Category Archives: Seattle Children’s Hospital

Patrick has a new blue car

I probably sound like a crazy person telling Patrick this several times a day. “Patrick has a new car. Patrick has a new blue car.”

I’m not just making conversation. Patrick is afraid of his new blue car. The day we took him on the test drive, he sobbed and sobbed. I think he thought we were giving him to the nice girl who sold it to us.

Unfortunately, the fear didn’t go away right away.

First, we took him on the test drive. Then, a few days later (when the banks were open), we went and picked it up. He started crying as soon as we got close to it.

He got a reprieve when daddy drove him home so I could take the car for inspection on the way home, and again when we took it to our mechanic for new tires and a checkup the next day. But when the car was done at the mechanic and he had to ride in grandma’s similar sedan so I’d be free to go to the DMV to get it licensed, he screamed bloody murder.

It took 15 minutes for Patrick to be willing to get in the car to drive home.

Things are getting better. He accepts the car so long as I don’t let go of his hand as we approach and don’t make him touch the inside of the car on the way to his carseat. But he will not sleep there. (So much for car rides to invoke naptime.)

The car is not really new. It’s used. A 2001 Mazda 626. It’s got chipped paint and a stain or two in the carpet, but it has pretty low mileage and is reported to be a reliable brand of car. The mechanic gave it a clean bill of health (after changing the tires and a CV axle).

I’ll admit, I’m a bit emotional about the car, too.

This will be our Seattle car. We decided that it would be best to have a small, gas efficient, reliable car for me to drive while Patrick and I live in Seattle. So, for a while we’ve been shopping to replace Brian’s truck. We set the money aside months ago.

We bought our Jeep with the intention of it being a business car for Brian. That’s why we got the model with leather seats and all the frills. So he can look like he deserves his “director” title when he entertains business associates from out of town. We got an SUV to help ease the transition from a truck.

Last week, my grandpa’s truck died. He needed a new one, and I offered ours. It pushed us to finally buy a car for me and Patrick.

This is one of the last and biggest items on our “get ready for transplant” checklist. I’ll admit, we’ve been stalling. Having taken this step is a leap of faith proving that we believe the transplant call will come. But it makes the reality of our having to live apart all too real, too.

Patrick’s reaction to the car is ironically all too appropriate. This car really does represent a big change that will take him away from home.

But don’t tell him that. Tell him:

“Patrick has a new blue car!”

An excellent Seattle trip

Patrick had his quarterly appointment at Seattle Children’s on Thursday. And it was a very good trip in every way.

Because Patrick’s morning med schedule is so complicated right now, I opted to fly out on Wednesday afternoon. Our flight left at about 2 p.m. As usual, it took some effort to get through security and I probably looked insane hauling Patrick, his duffel sized diaper bag, two suitcases, a carseat, and of course, him in his stroller around the airport. But we made the flight without incident. In fact, we landed early and had time to visit and exchange blogs with a very nice woman from the same flight while we waited for our ride.

We stayed with my friend Lindy, her husband Kelly, and her little girl, Lauren. Lauren is 4 months younger than Patrick. They have always gotten along really well and it was fun to let the two of them play. Most of the play consisted of stealing each other’s toys and pacifiers.. but they did spend some time dancing to YouTube videos and there was more than one hug exchanged.

Patrick and Lindy

Thursday were the appointments. It was kind of strange to actually be seen in clinic. This is the first time since Patrick’s evaluation a year ago that we’ve done this visit in clinic instead of inpatient.

They did the usual set of vitals: weight, length, blood pressure. As we finished, another little boy about Patrick’s size came in to be weighed. He had a Broviac line and TPN in a backpack, too. I think this is the first time that I’ve ever met another kid on home TPN. It was kind of strange for me to see.

Our first visit was with Patrick’s dietician. She walked in and her first words were, “This weight looks spectacular! I had to come see if it could be correct!” She remembered meeting a tiny, frail, jaundiced baby last year. To be met by a happy, chunky, energetic (almost to a fault) toddler was a surprise.

She looked at Patrick’s TPN, his labs, and his growth charts. We talked about his current diet and in the end, she said that she was nothing but pleased with what she was seeing. She even said that it’s time to back off a bit on his feeds so that we don’t make him overweight.

It’s been recommended recently by some doctors to try continuous feeds again so I asked her her opinion of it. She told me that it’s pretty common for kids with anatomy similar to Patrick’s to stop continuous feeds after this long. She said that focusing on oral feeding so that Patrick would have an easier time learning to eat after his transplant was her preferred goal.

