no one even suggested it.

Also, when he was born, there was a big bubble of spinal fluid on his back. This was not something we expected to see since he had fetal repair, but no one said anything about it. No one even suggested we get an MRI or ultrasound of his back or brain. We have since learned that Banner hospitals had no neurosurgeons on call, so Caleb’s care fell through the cracks. This led to a turbulent few weeks.

We brought Caleb home and absolutely delighted him. I couldn’t believe how perfect he was. He was jaundice and was struggling to gain weight so we were at the pediatrician every other day, but this seemed simple to me. After about 4 days home I began having a gut instinct- he was too sleepy, too lethargic and too weak. We would strip him down and take him out in the cold every 2 hours to wake him up to eat and he still wouldn’t wake up. He was like a floppy rag doll. The pediatrician didn’t seem concerned but I know too much about Spina Bifida and I had reason to be worried.

After a visit to the Cardons ER and watching my tiny baby get poked and poked and poked as they couldn’t get an IV or blood for hours, I was beside myself. Finally, he was put on a pulse oximeter and in my arms when I heard the all too familiar red alarms. The medical team came running in to bag him. Was I really seeing this? It’s the wrong kid! This only happens to Miles, not Caleb too. Bryce and I looked at each other with that look. Total defeat.

Caleb was immediately admitted to the pediatric ICU and put on oxygen. I watched him all night as his saturation levels dipped down too low. The next day, he was put under general anesthesia and intubated for a 4 hour brain and spine MRI. For those that are curious, 4 hours is a long time to be under general anesthesia, let alone a 9 day old that was born early. It’s unideal for the developing brain. We had been told the MRI would be 1 hour. I paced the halls waiting for him to return. He vomited all day as he tried to wake up.

A fill-in neurosurgeon came in to read the MRI results to us. Most of it was very familiar from Miles’s readings. Caleb has a severe Arnold Chiari malformation. He has a spinal syrinx the entire length of his spinal cord. The bubble on his back was news though. It wasn’t just spinal fluid. It’s called an “incomplete repair.” Somehow Caleb’s spinal repair had split open inutero and the spinal cord and nerves were bulging out of his back like an unrepaired Spina Bifida child. I have never once heard of this happening to a child who has already undergone fetal surgery.

We were also casually told of some other very serious diagnoses. First, he has Polymicrogyria. This is a condition I had never heard of. The folds of the brain are too small and there are too many. Some children don’t survive childhood. Some live with mental disability and lifelong seizures. The other diagnosis was Heterotopia. That is where brain matter exists in places it shouldn’t. The long term effects can be the same as the Polymicrogyria. We were told not to google it and to consult with a neuropsychologist. These are very serious things to hear on top of some already very serious birth defects.

We were sent home from the PICU with a pulse ox. That night I watched Caleb sating in the 70’s and 80’s and I felt so helpless. I had no oxygen for him and I would watch his little lips turn blue every couple minutes. The next morning I called the pulmonologist with an urgent request for oxygen. He didn’t call me back. I called the pediatrician to request caffeine therapy to boost his brain stem and breath rate.

“I’m very worried Allison. You shouldn’t be doing this all by yourself. Caleb needs a baby doctor. He should be in the NICU.” I knew our pediatrician was right.

Within a couple hours we were being admitted to the Scottsdale Shea NICU in an isolation room since Caleb had already been home. He was on oxygen but still did not seem like a thriving child. After about 3 days, my friend was at the hospital with him so I could go shower. That’s when I got the call that Caleb had tested positive for a UTI and was being emergency transported to Phoenix Children’s Hospital NICU. I rushed back to the hospital to find them attempting IV’s on him. After I watched them miss and blow 5 IV veins and 2 blood draws, they finally did a blood draw out of his artery. I have had this done and it’s incredibly painful. I have never seen a baby scream like that. I put my foot down and said no more IV attempts. So then they gave him two antibiotic shots in his thighs.

