Category Archives: Diet

Feeding Tube Awareness Week

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Once each February, a week is dedicated to helping raise awareness about tube feeding. I feel like the past 7 years of our lives have been a walking tube feeding awareness ad. If you haven’t picked up on the fact that you can lead a full and happy life while being tube fed, then you haven’t been paying attention. And so I try not to get too vocal during this week.

However, this week, just on time for tube feeding awareness week, Patrick has started to require supplemental feeding. And so I’m going to take a minute anyway to explain what a frustrating blessing a feeding tube can be.

Since last October, we’ve been trialing having Patrick eat 100% of his calories. And he has lost weight ever since. At first it was really rapid. That wasn’t a surprise. He wasn’t used to eating that much and we dropped a lot of calories and hydration very suddenly. We’d fattened him up and he had room to learn.

He really did a marvelous job picking it up. In a couple of weeks he figured out how to drink enough to stay hydrated. And he picked up meal and snack times pretty well. But he just kept losing. We’ve added more snacks. We’ve added more butter and fats to every meal. We started giving him milk at every meal. We added protein shakes.

But months later, he is still losing, even after “doing everything” that his dietitians could think of to recommend.

There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day for Patrick’s belly to take in enough food. He gets full and uncomfortable and doesn’t want to push more food.

Eating is such an emotional thing. It’s social. It’s bonding. It combines smells and tastes with memories. But what if your memories of food weren’t positive? What if for years eating made you sick? Was always high stress? What if you were expected to dive in suddenly at a level of eating skill than other kids took 7 years to master? And what if the stakes were so high that everyone was watching to see if you did it? And when you felt completely stuffed, you were always being told “just one more bite”?

Patrick was losing weight. And I found that I was pushing too hard. Worrying too much about making sure Patrick got enough calories and then getting really upset when he didn’t eat what was put in front of him. And that pressure was actually causing us to lose ground. Making Patrick not like foods he’d once loved.

So we’ve turned again to the feeding tube. Just a little. A week ago Brian suggested that maybe we should start giving some carnation instant breakfast first thing in the morning when he wakes and last thing before bed. We know it helps his belly wake up. And it would give him extra calories.

The first day that we did it and he wasn’t hungry for breakfast after. I had a good cry about losing breakfast. Losing progress. Not fully achieving the miracle. But Howie convinced me to give it time. And now I see that, this way he’s getting the same morning calories. Plus he’s hungry for a snack and to eat his lunch at school.. something we’d struggled with. In other words, Patrick seems to be better off this way. And maybe I was looking the wrong way at miracles.

I’m finding myself humbled and grateful for medical technology that can help him yet again. I am remembering that just because all struggles aren’t gone, it doesn’t mean a miracle hasn’t happened. Not all healing means perfect health.

Do you know that tube feeding is so new, even in the United States, that Patrick’s GI doctor was the first to place a g-tube (stomach instead of nasal feeding tube) at his our children’s hospital? That it’s so new that there are countries where the technology is only still just being taught?

We take it for granted. This ability to feed patients who otherwise couldn’t eat enough. I’ve even heard people say it’s weird, gross, unnatural. But really, it’s amazing! Minimally invasive. In fact, I often wish every child could have a button. That I could have one myself. I know hundreds of families with feeding tubes. I can count on one hand those who weren’t immensely grateful for them. Who didn’t feel that they exponentially improved their child’s quality of life.

Hopefully, we’ll only need this little bit of help for a while longer. Just enough to take the “Please eat so you won’t die” sort of pressure off of learning to eat. Please note, “Please eat so you don’t need a feeding tube” doesn’t work. Patrick knows from experience that being fed through a tube is exceptionally convenient and comfortable. Fed is fed. And it’s so stress-free he sees no reason to avoid it. I mean, seriously, if you could just keep doing the things you love without having to stop to eat or drink, wouldn’t you choose that too sometimes?

However, we are finding it’s possible to take a bit of the hunger/starvation edge off of learning to eat this way. Just enough feeding to help his belly move. Just enough calories to help him grow but let him be hungry. And hopefully soon, Patrick’s love of food will help him overcome some of his fears. And he’ll need less and less of the help.

But in the meantime, isn’t is wonderful that we don’t have to do it without help?

Tubies of the world unite. Or some other catchy social media phrase meaning tube feeding is awesome.

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“So what can he eat?”

The other day, Patrick asked his dad for a snack. Brian sent him to me and I heard him say, “She’s your dietitian.”