She also explained that some kids who’ve had problems with hypoglycemia when tiny can outgrow the problem and tolerate breaks from TPN. She watched Patrick attempt a few head dives off the bench we were sitting on and said that she thought it might be good for him to have some untethered time. This is something I’ll discuss more in depth with Patrick’s GI and dietician here. We’ve always been a bit nervous, considering his history.

Looking at books in the waiting room

Next, Patrick’s transplant nurse came in and took copies of his labs and other medical history that I’d brought with me. Then Dr. Reyes, the transplant surgeon joined us.

Again, he was excited to see how much Patrick has grown. He asked me how well he was eating and pooping since his ostomy was taken down. I explained to him all the questions that had been raised last month about whether or not Patrick had an obstruction that needed to be fixed. Then I told him that some of the doctors wondered if he needed another surgery to try to correct the problem.

Dr. Reyes’ reaction was quite direct. He said “No. We’ll get him a transplant. That will fix the problem.” He didn’t think it was a good idea to mess with things when Patrick is otherwise stable and healthy… especially if that reduces the remaining pieces of intestine.

I asked how Patrick’s reaching 10 kilos in weight would affect his candidacy for a transplant. Dr. Reyes said that that was a really big deal for him. This size changes the rules a bit for what he needs in a donor. Before, we’d been told the donor needed to be the same size as him, preferably smaller. Now that he’s bigger, they can reduce the size of a larger donor, too. His donor could be up to 6 or even 8 years old. The result is that his chances of finding a match go up.

So I had to ask if they could estimate a wait time. The answer, for all who are wondering, is still no. Dr. Reyes was careful to explain to me that Patrick’s B positive blood type is a mixed blessing. It means that there will be fewer matches. However, it also means that there are fewer waiting children with his blood type, which means his priority is higher, even while he’s healthy. Dr. Reyes just kept saying “We’ll get this transplant done.”

Next we talked about liver health. Patrick’s biopsy in September showed some early scarring of his liver. However, doctors responded quickly with a low-lipid diet and for the past several months his bilirubin and liver enzymes and other measurable signs show that his liver is relatively healthy. The clarity of his eyes and skin are also proof of this fact.

I told Dr. Reyes that we’ve been worried that Patrick’s spleen reacts so severely to infection. He admitted that the scarring in the liver was probably contributing to problems with the spleen. Recurring infections don’t help either. However, he said that a large spleen wasn’t as much of a worry if the liver isn’t also large.

Transplants are scary in a patient with a failing liver because as the liver fails, the body stops clotting as well.  Dr. Reyes said he’s not worried about that at all with Patrick. He feels safe doing the surgery. Then he said that if you fix the problems with the intestines, the liver can heal, and the spleen will get better. And he told me again, “We’ll get him transplanted.”

I asked one last question. Should we be keeping our bags packed? The answer was a resounding “Yes”. I really need to wrap my mind around that and get things in order so we’ll be ready to go quickly. The regular trips to Seattle and to the hospital here keep me practiced in packing and packing quickly – but still, it would be good to feel in some way prepared.

The mood of Patrick’s appointments was almost celebratory. His good health, his weight gain, and just the fact that we made it to a clinic visit without being admitted were all worthy of celebration.

We’ll go back again in July.

Roughousing with Lindy

The rest of the trip was pretty laid back. Lindy, who was kind enough to drive us half an hour to the appointments and then wait two hours for them to be done, took us back to her house. Patrick and Lauren crashed early. I was amazed that Patrick put himself to sleep there on just the second night.

And then, after a pretty amazing feat of getting three babies (Lindy was babysitting a 4 month old that day) into the car and off to the airport on time to catch our flight home… including all of Patrick’s medical care.. was impressive. Not the smoothest, but we accomplished it.

We got home Friday afternoon exhausted. Patrick and I both went to bed early. We all slept in. And today has been spent mostly in recovering from a pretty intense week.

I can’t really complain, though. It may be exhausting to chase after a one-year-old who crawls around the house emptying drawers and making monster noises… especially when I am the only thing standing between him and many broken lines. But I wouldn’t want to trade having him happy and wiggly and full of life – and best yet, at home – for anything in the world.

Our Seattle Adventure

As many of you know, Patrick had an appointment for a check-up at Seattle Children’s this week. He was scheduled in clinic for about two hours Tuesday afternoon. We decided to try to make a family vacation out of this trip (since we haven’t had a vacation since adopting Patrick.) I think we need to stop saying the word vacation in our household. It seems that Patrick thinks that vacations are taken in the hospital – this trip did not go as planned.