As I was in the ambulance taking him to our 4th hospital in 2 weeks, I was trying to process why all of this was happening over a borderline UTI. No one explained when I asked so I did my own research. The barriers between urine, blood and spinal fluid are very weak in a newborn. An infection can quickly spread and turn into meningitis. They wanted him at a hospital that had neurosurgeons in case they did a spinal tap and Banner still had no neurosurgeons available. Even though our insurance doesn’t cover PCH, we had no choice.

We spent the next 8 days at the PCH NICU, which they are self-proclaimed in “the armpit” of the hospital and they aren’t kidding. The unit was gross. PCH PICU is pristine and I would have much rather been sent to that unit. Caleb was aggressively treated with 4 different IV antibiotics. The night we arrived, it took them 3 more tries to get an IV since Shea had blown so man veins. It was a horrible day. Thankfully, he responded quickly and was able to come off of oxygen (although he still has episodes of desaturations).

One we got home we immediately followed up with our neurosurgeon and he confirmed that Caleb will need another Spina Bifida back repair. He may also need a shunt in his brain soon. The Polymicrogyria and Heterotopia are present but we were told we can worry about that later. My world crumbled as I realized so much of the fetal surgery was done for nothing. Months detached from my family, tremendous pain, tens of thousands of dollars- all to spare my baby from what he will have to go through anyway.

John 10:10 says, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. I come that you may have life and have it abundantly.”

The enemy has been so relentless on my family. He stole precious time with my boys. He killed our hope and he destroyed the people we once were. He won’t let up on us. We have to decide now if we get Caleb’s surgeries in Phoenix or Houston. If Houston, we have to wait several months until we can get new insurance. I don’t know if he has that kind of time. We also don’t know how we can care for Miles when his nursing hours are cut back this month. It feels as though we have to choose between our boys.

Thank God for the second half of that scripture.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Fetal Surgery Week

There were a lot of conversations the night before surgery. I was admitted the day before since the team was anxious about my Diabetes management and wanted to go over everything in detail. I met with several anesthesiologists. Some made me feel comfortable, some made me feel more anxious.

“What if my body is paralyzed but my mind stays awake and I can feel and hear everything throughout the surgery?” I asked the question mostly joking but I had some irrational fears. Expecting to be laughed at, the resident anesthesiologist responded.

“Yes that does occasionally happen where people report that they remember their entire surgery. Anyway, let’s talk about tomorrow.”

“No, I’d like to revisit what you just mentioned…”

I don’t think you can ever feel fully prepared going in to a surgery like this. One where you have been repeatedly told that the recovery is extraordinarily painful and your child may not survive, or you may not survive. One where you are only their 40th case in the last 6 years because it’s such a rare procedure. Where you are the first insulin dependent diabetic in the world to be getting the surgery so they are going to do things differently than usual. No matter how brave I felt, I didn’t sleep the night before surgery.  

My surgery was delayed a couple hours in the morning because of another neurosurgery. Bryce and my mom were with me and the room seemed quiet and tense. Bryce came over to me and I started crying. I felt like no one was encouraging me or really acknowledging me. He got the picture and painted my nails bright pink. There was a lot of laughter seeing him attempt a manicure. During my manicure, a huge group of people came in to prep me. Bryce and mom had to leave the room so my epidural could be placed. The goal is to insert the epidural catheter before surgery. Toward the end of the surgery, they inject the medicine so when you wake up you feel no pain for the next 48 hours. The doctors kept reminding me that if I feel anything at all when I wake up then there is a problem.

As the doctor was stringing the catheter into my spine, I passed out. I’ve never done that before. Thank goodness a nurse was in front of me to catch me and lay me on the bed. I kept apologizing as I woke up and they assured me it’s pretty common because people have a drop in blood pressure during procedures. It was more of an exciting start than I had hoped for. Everyone was brought back into the room and it seemed like there were 100 people in there. I was given something to relax me and my memories got foggy as I was wheeled down to the OR. I do suddenly have vivid memories of being in the OR as they asked me to move over to an operating table. I lost count of how many people were in the room at that point but I already knew that over 25 people would be there for my surgery. The doctor put a gas mask on me and said I would be asleep soon. I felt very alert. I was looking around the room at taking everything in. It seemed like a minute passed and I grabbed the doctor’s arm. She removed my mask. “Why am I still awake?” I asked. “You will be asleep soon,” she assured me. That’s the last thing I remember.