Yup. That’s what it feels like. All day long, every day, I keep a tally in my head of what Patrick’s eaten. What his reactions have been. What nutrients he might still need. What exposure he’s had to challenging foods vs. preferred foods. And all day long, because Patrick is hungry and asks for food all day long, I am planning what he can eat.

In some ways it’s getting easier. Outgrowing his milk allergy is a really big deal that has opened up a ton of possibilities. If Patrick could live on string cheese, he totally would. In other ways, it’s just gotten more complicated.

Last week, I took Patrick back to his allergist. We’d communicated through his assistant and he’d called me at home to go over allergy test results. But in the end, things were still confusing. So he said to experiment for a month and then come in and he’d help me figure out the results.

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He printed out two copies of the test results. And then we sat down and went through them food by food, comparing the blood test with the skin test and them my own personal experience.

Towards the end of the conversation, he said something about like this. “Patrick is really allergic to a lot of foods. With these numbers, I’d probably tell most patients to avoid them. But Patrick is different. There are two considerations for him: how does he react to allergens? and how does he react because of his transplant? And so we can’t just say he can’t eat any of the foods he is allergic to. For whatever reason, he seems to tolerate a lot of his allergens when they are cooked. So you will keep cooking foods for him with the foods he’s allergic to. And you’ll be very cautious. And you’ll figure out what he can actually eat.”

So in summary. Dear world.. I am very sorry that we are misrepresenting the severity of food allergies in some regards. Really, VERY truly there are people who must entirely all forms of the foods they are allergic to. There are some foods that we still avoid 100%. But if there is some confusion about why Patrick is still eating some things that I have mentioned as an allergy, the simple answer is that if he didn’t, he’d be being fed elemental formula through a tube for the rest of his life. So we are making d0 with a cautious diet.

That said, if you are one of the handful of people still trying to make a sincere effort to cook and/or serve food to include Patrick.. let me give you a rundown of his current diet.

Because of intestinal transplant . . . 

Patrick is on a low sugar diet. This isn’t like a diabetic’s low sugar diet where his blood sugar will swing one way or the other or where carbohydrates need to be avoided. Sugar and some other sweeteners are not easy to digest and sugar can cause Patrick’s gut to not absorb, costing him both nutrition and hydration. In general, I look for 12g or less of sugar on the label. We mostly avoid fruit and fruit juices. And, although Patrick isn’t allergic to cow’s milk anymore, milk is 12g of sugar so I allow him to only drink this in my presence and in small quantities right now.

Also, because transplant didn’t give Patrick the 2/3 of colon that he is missing, he can eat fibrous veggies, but he won’t absorb them. His GI compares this to eating sticks and leaves. Therefore, since these foods are also hard to learn to chew, I haven’t put a lot of effort into teaching him to eat these foods. He loves the softer ones: squash with skins cut off, cooked carrots, mushrooms, cooked onions. We are working on green beans, soft and french style are easiest. He does not like peppers. Patrick is mildly allergic to lettuce, however, and doesn’t digest it at all so I only let him have it when he’s feeling quite left out and insistent. Salads are discouraged.

Because of medication reaction, Patrick isn’t allowed grapefruit. Grapefruit is in fresca. And other fruit drinks. Not that he should have much of those, but watch labels.

As far as allergies go…

Patrick has outgrown his dairy allergy. And if he could have his way, he’d be enjoying an all-dairy diet. He especially loves cheese, though he isn’t a fan of sharp cheddar. He would happily eat sour cream by the spoonful. He eats milk on his cereal. He is getting better with yogurt. I’m still reading labels to pick varieties that are less than 12g of sugar. And we’re doing greek yogurt when possible because it has more protein. His favorite flavor is blueberry.

Yogurt can be tricky, though, because despite not eating much fruit, Patrick does have allergies to it. Patrick is allergic to peaches, oranges, and strawberries. Orange is especially high. Mostly, it’s easy to avoid these as he generally can’t have fruit. I do sometimes give in and let him nibble on a strawberry. In my presence. With benadryl on hand. Also, did you know sweet and sour sauce is made of peaches? We also avoid apricots and mangos because they are similar fruit families. Just FYI.

Eggs are scoring an off the charts 11.7 in the blood test reaction. This number is PHENOMENAL. A 4 or a 6 is considered pretty significant. Therefore, we do our best to keep Patrick away from anything with concentrated egg. Scrambled eggs, crepes, egg noodles, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, tartar sauce, dijon mustard. Be advised that we discovered the vegan brand Just Mayo over the summer, though, and Patrick does eat a lot of “mayo” recipes made from this. He also eats at least a cup of vegan ranch dressing throughout the week. It’s his preferred dip. And he’ll ask for it away from home. The simple answer to this is that he can have only mom’s recipe. He shouldn’t have food cooked on a grill or pan that also cooked eggs.