We flew to Seattle on Sunday. We rented a mini van and drove to visit our good friends, the Laylands who live half an hour north of the city. We had a good dinner and visit with them and then spent the night at their house.

As soon as the plane touched down in Seattle, my nose started to run. At first I was sure it was allergies, but by the next morning there was no question that it was a cold. But, we were determined to have a vacation, so after a quick stop at K-Mart for some cold medicine and other things, we set off for the city.

After picking up some much touted Mighty-O donuts and checking into our hotel, we headed to the Seattle Aquarium. We were in the first exhibit, a sort of aquatic petting zoo, letting Patrick play in the water and touch sea creatures when I looked down and noticed blood on his PICC line. Closer examination revealed that there was something wrong … there was definitely a leak.

So I made a quick call to our transplant coordinator and we headed back to the ER, leaving a very patient Lindy and her daughter stranded in downtown Seattle to avoid exposing them to hospital ER germs.

We were checked in quickly in the ER and sent to an isolation room at the back because of Patrick’s and my cold symptoms. Soon the IV team came to look and confirmed that Patrick did, indeed, have a cracked PICC line. And it could not be repaired.

As a result, Patrick needed to have a peripheral IV put in until he could get another central (goes to the heart) line. And he needed to be admitted to the hospital because you can’t get as good of nutrition through just a hand or foot.

Wednesday afternoon, there was finally room in the schedule to take Patrick to “Interventional Radiology” where they could place a new PICC line with X-ray imaging to guide them. They took Patrick down at about 3 p.m. At 5:30, a doctor came to the room to talk to us.

He explained that they had tried to pass the wire through Patrick’s vein to put in the PICC line and had run into resistence. So, they injected contrast into his veins and saw that there had been a clot. In response to the clot, Patrick’s body created a branch of smaller vessels to route the blood where it needed to go. This meets the body’s need, but doesn’t leave enough room to put a catheter into the vein to the heart. Because of this, Patrick can no longer have PICC lines in his arms.

They put a little bit more stable of a line in his arm then that wouldn’t go bad as quickly as an IV in his hand or foot and then gave us two options: stay here and have a broviac line put in, or fly to Salt Lake, be admitted there, and have a broviac put in.

We decided that it was best to just stay and have it done here in Seattle. The surgeons here had gone into the PICC placement procedure and had seen the problem first hand. Having Seattle Children’s put in the line also meant that he’d have it done sooner, since he could be put on the next day’s list.

Beyond that, in order to place the line, they needed to do an ultrasound study to see what Patrick’s remaining central blood vessels looked like. Since not having many available blood vessels moves you up the transplant list, we thought it was wise to have the transplant hospital have a record of what options remained.

So – yesterday Patrick had a new broviac line put in. He went to surgery about 3 p.m. and they were able to put the new line right where they wanted it. When I talked to the surgeon at 5 he sounded pretty good about how the procedure had gone.

There had, however, been one slight problem. Patrick’s stomach still doesn’t easily drain all the way. Even though he hadn’t eaten anything, and his stomach had been suctioned, it still wasn’t empty. As a result, he aspirated during the procedure. The surgeon said that they’d been able to clean out his lungs, though, and didn’t seem overly concerned. With any aspiration, there is a risk of pneumonia. He asked to keep Patrick 24 hours for observation, and then said he’d be able to go home.

I went to Patrick’s room to wait for him. When he finally made it upstairs, he was very upset. He’d curled himself into a little ball and was crying miserably. The nurse immediately set to work getting pain medications for him. And we decided to put him on monitors.

Things just seemed to get worse. The monitors showed that the oxygen levels in his blood were dropping, so we put an oxygen mask near his mouth to help keep them up. His heart rate was rising. He was breathing very heavily.

The nurse called in other nurses to help her and started taking vitals… And discovered Patrick was running a fever. They called down his doctors. While I explained the scarier things in Patrick’s medical history, his nurse wandered around the room making space to work if things got worse.

They ordered blood cultures to look for infection, gave Patrick some Tylenol, and got an X-ray of his chest.

Finally, they called the “Rapid Response Team”, which is a team from the PICU who come to the bedside. They watched him, took some tests bedside, and promised to come back to check on him within the hour.

Once all of the tests were done, I picked Patrick up again and he finally started to calm down. They started antibiotics while I rocked him to sleep. His heart rate was still high, and the antibiotics were making his blood pressure low, but he seemed to be starting to feel better.