During fetal surgery, I am placed in a very very deep level of general anesthesia. Not only do they need to put the baby to sleep but my uterus needs to be completely relaxed. My surgery was about 2.5 hours and went well. Caleb’s portion of the surgery was about 25 minutes while most of the time is spent cutting me open, removing my uterus and positioning it, cutting it open to expose Caleb (first he needed to be flipped from his back to his tummy), and eventually piecing my body back together. Caleb was measuring 1 pound 11 ounces the day of the surgery. The team updated Bryce through the ordeal and also text him pictures of the surgery throughout. My blood sugar stayed perfect the entire time.

I woke up in the recovery room in excruciating pain. I don’t remember saying much other than, “Pain, pain.” I remember people running around and the anesthesiologist team coming in to redo my epidural. I have no concept of how long that took but once it was working, I was a happy woman. We weren’t sure why my epidural didn’t work initially. I was told maybe the catheter migrated. I was given high doses of magnesium sulfate to prevent labor. All fetal surgery moms talk about this drug. It makes you feel incredibly hot, nauseous and terrible. It is very similar to having the flu. We kept the room at 55 degrees and it was intolerable to everyone but me.

Here is where the story gets interesting.

Around 1 am, I woke up in a panic. I could feel my epidural rapidly wearing off and all my feeling came back instantly. I began sobbing and Bryce woke up. I can only describe the next 3 hours as a scene out of The Exorcist. Since it was the middle of the night, the fetal team was gone and they suddenly had a fetal surgery patient with no painkillers on board and no working epidural and no orders written. Bryce, my mom and my nurse spent the next few hours trying to get the on call anesthesiologist to redo my epidural but he didn’t seem to believe it wasn’t working. The nurse kept pushing Morphine in my IV which did almost nothing. I could not wish pain like that on anyone. Every single minute felt like an hour. Bryce called a fetal surgeon on his cell phone in the middle of the night which the surgeon did not like, but he asked to speak with me. The second he heard my sobbing, he was giving the anesthesiologist a piece of his mind. I remember begging and pleading, sometimes to Jesus, sometimes to the doctor. I asked them to put me under. After two attempts at redoing the epidural, I was numb again. It was the longest 3 hours of our lives. There is nothing I couldn’t endure after that. Bryce was scheduled to fly home the next morning to be with our boys.

“Please don’t leave me,” I begged him. “I already moved my flight to Friday.”

We all fell asleep and exactly 2 hours later, I woke up to my feeling coming back again. No, this can’t be happening. I called for the nurse and more anesthesiologists came in, continually bolusing my epidural. “You should be paralyzed,” they would say. “Do you need proof?” I would cry hysterically. I’ll stand up and run around this room if you need proof!”

This time, they knew something wasn’t working right and they put me on a drip of Dilauded. I had never heard of this drug before but now I kindly refer to it as “my day on heroine.” It is essentially medical grade heroine and only used in extreme situations for pain. It wasn’t ideal for Caleb, but we had no choice and of course I would accept any relief. I barely remember the next 24 hours and I was hallucinating and could not hold a conversation.

My remaining couple days in the hospital consisted of more pain as I came off the drip, starvation, vomiting, enemas, and attempting to get up for the first time on day 4. My blood pressure ran dangerously low the whole week, around 55/30. It’s from the combination of drugs being given. Trying standing up after 4 days with blood pressure that low is…eventful. I was also not allowed to eat food or drink water for 4 days since the Dialuded was making me sick. If you wanted to see a hangry person, you should have visited room 544. The second they said I could eat, I went straight to a BLT. Also not a smart idea. Broth would have been a better choice.