Nuts are still causing a tremendous reaction in skin tests. Especially cashew and pistachio. And nuts are processed all together in factories. Therefore, we are a nut-free household. We don’t allow them in the door and ask you wash and brush teeth before contact with Patrick if you’ve been around these foods. Peanuts are scoring lower but still high. Therefore, we use sunbutter not peanut butter. And we do still watch out on ingredient labels for “manufactured with peanuts” warnings.

Oats are a pretty low scoring allergy and we’ve opted, based on previous reactions, to avoid them completely in Patrick’s diet. We don’t see a traditional allergic reaction. But they really do upset his stomach. Mostly, you only have to watch out for oats in breakfast food, but really read the labels on cereal.

Corn is also quite high with a significant skin reaction. We have a hard time making heads of tails of this. Corn is so hard to entirely avoid. Therefore, we do entirely almost entirely avoid corn chips, corn tortillas, corn bread, and plain corn. I do let him choose to eat corn dogs as I see little consequence. He sometimes chooses on his own to remove the breading. You might catch me taking mercy on Patrick and letting him splurge on Doritos, Cheetos or corn on the cob. Like oats, Patrick’s reaction is stomach upset and these foods are so yummy and ingrained into our culture that sometimes he and I have a talk about the consequence he’ll pay for eating these foods and then I’ll let him choose. As a rule, leave this kind of spoiling to me. I’m keeping track of what else he’s had in the day and if he can afford the consequences.

Tomatoes also caught me off guard a bit. We tested because I’d seen Patrick react to some spaghetti sauces. But he is usually fine with ketchup. Our best guess that is that the difference is how long the tomatoes are processed. So, when I serve pasta at home, I try to cook the sauce at least several hours. And he seems ok with pizza sauce. Perhaps because it’s baked again before serving? In general, Patrick avoid tomatoes on his own. He’ll choose olive oil over tomato sauce. He’ll choose vegan ranch over ketchup and ranch on his pizza over tomato sauce. I really need to do some exploration into the ingredients of alfredo sauce and I need to let him try besciamella now that he’s allowed milk. But when he has no other option, tomato is another food where I explain the consequences and let him choose. Please know, you can give him ketchup with confidence.

Soy was a surprise to us. Almost. I knew soy milk upset Patrick’s belly which is why we tested for it. But Patrick was eating a lot of other soy foods when we were avoiding dairy. This is a fairly low allergy, but still enough that I see a difference. So we are trying to transition from margarine (still a no no) to butter. (I am finding a big learning curve here.) Patrick’s accepted that it’s ok to eat dairy cheeses but will still check and be nervous about other foods that used to require substitutions. We aren’t avoiding soy all-together. It’s in so many foods. And his score was only a 1. If it’s cooked, like soy sauce or in crackers or whatever, it’s absolutely ok. But if it’s possible to skip it, we do. He had a reaction to canned cream of chicken soup the one time I tried it. Soy is my best guess as to why.

Finally, there’s these crazy little positive results for wheat and barley.  I said, “Barley, no big deal.” Really, I only eat barley like once a year in soup. But wheat? Well, here’s how that conversation went. The allergist said, “He’s allergic to wheat.” And I said, “His diet is over 50% wheat.” He said, “Well, maybe that’s because the wheat is baked.” And I said, “Well, what does unbaked wheat look like?” Him, “Flour. But he wouldn’t like to eat that anyway.” So I said, “So can he bake?” He said, “Of course. Just keep an eye on him.” Me, “And the rest?” Him, “Let him eat wheat.” In other words, don’t feed him gruel. And if you’re baking with him, keep an eye out for inhaled reactions. Otherwise, let the kid eat all the wheat he wants. As long as it’s highly processed. White bread, not whole grain. Since his gut won’t digest whole wheats anyway. That’s a transplant/short gut thing.

So what can he eat . . . 

Patrick’s very best foods are still meat and potatoes. He’s making good progress with oral aversions. But he still has a hard time chewing “grown up” meats, though. So I’m talking about chicken nuggets, hot dogs, corn dogs, lunch meat, fast food hamburger (because it’s super duper soft, unlike what I make, apparently), really tender meats like roast, bacon (because bacon’s good enough that he learned that one). We’re working on canned chicken. We are working on the other meats. It’s slow. But we’ll get there.