As things started to settle down, I asked the nurse to help me reach elders from my church. One of the doctors in the room had mentioned earlier in the week that he had gone to school at BYU and we’d talked about how we’d been there the same year both studying Spanish. He spoke up and said “I can take care of that for you.” It was subtle, but we both understood that he was telling me that he was an elder and could help me with what he knew I was going to ask for.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints we believe in the gift of healing by the laying on of hands by those who have authority from God. Brian is an elder in our church and had given Patrick one of these special blessings before he left. And this kind doctor subtly waited around until the nurses had left the room and then layed his hands on Patrick’s head and gave him another blessing, confirming the promises of health and comfort and strength.

Patrick slowly began turning around. His fever dropped and he started to sleep comfortably. A respiratory therapist came and tried to get Patrick to cough by pounding on his chest and back. Finally, she suctioned deep down into his chest and helped to get a lot of what was in his lungs out.

By midnight, Patrick was sound asleep. I stayed up to help the nurse get a few more things settled and went to bed. We slept till 7 a.m., when the doctors came in to check on him.

This morning, Patrick woke up with a smile. He was a bit weak and groggy at first, but has just gotten better and better all day long. Just an hour ago, he was climbing all over me on the couch in the room playing with toys and jumping. You would never know anything had been wrong.

The doctors are pleased enough with his improvement that they gave me the go ahead to book a flight back home for tomorrow. We’ll leave the hospital a little after noon to catch a 3:45 p.m. flight.  We should be home by 6 p.m.

I almost hate to write this because any time I’ve said that we were doing something this week, things have changed. But this time it feels like we really are going home. And I’ll be happy to be there.

I do have to share one example of the goodness of people in this world. While Patrick was in surgery, I put some of our clothes in the laundry room here. I got it as far as the dryer, but then when Patrick came back in such bad shape from surgery, didn’t make it back to it. I expected, when I headed back at midnight, to find my clothes piled in a basket somewhere. Instead, someone had taken the time to neatly fold them for me. This touched me because any parent using the laundry room here is doing it because their child is sick enough that they’re expecting to stay here for some time. The person who folded my clothes was certainly going through their own difficult time and would have been totally justified in being upset and offended at someone leaving clothes in a dryer. Instead, they took the time to make my day a little better.

This is just one example of the kindnesses that make raising a child with health problem so very rewarding.

Re-evaluation at Seattle Children’s

Sick boy on beanbag

You may have heard that Patrick had a day of office visits scheduled at Seattle Children’s hospital last week. After his cardiac arrest and the many complications that followed, they wanted to see him again to see if anything had changed that would affect his transplant status. They also wanted to look to see if he needed to be listed for a liver transplant.

Daddy & Patrick in the ERWhat you may not have heard is that Patrick was hospitalized Sunday night with another infection. This time it was a staph infection which, if caught early, can be treated through his central line and clear easily or, if more established or more resistent, could become a very persistent infection that can hang on for months.

I called Seattle Children’s and tried to reschedule our appointment. However, Dr. Horslen was going to be away for the next several weeks and they didn’t want him to stay inactive on the transplant list for that long. After a few days and some discussion, we made the decision on Tuesday to have Patrick admitted at Seattle Children’s so they could both treat the infection and do the evaluation.

We got the final go ahead late in the day Tuesday. I was up till 1 a.m. packing.  Wednesday he was discharged from Primary Children’s with just time to go directly to the airport. The flight went well. They only real difficulty was that Patrick’s ostomy bag started leaking at takeoff. Well, and that I got a tad bit lost in the airport because we landed in the international terminal and airports aren’t as well marked when you have to take the back elevator routes.

Nevertheless, we arrived at Seattle Children’s around 6 p.m. – just as they were changing shifts. We met part of the medical team that would be following him and, as usual, wowed them by giving them in writing all the information they really would need. It took some time to get orders written, so we had another late night as labwork and meds came trickling in. It was about 2 a.m. before we made it to bed again.

Smiley in SeattleThe nice thing about being inpatient is that it gave me a sense of what things will be like during his recovery after transplant. We started with an early abdominal ultrasound, specifically a doppler. Yes, this looks a bit like the weather map images, only it shows the flow of blood through the veins. They were looking to see if portal hypertension was developing. (As the liver scars, it starts to send blood through other vessels creating extra blood pressure through them. It can cause lots of complications.)

The team rounded about 10 a.m. It was a big group, about 15 people, including his GI Dr. Horslen, his transplant coordinator, nutritionist, and others who specifically follow him. They had looked at the ultrasound and the labs from the night before and at his labwork. Both looked as good or better than they had in April.