My amniotic fluid levels were at a 3 (normal is above 10), but this is expected after surgery. I could feel every movement that Caleb made, tenfold. I also could tell he was in pain. He thrashed around like I had never felt before. It was heartbreaking because there was nothing I could do. Doctors seemed happy with our recovery and discharged me on day 5. They don’t want you sitting in the hospital waiting for a blood clot but it did seem early to go home. As I was being wheeled away from my room I pointed out if I were to ever be in this much pain for any other reason, I would be heading TO the hospital not AWAY!
Last pregnancy pic pre surgery

Right before surgery

Waiting to get checked in

Dr. Papanna

Diabetes Talk

Dr. Moise and Dr. Snowise

Final walk through the halls

Netflix and Chill

Next to Miles, I'm the hardest IV stick

Card reading and nail painting

Dr. Fletcher, Neurosurgeon

Dr. Tsao, our favorite

Being sent into the Operating Room

Waiting for a new epidural after surgery

We couldn't get me sats above 80- oxygen time

Painkillers make you smile

We stood up, then immediately back down

First shower, heaven

He hadn't slept in a week

Christina had the same surgery the week before

Jess flew in just to be there

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Dear Caleb- Fetal Surgery Day

Mommy and Caleb

My dear sweet son Caleb,

I am focusing right now on our team. Me and you, you and me. You have helped me along the way in making the hardest choice of my life; to risk so much for something so uncertain. You never made me make the decision alone. You remind me daily of your strength as you kick and punch me stronger than your brothers ever did. I also know you are a jokester. Once the monitors are on you, you persistently dance away from them so nurses have to chase you around. All along the way, you have reminded me that you are going to be ok and have even comforted me through my fears by giving me a tickle when I'm feeling vulnerable.

You are such a good son Caleb. I desperately want the best life for you, yet you are so much more than how well your spinal cord functions. You are a son of God and a gift to me and daddy. There is nothing sad about your diagnosis because I already know that the blood that runs through those tiny veins holds an interesting, strong and brave little man. A third brother to make us a laugh at the dinner table. A son that will wrap his arms around my neck and tell me he loves me. A future husband to a wonderful woman who will know she has met someone very special.

There is absolutely nothing in this world I wouldn't do for you and if I never get to meet you on this side of life, I still feel you completed me as a mother. You stretched me harder than I thought I could go, crashing me into life scenarios that pushed me right into God's arms where I belong. I'm so lucky you found me fit enough to be your mommy. I will never take this opportunity for granted. I've spent my life saying I would take any amount of physical pain to relieve the emotional pain for my children. I hope that's what I'm doing for you today.

Don't worry my love. You may feel a little scared or hurt or not completely understand why this is all happening today but I'm right here with you. I hope to take the worst of it away so you can get back to healing and growing and cracking me up like you so often do. I will keep you safe, no matter what it takes. You never need to thank me for this. Just please love your future kids the same way. Don't let fear dictate your choices for them, but the peace and presence of our Heavenly Father.

It's going to be ok son, I promise. Weston, Miles, daddy and me are all waiting for you. Just do your best and you will have made me the proudest momma in the whole world. When we have bad days during this, we are in it together and you will always see a twinkle in my eye as you look at me through life because I'll never forget this special bond we created. We are so lucky Caleb. No, I'm lucky because I have you. We are after the same rainbows end my baby.

Love, Mommy

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Fetal Surgery- It’s Only A Day Away

Dinner with Mom at Cyclone Ayana

It’s my last day of true freedom. It’s all hitting me. I started dry heaving as I walked around Houston with my mom today. It’s funny what nerves will do to you.

Here’s the plan friends. I spent three days last week in the hospital at Memorial Hermann Children’s for my steroid shots. No one was with me so I was bored and basically just ate too much gross hospital food and had heart to hearts with the nurses and doctors. The highlight was I got to meet the mom who had fetal surgery for Spina Bifida on her daughter last Tuesday. We had been speaking online and her room was right down the hall from me. I went to see her every day and she tried to smile and grit through some serious pain for my sake. I’m seeing so much bravery in the women that go through this. It was fascinating to see someone experiencing this just one week ahead of me. Please pray for Christina and her daughter, Haven. She has been a big support to me.

My mom flew into Houston yesterday night so we got to have a girl’s day. We grabbed some Tex Mex for dinner and have relaxed in the comfort of our hotel room. I called one of the surgeons on his cell phone today with a few more questions because as we draw near to the surgery, more fears are arising. There are a few things they are doing differently with me because of my Diabetes and it always makes me nervous to have to go outside the box. For instance, they want to do quick blood draws on me to test my blood sugar during surgery so they are doing an Arterial IV line. They said these are painful and if someone accidentally puts IV drugs into an A Line, there is tissue damage and can even lead to amputation. Please don’t make that mistake medical staff! I’m putting so much trust into strangers.