Patrick thinks mashed potatoes and gravy are manna sent from heaven. I can’t sort out why he tolerates some gravies better than others. Soy maybe? Or corn starch? I dunno. But I used packaged gravies for him at home and he does great and loves them all. Yes, it is ok to make mashed potatoes with milk now. But not margarine. Plan on Patrick eating at least a cup and a half on his own.

Other potatoes are also really, really good for him because they slow his gut down so he absorbs the whole meal better when he eats them. Plus, they are easy to eat.. Roast potatoes, Potato chips. Tater tots. French fries. The oil which most of us would avoid provides calories for him. Someday we’ll worry about avoiding oils. Right now, we are packing calories.

He’s a big fan of pasta salads. Tossed with olive oil and either italian or ranch seasonings (again, not ranch dressing or real mayo.) I make a big pasta salad every week and he eats it throughout the week until it’s gone. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese has been tested with great results. I make him the old recipe with half a stick of butter in it because, again, I’m packing calories. He really likes to slurp spaghetti noodles and those are always eggless, FYI.

He loves string cheese. He thinks cheese pizza is wonderful, though he’s gaining a taste for ham and mushroom, bacon and vegan ranch, and pepperoni, too. Choose “light” on the sauce if that’s an option. We discovered totinos this week and he would eat it at every meal.

He still loves soups. Progresso’s beef soups are egg-free. They have tomato but it seems processed enough to be ok. Also, the noodles in campbell’s brand shaped chicken noodle soups (goldfish, disney characters, etc.) are also processed enough that they are ok, despite the egg warning on the label. He had his first cream soup this weekend and devoured it. He loves grilled cheese and saltine crackers with soup.

He really enjoys stir fry with rice noodles. Especially if you put zucchini, mushrooms, and onions in it. He’s getting better at eating rice and rice-a-roni.

Other favorite foods include hummus, ham and cheese on their own or in sandwiches, as lunchables, etc., goldfish crackers, cheez-its, and veggie thin crackers, pretzels, chips, rice krispie treats, little smokies, pancakes and waffles, popcorn, cake, donuts, cookies, guacamole (but check the label), Arby’s roast beef sandwiches and curly fries, sunbutter, bananas, apples (though he’s still learning to chew them, black beans, refried beans. We are working on fish sticks, salmon, and other fish.

He wants capri sun, but can only have the low-sugar waters like Roaring Waters. He wants anything other food that is restricted extra exactly because it is restricted. He will do almost anything to earn a tootsie roll or starburst so those, since candy is very restricted, must follow very specific rules. He can have powerade zero and gatorade’s g3, but is kind of tired of them and mostly chooses to drink water.

And dislikes? Well, he doesn’t like stuffing. He doesn’t like peppers. He doesn’t like crust on his bread or skins on anything. He isn’t a big fan of melons. He’s undecided about biting cucumbers. He only sometimes likes pickles. He doesn’t much like foods that are hard to chew. And otherwise, he follows most of the same rules of “gross” that other kids his age abide by.

We went over some of this with the transplant surgeon last week and he said, “Butter, cheese bacon, potatoes. He’s got what he needs to gain weight.” So, although I know this goes against what most people would call an ideal diet, it will work for now while we work towards better.

This summary is long. But I hope it helps. At least to explain what’s going through my head when mealtime rolls around. As I’m trying to turn this list into at least 1600 calories consumed every day.

Transplant day 349 and the one-year follow-up

We just got back from Omaha again. It was a short trip. Barely more than 48 hours. In some ways very routine and unexciting. In others, very eventful.

About a month ago, I remembered to ask Patrick’s transplant team if he was supposed to have a one-year follow-up appointment. They said yes.. and then I asked if it really had to happen right on the transplant anniversary. After all, remember, Patrick’s transplant happened both on his birthday and on Halloween. We didn’t really want to spent October 31st at a doctor’s appointment.

They said it didn’t matter, and so we decided to take advantage of Patrick’s fall break. We checked him out of school on Wednesday at lunch and hopped on a plane to Nebraska.

He was crazy excited this time. Or may anxious. I can’t decide. He was happy about the idea of seeing his nurses and couldn’t seem to let it go. We tried to explain that this was just a checkup. But he didn’t settle down until after the appointment. I think because then he knew it was all ok.