Dr. Horslen came back later in the day to talk to me and said he was very glad we’d come. He’d imagined he’d find Patrick in much worse shape after the reports he’d been getting. He did a physical examination, too, and then said that he didn’t think Patrick’s liver was really in bad shape yet. He said that the problems with his spleen were probably mostly due to the many months of infection that Patrick has been through, meaning that hopefully when he’s healthy, his spleen will improve, too.

We discussed other goals, too… including taking down Patrick’s ostomy and replacing his PICC line with a broviac line when he could have surgery. We’ve been going the rounds on the question on whether or not Patrick should have his g-tube removed, too, before portal hypertension makes it bleed and be more difficult to close. However, Dr. Horslen said he was under the impression it was unused when he recommended that, and that if we were using it, he’d be ok with us leaving it in.

It was great to talk to him and to watch him play with Patrick. Not only is he brilliant, but he has a wonderful bedside manner. It made me happy to remember that there was at least one big reason why we chose Seattle Children’s for transplant.

We also had visits that day from the nutritionist and a care coordinator. And then in the afternoon we got to have a little bit of lazy time. Child Life brought Patrick some bubbles and it was fun to watch him experience those for the first time.

When the nurse came on the night shift and Patrick was playing with her while she took vitals she frowned and said “Do you really have to go home tomorrow?” I was surprised because I’d expected to need to be there at least through the weekend… But before midnight they had me making lists of what would be needed for me to be able to go home on the 5 p.m. flight the next day.

Rounds in the morning confirmed that they felt Patrick could go… assuming that we made sure he got a visit from Dr. Reyes, his surgeon.

The rest of the morning I packed and kind of waited for word that we were really going. A volunteer came to play with Patrick so I’d have hands free. About noon, I still hadn’t heard one way or another, so my nurse started making calls for me. I looked at flights and now there was only 1 left and the price had doubled. But – the insurance company agreed they’d rather pay for extra airfare than another night in the hospital – and so I started working on booking a flight home.

Dr. Reyes came in about 1. We talked again about the importance of taking down Patrick’s ostomy. He told me a bit about starting intestinal transplants in Pittsburgh 15 years ago. (He was on the team that did the first ones.) And he explained how they’d learned that the surgery wasn’t really effective without a strong GI team behind it to make sure the patients stayed healthy. He also explained that one thing they’d learned in that time is that survival rates are better without an ostomy.

I ran our other surgical plans past him (liver biopsy, broviac line, and possibly g-tube.) He looked at me and said, “Leave the g-tube in. He’ll need in later.”  So I guess that settles that.

He left and I immediately went back to booking a flight. Meanwhile, the care coordinator came and brought me a cab voucher. My nurse got Patrick ready and booked the cab while I got the ticket. And I literally hung up the phone, put away a few things, and walked out the door.

Flying HomeThe flight home went smoothly. Howie was there to meet us. We had some adventures waiting on the way home including a flat tire, a broken jack, and eventually a tow home. But at last, we are home.

They discussed Patrick’s transplant status in their meeting yesterday. They were ready to move him back to status 1 for a small bowel. They will not yet list him for a liver. When they checked his labs, though, they found a blood culture positive for infection… so the doctors are discussing what to do now. He’s not sick and it could have been a contaminated sample. But they have to work that out before Patrick’s listing is made active again. Time will tell.

Transplant Pre-evaluation: Night 3 & Days 4 & 5

Boy I didn’t mean to leave you all in a cliffhanger there. May turned out to be a rough month for us. Patrick was hospitalized twice with fevers and Brian & I have been sick, too… Blogging is one of the first things to go when things get hectic in our family. I’ll blog more about our first experiences inpatient at Primary Children’s… But I left you all hanging with the story of our first inpatient experience at Seattle Children’s.

So here goes…After Patrick’s GI sprung on us the idea of admitting him to the hospital for labwork and a transfusion, we made a few calls to make sure it was approved by the insurance company, and then the transplant coordinator took us to the admitting desk.

We traded in our clinic “Parent” badges for inpatient badges on lanyards that allowed us to wander around the hospital anytime day or night. Someone from admitting met us and led us over to what would be our room for the night. A nurse came in and started to take Patrick’s history. When I handed her my printed medical fact sheet, we got instant brownie points. She took the first vitals and got us settled in the room, but then her shift ended. This is the problem we’ve witnessed a few times… Things move slower if you arrive at shift change because there’s so much else going on.Around 7:30 things finally started to progress. Because we hadn’t been planning on spending the night, there were a few medical procedures that we would have done in the hotel room that we found ourselves having to ask permission for, and even supplies for… But they finally got it all done. We met the doctor and made a tentative plan for labs to be drawn once the blood for the transfusion had arrived. The IV nurse came and took some labs for blood typing and left a peripheral IV in Patrick’s foot that they’d be able to give the transfusion through.