Bryce flies into town tomorrow morning and I am getting admitted to the hospital around 11 am tomorrow. There are still more meetings and conferences to have with the doctors. The team has still not agreed on whether to cut my incision horizontally or vertically. There is some big debate on this. They are also deciding if they want to learn how to use my insulin pump during surgery or to move me to an IV drip of dextrose and insulin. Everyone is very nervous about my Diabetes control during the surgery and days to follow, including me.

Tuesday morning, I will be prepped and heading for surgery by 7 am. My mom or Bryce will keep you all updated on the status. The surgery is generally 3 hours but Caleb’s defect is more involved so they said it could be longer. I’m really hoping to wake up to good news. All I want to hear is, “Everything went to plan.” Words like that have become music to my ears the last couple years. The following few days after surgery will be very difficult.

I talk to moms all the time that have experienced this surgery and there is one common theme they discuss: pain. There is no denying this is one of the most painful things to go through. Unless someone has done a lot of research on fetal surgery, they have no idea the magnitude of it. Most doctors don’t fully understand. What makes it unique, is they do such an invasive procedure, cut your uterus in a very unsafe spot, and once sewn back up, your baby is in a rapid stage of growth. Most women deliver between 30-34 weeks because something emergent happens in their pregnancy. The luckiest ones make it to 37 weeks. My C-Section is scheduled for December 18.

I told the doctors that people keep comparing this to the pain of their C-Section or hysterectomy. They all look at each other and laugh and say they would compare this to going through open heart surgery, though probably more painful. Not to mention the intent of the surgery. My baby is having neurosurgery and he has to heal in my womb. They told me a C-Section will be the easiest thing I go through after fetal surgery. Ok I get it guys…this will hurt!

There are 25-30 doctors in the room to perform the surgery so in that sense I feel incredibly taken care of. With that many smart people in a room to keep Caleb and me alive, I know they will do a great job. Once surgery is over, there is a long road ahead. The goal from then on out is to stay pregnant as long as possible. Mothers say each day they get closer to their due date they feel so relieved. Most start celebrating when they make it 30 weeks! I will spend about a week in the hospital and then I’m moving into an apartment next to the medical center. I’m hoping after a few weeks there I can return to Phoenix, but it all depends on my recovery. My mom and mother in law will trade off caring for me. Bryce is going home the day after surgery to be with our boys and return to work. I wish he could stay with me longer.

Fetal surgery is so rare that it’s hard for most people to relate to. I’m so grateful to the moms I have met that have had it and the candid advice they have given me. It makes me feel less alone is this crazy experience. The love and support we received during my pregnancy with Miles ran wide. But I would say the support for Caleb has run deep. Friends, family and total strangers have invested their whole hearts into this experience. There must have been dozens of people involved in arranging care for my boys while I’m gone. This has undoubtedly been a community effort. Oh Caleb, how you have been loved before anyone could ever meet you!

If you are interested in learning about fetal surgery, there is a PBS documentary on Netflix called, “Twice Born- Stories From The Special Delivery Unit.” It has several parts and follows a few stories, so to save time I would recommend following the mother, Shelley. Her daughter is having fetal surgery for Spina Bifida.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Be Careful What You Wish For – We Are Approved For Fetal Surgery!

Houston Food!

The Lindens, New Family to Us

First off, I have to say that we loved our week in Houston. We were required to spend a week at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital completing tests and dozens of consultations to decide if we qualify for fetal surgery. Houston was wonderful to us. My friend’s mother took us into her home and treated us like family. All of the hospital staff were instantly our best friends and I have never had such a positive medical experience. We knew right away that we would be in good hands in Houston. And the food y’all! Texans don’t mess around when it comes to flavors and quantities. We did some great eating.