Wednesday night, because Patrick was bouncing off the walls, we checked into our hotel but then headed down to the riverwalk to try to burn off some of his nervous energy with a stroll along the Missouri. It was really dark. And it took a really long time for Patrick to settle down. But eventually, he did. And it made him tired enough to sleep pretty well that night.

The next morning, it was cold. Especially for us, coming from Utah’s record-breakingly warm fall. We tried to go to a playground but got too cold. So then we went for a drive just because. We decided we were hungry and Patrick asked for chicken nuggets. So we drove to McDonalds and Patrick discovered McNuggets. I discovered that Sweet and Sour Sauce is made with peaches and so there really are no Patrick allergy-friendly dips available and we settled for ketchup.

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Finally, it was time for the appointment. Patrick hadn’t finished lunch so we brought it along and as the team came in, Patrick was munching on french fries. He then decided he was still hungry, and we added on a lunchable.

The appointment was mostly routine. They recorded his vital signs and growth, went over his medications, asked if anything big had changed. Then the surgoen joined us and looked Patrick over. He said Patrick looked great. He said to go ahead and discontinue one of his antibiotics. And we talked about when and how to decrease his immunosuppression one more level. Then I asked some questions I had. Patrick played with the doctor and his cell phone. And then they went on their way.

Posing with some statues at the zoo

Posing with some statues at the zoo

The dietitian came in to talk to us next and we decided to go ahead and stop Patrick’s tube feeds and see if he can keep up with his nutrition orally. That doesn’t mean that for sure this will work. It means a really focused effort to make sure he’s eating and drinking enough. But it also means some new comfort and freedom for him.

Not doing tube feeds means having to figure out some other things. Like teaching him to take a chewable multivitamin instead of giving a liquid. It also means that we have to figure out a way to give him 1 teaspoon of baking soda in divided doses throughout the day. Right now, that can go along with his meds in his g-tube. But one day, they’d like a goal of him not needing anything by g-tube. They’d even like to remove his g-tube. And so eventually we’ll need to find a way to get him to take baking soda in food.

A few weeks ago, the hospital’s PR department called and asked if we would be willing to let a news crew come to Patrick’s appointment. So there was a cameraman there filming the whole time. (Well, except when the dietitian came in. She is camera shy.) And then we went and did interviews afterwards. It’s so hard to capture this big story in just a few words. I hope we did it justice. We tried taking them upstairs for Patrick to visit with some nurses. That just ended up being really awkward. Oh well. One day, the story will air and I’ll share it here. We hope it gets people talking about organ donation. And maybe express our thanks to Patrick’s donor’s family and also the amazing medical team who got him this far.

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Couldn’t resist this photo op.. given that these two missed wearing their matching minion costumes last Halloween.

We stopped tube feeds that same night. Patrick was really restless in his sleep, too. I don’t know if that was because of the missing tubes. Or if it was because I snore. Or because he discovered how truly heavenly comfy sleeping in down pillows is and spent the whole night trying to figure out if he wanted to sleep in the down pillow more or sleep snuggling with me more. I finally told him I didn’t mind him sleeping on the pillow. He said, “You won’t get mad?” And I said, “No. It’s a soft, soft pillow” and he snuggled down and went to sleep. He’s asked for a down pillow for his bed at home.

After the appointment, we had 24 hours before our flight home. So we did our best to find some family fun. We went to the zoo both days. The first, Patrick wanted to just play outside. We got jumbo pretzels that we ended up sharing with some very demanding peacocks.

 

And we let Patrick play on the zoo’s playgrounds that we’ve mostly shied away from in the past year. Then, we went to find dinner in Omaha’s shopping district called Old Market. We ended up at a family italian restaurant called Spaghetti Works where Patrick got to experience his first salad bar. He ordered grilled cheese, which turned out to be a very disappointing sandwich made of two pieces of cheesy garlic bread stuck together. So instead, he ate my spaghetti.

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The next morning, we packed up, ate breakfast, did laundry. Finally, we had to check out and so we went back to the zoo. Brian splurged a bit and bought all-day ride passes and instead of looking for animals, we spent the day riding stuff. We rode their steam-powered train. (Makes all other zoo trains seems like a huge disappointment.) We rode the carousel. We rode the “ski-fari”, in other words, one of those ski-lifts made amusement park ride.

The ride passes included admission to the stingray encounter which actually turned out to be awesome! They have trained their stingrays to take a piece of fish from the back of your hand with a certain command. And therefore, because they know this command, if you put your hand in the water they right way, they’ll swim over and put their mouth over your hand and suck. They call it a kiss. Also, because guests feed them, the stingrays will come to guests looking for foods. So instead of gathering hoping to snag a quick touch, you have stingrays coming up and reaching out with their fins to get your attention. It was really cool.