Around 9 things finally settled down enough for us to order some Chinese takeout. (The only restaurant open that would still deliver to the hospital at that time of night)… and after it arrived, Howie went back to the hotel room and brought back the things we’d need for the night.Our room was in the surgical unit and was really quite nice. It was a shared room but Patrick was the only patient overnight. It had a nice couch that folded down into a bed, a bathroom in the room, and a window with a pretty nice view. When it wasn’t cloudy, you could see the space needle.

Things went pretty smoothly overnight. Patrick had a really great nurse who was impressively quiet. I woke up when the blood arrived for the transfusion so that I could take care of the TPN (they allowed us to run our home pumps, providing we were always available to operate them).

The next morning they wanted to do a floroscope (contrast X-ray) of his intestines. This was to be done in two parts so they could see the top and the bottom separately. They showed up early for the first one and took us to radiology where they took a chest x-ray and then strapped him to a board on the floroscope table. The board restrained his arms, legs, and head and also allowed the radiologist to tip and turn him.Patrick didn’t like this at all, but they let Brian and I be close to comfort him (Brian was actually in charge of protecting his head when they turned the board) and Patrick eventually fell asleep during the test

.
They put a contrast solution in through his g-tube and took images showing it move through the stomach and out his stoma. It was interesting to watch it move through and appear on the screen.Then we were supposed to wait and see how long it took for the contrast to clear so they could see his large intestine without the small.

I was sleepy, hungry (they showed up before I could get breakfast) and frustrated at my plans for a mini-vacation being postponed. When the radiologist hinted that they might keep Patrick another night for the next floroscope to be done, that pushed me over the edge a bit… So Brian sent me to get breakfast straight from radiology and went with Patrick back to the room.

When I got back, he informed me that we’d missed rounds… fortunately we didn’t miss his GI, who came in just a few minutes after I did. He promised that they wouldn’t keep us another night, did a quick exam of Patrick, and then left.

Brian had a business lunch he’d scheduled so I stayed in the room and tried to get some sleep… Unfortunately, we got a roommate whose alarms were going off regularly and that was a mostly vain effort. The rest of the day was waiting and more waiting to see if the contrast would clear out of Patrick’s system… When it still hadn’t by 3 p.m. they finally started to work on a discharge plan. We’d come back outpatient the next day for the next test before our flight.

We finally made it out of there sometime in the late afternoon and snuck a nap in before finally getting out to play a bit.

Our friends Lindy & Kelly took us out for some authentic Italian pizza and then for Seattle’s famous Royal cupcakes. It was good to get to visit and spend some time with them. I was impressed by Lindy’s cunning as she excused herself to go to the bathroom and really went and paid both halves of the bill.

Our last morning in Seattle we got up and went to the hospital for the last time. The radiology tech from the day before was there yet again and very excited to see our names on the schedule. I asked if we could take pictures of Patrick on the table for this test and before you knew it, they’d convinced us to pose for this picture, which seems so wrong to be smiling in, but gives you an idea of what room, equipment, and our lovely lead vests were like.

Turned out to be really good we were there because I’d seen previous tests and knew that what first appeared on the screen was not the full length of large intestine and could encourage the radiologist to inject more contrast until we saw the rest. Because this organ isn’t used, it is rather narrow.
We made it away with just enough time to meet Lindy and Lauren and enjoy a nice walk in the park and a delightful lunch before rushing off to catch our plane. Obviously, it wore the kids out.
Security in Seattle didn’t go quite as smoothly as Salt Lake… I think this is because the first person who I was able to tell about Patrick’s pumps was the security agent at the metal detector who I think mistook the backpack with tubes coming out as something scary. We quickly got things sorted out, though, and they didn’t have other problems with the extra search.Patrick and his daddy slept through pretty much the entire flight and we got home without incident… But with very full mind from everything we’d learned and a much better sense of just what a big deal this all really is.

If I can manage a few more days of health in this house, I’ll post a bit more about how much this one little trip and the plan for transplant affects and will continue to affect our little family.

Transplant Pre-evaluation: Day 3

Tuesday morning found us back at Seattle Children’s again bright and early. Our day started in ultrasound. They wanted images of his digestive system and the central-line eligible veins in his neck. With so much to image, we had 3 hours scheduled with ultrasound.

Keeping a 6 month old still for 3 hours while goop is being rubbed around on his abdomen and neck is quite the feat. We went through every toy that I’d brought along… rattles, books, rings. In the end, the only way to keep his head still for images of his neck was to let him watch my cell phone’s media player. It was interesting to watch them map the flow of blood through his veins and to see his broviac line. Patrick was a big fan of the black and white images on the screen.