After some ultrasounds and an MRI on our first day, we learned that Caleb’s Spina Bifida defect and Chiari brain malformation were worse than we had been told. Ordinarily this would be bad news, but Bryce and I were happy because we knew he would qualify for surgery. Our biggest fear is that we would not qualify.

The Director of the Fetal Center spent three hours with us the first day. His job this first week is to make sure he explains the risks, aka scare the living crap out of us. The surgery is incredibly complex. There are 25-30 doctors in the room. Just doctors! Not including other medical staff. It would give you chills to know what goes into this. Roll call, timed procedures, teams on standby ready for the worst. There are many people involved in trying to keep Caleb and me safe. I will be this center’s 38th mother to receive this surgery, and I will be the first Diabetic in history to have fetal surgery. They are truly taking a risk themselves by accepting us and we are deeply grateful.

To give you a brief overview of the surgery, this is how it goes. I will be admitted to the hospital a week before surgery to begin steroid shots to develop Caleb’s lungs. This timing is not standard, but since steroids are not good for diabetics they want to closely monitor me and make sure my sugars stabilize before surgery. For the surgery, I will be given an epidural and sedated in a much deeper sleep than for normal surgery because they need my uterus completely relaxed and the sedation needs to cross over to Caleb. A very large incision will be made on my abdomen. This is usually done hip to hip but they are considering a vertical cut on me to prevent cutting through muscle and causing infection. My uterus will be removed and examined to pick a spot to cut open that will be ideal for Caleb’s positioning. A team will be monitoring Caleb by ultrasound throughout the surgery. Once open, they sedate Caleb further, and add fluids into the uterus to keep him warm and then the neurosurgery team performs their surgery on him. This is very time sensitive and they want him exposed as little as possible. If anything goes wrong, Caleb will be delivered and a neonatal team will be waiting to keep him alive. After surgery, my recovery will be incredibly difficult and painful.

They told us all about the horrible things that can happen to me. This included a more recent case where the mother developed a blood clot in her leg. They caught it early but she may never have use of that leg. The doctors started to think Bryce and I were far too excited and positive about this surgery. They finally asked:

“Are you prepared to possibly lose Caleb during this surgery?”

We knew it could happen. I told him, “We already have a son that we are afraid of losing every day. Now we have to face it again with another son. We think about death all the time and it makes us more willing to take risks. I’m not ready to lose Caleb but I’ll never give up on giving him a good life. Even if my body has to be cut in two, I’m ready.”

He said that it is clear that I’m a mother willing to do anything for my child and I am a bit blinded by that. He said Bryce’s main concern is my life and that is also the doctors’ main concern. If something dangerous happens during the surgery and they have to choose between my life and Caleb’s, they will chose mine. They have been faced with this choice in prior surgeries. We accept this decision and hope it doesn’t come to that. We were also asked that if they need to deliver Caleb, would we want him to be saved. He would be so premature he could face significant challenges to stay alive. We said yes, save him no matter what. I WILL be meeting my son.

We know I will be in Houston a minimum of a month and I will only be in the hospital a week. After discharged, I’m required to live right next to the hospital so I’ll be in a hotel. I will also be in a wheelchair or bedrest the remainder of my pregnancy. My hope is to return to Phoenix to deliver him, but my C section may be more complicated and we need to find a team out here that is comfortable with this. The goal is to make it to 37 weeks but few moms make it that long. We are also considering that I return to Houston for delivery. Caleb will be required to spend a minimum of a month in the NICU, if not longer. We want a NICU team that will be familiar with this unique situation.

We are now in a whirlwind of planning and preparing. The absolute hardest part of all of this is that I’m leaving my boys for so long. Bryce will be their mommy and daddy. But we have been given new hope! That is worth more than anything we could ask for. Getting this far in the process has been nothing short of a miracle.

Even though it’s all terrifying, we wished for this. So be careful what you wish for. It may just happen. I had always wanted a natural birth. I wanted candles, dim lights, no IV’s and no meds. I’ve always been a huge advocate of natural birth. I couldn’t be bringing my son into the world in a more opposite way and I just have to laugh about it. No matter how a child comes into the world, they just have to be born. Caleb will come into the world having already gone through neurosurgery. That’s pretty amazing to think about. I can’t wait for him to hear what mommy and daddy decided to do for him.