In the end, the ultrasound took 3 and a half hours, not 3, and we had to run to make our next appointment with the department social worker.

Because the transplant process can turn your life completely upside down, part of the workup is a meeting with the social worker. She asked a lot of questions about us to make sure that we were up for the task. We talked about our coping mechanisms, our family, friends and other support systems. She told us about programs in place that could help us like the Ronald McDonald house (as a place to stay during Patrick’s recovery), Angel Flight (for transportation to and from many doctor’s appointments in Seattle, and the Children’s Organ Transplant Association(a.k.a. COTA, a charitable organization that will create an account to save and fundraise for transplant in). The social worker will be our go-to person for a lot of the logistics of planning and paying for the transplant, which will be invaluable, as this is not easy or inexpensive by any means.

Because we were running late, the appointment with the social worker was divided in two to give us the chance to meet with the surgeon, Dr. Reyes. Dr. Reyes is an expert in intestinal transplant. He’s originally from Brazil but you’d never guess it from talking to him. He explained to us a little bit about how the transplant works. He also explained the difference between an isolated intestine transplant (intestines only) and a liver-intestine transplant. The first would be done if Patrick’s liver were still in good condition. The chances of rejections are a bit higher, but if the bowel were to be rejected, they could remove it and wait for another donor. The latter would be done if his liver is in bad condition. The liver, pancreas, and intestine would all be transplanted at once, still connected to each other. The liver helps to protect the other organs from rejection – but if it is rejected, then the chances of finding another donor before the situation becomes fatal are pretty slim.

We were surprised when he asked us if Patrick’s small and large intestines had been connected. We had been previously told this wasn’t possible because the small intestine was oversized and the large intestine was pencil-thin from lack of use. But Dr. Reyes thinks it would be very beneficial to connect these. Patrick has a good portion of colon left that could help absorb water so that fluid loss would be less of a concern for Patrick and we could perhaps feed him more. This wouldn’t eliminate the need for transplant, but would reduce some problems in the time we’re waiting.

After wrapping up with the social worker, we ran over to neurodevelopmental. There a developmental specialist met with us. She took a quick history while we fed and changed Patrick, then she did her evaluation. This was probably his favorite appointment. Basically, she played with him to see what he knew how to do. The funniest was when she was testing his verbal repetition. She’d say “Aaaa…. Now your turn” and he’d respond by blowing raspberries back, since he’d just learned to repeat that sound and was quite proud of his new skill. In the end, her analysis was that he lacks some muscle tone, but that he is developmentally right on target for his “adjusted age”… meaning you subtract 3 weeks from his age because he was born 3 weeks early and he’s just where a 5 month old would be.

Our last appointment of the day was with Dr. Horslen the gastroenterologist. Dr. Horslen is one of the best known gastrointerologist in the world of short gut syndrome. He is from England and just transferred to Seattle from the very established program in Omaha, NE. He is oozing with British-ness. Patrick was finally napping by the time we got to that appointment so he slept while we repeated Patrick’s medical history again. Then Dr. Horslen examined him and he woke up and gave him a big grin. Dr. Horslen labeled him a charmer from the start.

Dr. Horslen told us that he and Dr. Jackson (our GI in Utah) have known each other since Dr. Horslen first arrived in the U.S. and said he respects him very much. He is very willing for the 2 of them to work together as a team. He did go on and tell us what changes he’d make if he were treating Patrick in Washington. 1) He said he’d reconnect Patrick’s intestines. (Which made us happy to hear… we’re excited about this possibility.) He explained that not only would Patrick have less water loss this way, but that the stoma can start to bleed uncontrollably as the liver fails… something that there’s no real reason to put Patrick or us though. 2) He suggested that we follow some of the suggested changes in diet and TPN. 3) He said he’d replace Patrick’s lipids with Omegaven (a topic I’ll have to cover in another post). They’re doing a study at his hospital and he’s allowed to distribute it in the state of Washington. 4) He’d do a contrast study of Patrick’s intestines… (Also to be explained later)… basically, take some images to see what’s there.

Then he threw in a 4 that we’d been expecting since the social worker ran into us at dinner and accidentally let it slip… He needed to see Patrick’s bloodwork right away to know what else needed to be done… And since Patrick was VERY anemic… He’d admit him to the hospital that same night so he could have a transfusion after the blood was drawn. They had a room ready for us to be admitted that night.

Now, in the interest of keeping this blog readable, for it’s length… and just for the fun of the suspense… I’m going to leave you in that cliffhanger until I find time to write again.

Transplant Pre-evaluation: Day 2


Monday morning I woke up at around 6 a.m. to try to get everything packed and ready for a day at the hospital. Our first appointment of the morning was at 9 a.m. and we needed to arrive early enough to check in and find our way around.Our transplant nurse, Sandy Mitchell, met us in the “Whale” (outpatient) wing of Seattle Children’s Hospital. We had to stop and get badges at a security desk at the entrance identifying us as Patrick’s parents. Then we went to a registration desk in the middle of the main floor and they got us checked in. They gave us a “purple pass” to use to check in for the rest of our clinic visits that day so we wouldn’t have to wait in line again to check in, and then gave us a pager and sent us off to the cardiology waiting area.


Patrick’s first appointment was for an EKG. They stuck probes all over his chest… so many that you could barely find a patch of visible skin and then in just a few minutes had a printout of the electrical readings of his heart. The funniest thing about all this is that we did it all with him still in his stroller. Hooray for whoever at Carter’s thought up the snap front bodysuit. Best hospital clothes every dreamed up for a baby!

Next Patrick had an echocardiogram. This is an ultrasound of his heart and it took about an hour to do. We undressed him this time and I laid on the table with him and kept him calm and entertained. Between Baby Einsteins on the TV and the cool black and white images on the monitor, though, he didn’t need my attention much. Funny the opportunities that life presents you, though. I finally got the chance to see my baby’s heartbeat on ultrasound!

After lunch, we headed upstairs and met with the nutritionist for the intestinal transplant program. She looked over Patrick’s most recent lab results, his output history, and his current diet and then she made suggestions, which I’ll be blogging about in a future post. It was great to hear he say that she was happy with how Patrick’s care is being managed and that she fully trusts our dieticians here.

Our next appointment was probably the most brutal of the day. We spent 2 hours with the transplant coordinator and she went over all aspects of the transplant. She explained what they’re looking for in a transplant patient and how the approval process works. (Basically, after the workup the transplant team meets together and decides if Patrick is a good candidate for transplant and if they’re willing to list him, or if there might be other things they can do to care for him w/o a transplant). Then she explained that Patrick, if accepted, would be followed closely by the team in Seattle and would probably make regular visits back to Seattle pre-transplant so they can monitor his care.

She explained a bit about what to expect when an organ became available. We learned that he will have 6-8 hours max to get to Seattle once we get a call saying that there is a donor organ. He’ll need to be healthy at the time, of course. The surgery will be a very long one, followed by a hospital stay of at least a month.

Most of the talk was about what to expect after transplant, though. First of all, to prevent rejection of the new intestine, his immune system will be surpressed. Because of the risk of rejection and other complications, we’ll need to live close to the hospital so that he can have regular follow-up visits, including biopsies to check for rejection. He’ll be on immunosuppressants for the rest of his life, but in that first year, at least, his immune system will be incredibly weak. We’ll have to avoid public places as much as possible and avoid exposure to any kind of illness, bacteria, or other source of bugs that can cause him problems.. His diet will be limited, and at first he’ll probably still be on TPN as he learns to eat and eventually to get enough nutrition that way, but they’ll work to slowly wean him off of that. He’ll be at risk for a lot of big scary health problems, including rejection, infection, and a certain type of cancer that can develop when the immune system is supressed. Here’s more information about the risks and ramifications of life after transplant.

Our last scheduled appointment was with pre-anesthesiology, which was really a simple one, considering that Patrick’s had surgeries before. They we headed upstairs because they’d ordered a bunch of lab test. We pushed to have labs drawn through his broviac, but they still wanted us to ask at the lab for it to be drawn by just sticking a vein. They told us to ask for their best tech, which we did. He took one look at the list of tests and then at Patrick and said that he didn’t feel comfortable drawing that much blood from a kid this size, especially through a needle, when he has a broviac line. So, he took a little blood for some blood typing, gave us a bag to collect a urine sample and sent us on our way.

We were pretty overwhelmed that day and avoided giving updates because it was so much information to process ourselves. Instead, we went out to dinner and Patrick made our evening for us.

While we were eating, I looked over and noticed that Patrick was imitating my expressions while I ate. He was making chewing faces and licking his lips when I did. Then he started to blow bubbles and, well, I decided to blow bubbles back at him. The next thing we knew, he’d learned to blow raspberries and would happily spit back at us whenever we spit at him. It was a fun game to play for the rest of the evening and week, and definitely helped to lighten the load of a HUGE day.