Friday, August 26, 2016

We Are Heading to Houston!

After hearing that Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital would consider me, I began speaking with other moms that had gone through fetal surgery and hearing their stories. This surgery is truly brutal and the recovery is one of the toughest I’ve ever heard of. Deep down, I knew I would not be capable of moving forward. There were too many logistics to sort out; too many details on how to care for the kids, and I just knew it wouldn’t be possible. I’ve had many surgeries in my life including heart surgery only a few months after Bryce and I married but this one was truly getting to me.
In true Bryce form, my husband trusted God completely. He said that if it is meant to be that things will begin falling into place. “Is that how you think it works?” I asked him. “Things only fall into place if I make 8,000 phone calls and fight people like I’m in court all day long.” The truth is, we were both right. We needed a lot of God, and a bit of mamma bear going to battle for her baby.
The next day I got a message from my insurance case manager. He had done some of his own research to find out that Hermann Children’s Hospital is in our insurance network. EXCUSE ME? Our own Children’s Hospitals are not in our insurance network and only a couple states even take our insurance. Yet this state, this hospital…things began falling into place. Fear began melting away and I got some mojo back. It was time to fight for my baby. The phone calls began.
We are officially scheduled for a week long consultation from September 5-9 in Houston. We could have only gotten this far with the help of dozens and dozens of friends and family members deeply wanting to see this surgery succeed. At the end of that week, the surgical team will decide if we are officially accepted for surgery. Bryce and I will return home for a week and then I would return to Houston without him indefinitely.  I would be the first Diabetic to ever receive this surgery. Making history and eating Tex Mex Baby. Sounds like a dream!
I have spent the last week working like I’m back in the corporate world. So many more things need to work out for this to succeed the way it would need to. I did find out that although the hospital is in our insurance network, none of the doctors or surgeons are covered (thanks Cigna). There are 5 doctors involved in performing the surgery since there are 2 patients- Caleb and me. I have appealed to The State for more nursing hours to help care for Miles until I deliver Caleb. I have reapplied to our grant company to keep our nanny longer as she is the only person in our lives that is capable of watching Weston or Miles, plus we trust her completely. I have asked our insurance to consider covering some of the surgical costs. I have reached out to charities to help us pay for my relocation costs. My mom and mother in law will have to travel and tag team caring for me until my delivery. I had an amniocenteses- you know, that giant needle they stick in your uterus to test amniotic fluid. Caleb and I will need to pass every lab and MRI to even be considered. Our nurses will have to sacrifice their time and health to work overtime hours for us.
But we have faith. We have a good, good Father that is bigger than any single one of these things. He can easily make them all happen. He only wants good for our family.
If I have the surgery, I will be in Houston a minimum of a month. If I return home, I will be on strict bed rest the rest of my pregnancy and can only get up for doctors appointments with a wheelchair and caregiver. The goal is for a C Section at 37 weeks but few moms make it that long. We will need full time caregivers for me, Miles and Weston. The entire burden of life and the household will be put on my sweet husband. It is also a very real possibility that I will not get to leave Houston and I will be delivering Caleb by myself out there and staying with him until he is safe to fly home. We are also preparing that I can be gone for 6 months.
Time away from my kids. So much time. This will be the absolute hardest part. I’m missing Weston’s 1st week of preschool while at the consultation and it’s ripping my heart out. The preschool has made an exception for Weston to be dropped an hour early because even they understand the magnitude of our family being apart. Everything will be turned upside down.
But we fight for our kids. We sacrifice our bodies, our happiness, and everything that makes sense to keep them safe. We make really hard choices with only them in mind. I am bummed to be out of commission for the good weather, the holidays, pumpkin spiced lattes and fall. Those are my favorite things. But I am getting a chance to serve my son with my mind, body and spirit. What a privilege to be given this opportunity.
Weston just said to me, “Grandma lives far far away. You will not go far away right mommy?”
Well son. I may be going far far away. And you won’t understand why I can’t hug you. But it’s because I don’t just love you now, I love you forever and I want to make the best life for all of my sons forever. One day you will understand.