It took us all day to figure out how the zoo tram worked and we happened to go exactly opposite the most efficient way. However, that did earn us nice walks through the aviary and lemur island exhibit, which we didn’t do much of in the winter. And then we had a nice long ride to end our day at the zoo.

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We went back to Old Market for lunch. Brian remembered that I’d heard of and really wanted to try a restaurant/bakery called Wheatfields. They have a reputation for being really allergy conscious. We caught them 5 minutes before close so we made a hurried lunch decision. But it was delicious, nonetheless. I ordered Patrick his first cream soup. (New option without a dairy allergy.) He had the creamy chicken and rice. Ok. We both did. I ate about half of it because it was huge. But he did great with it, which gives me courage to try more. If you have a great cream soup recipe, sent it my way.

And then, we caught the flight home.

I am super, duper proud of Patrick who made it the entire trip in underwear and without any accidents.

In fact, I’m just extremely proud of Patrick. He discovered this old video on his tablet taken a couple of years ago. It’s of him and me playing at the table. Nothing much. But I can see so many changes.

Patrick’s speech has come SO far in the past year. In the video, he is licking and spitting out fruit snacks and asking me what happens if he swallows. Now he is eating full meals. In the video I’m telling him not to drink too much water so he won’t make himself sick. Now the only concern is if he’s drinking enough. He’s still himself. Dramatic. Adventurous. But without the limitations.

He has come SO far.

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Lots of appointments and planning a new normal

School starts on August 19th. My goal in this month prior to school is to help Patrick work up to a school year normal.

Therapy

That means a few things. First, it means restarting outpatient therapy. I took Patrick back to his occupational therapist a month ago. She was so excited to have him back and eager to start working with him on writing and an learning to manage his sensory processing disorder with a new “sensory diet.” (Since transplant, Patrick’s not nearly as controlled by his sensory seeking behaviors. But that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. However, he’s a lot more tired so the big physical play that used to help focus wears him out fast now.)

The bad news, though, is that Primary Children’s lost a couple of therapists this summer. They have hired a bunch of new ones. But that means that the veterans are very busy with the transition. Patrick’s beloved therapist just doesn’t have time in her schedule to do the weekly therapist that Patrick seems to need right now. However, she’s been shadowed by another therapist in the couple of visits we went to. And so we transferred care, at least temporarily, to a new occupational therapist.

We also agreed to move back to the Taylorsville Clinic. (I have had some bad experiences with the office staff at that clinic and had decided not to keep going there.) Because it shares space with an instacare, Patrick has to wear a mask on the way in and can’t wait in the waiting room. However, it’s closer to home, has a bigger, cleaner gym.  And we were able to basically pick our time on their lightest day.

Our first session went pretty well. His therapist picked up on all the tools we use to keep Patrick on track: a clear schedule, verbal cues, deep breathing, etc. and I think he was calmer for her than has been his usual. The other nice thing is that I think we can pull off going to therapy at 8 a.m. on Mondays to let him get ready for the week at school.

I’ve scheduled evaluations so he can restart speech and physical therapies, too. And he’ll have his last home health feeding therapy session this week.

Evaluation

Also, to get ready for school, we started a new neuropsychological evaluation. Patrick was SO young last time he was tested. And we know that having a healthy gut has changed a lot of things for him. His sensory processing, focus, and other quirkiness is actually a lot less since transplant, even though he’s having a hard time with sitting still, speaking quietly, and controlling his temper. It seemed like a good time to get a new look at his abilities.

So we did an intake interview and in the first few weeks of school, Patrick will be pulled out for 3 half days so I can take him for some testing. Hopefully it helps.

As I mentioned before, we’re working on a behavior plan, too, with his psychologist.. hoping to have him used to a specific set of consequences and rewards that they can use in class. He always does best in class away from me, anyway.

Transplant follow-up appointment & diet changes

We saw Patrick’s GI, Dr. J this week. It was a long appointment. For one thing, I needed Dr. J to sign all new orders for school again. It’s getting smaller each time, though. This time around was only 8 signatures and 6 pages. Compared to 20 the first year, that’s big improvement.

Patrick weighed in at 24 kilos. That’s just under 53 pounds, and up 3 pounds in the past 3 weeks. They had a new dietitian this time and she pointed out that since Patrick’s eating meats (even if they are just hot dogs, hamburgers and lunch meat) he might be eating enough protein to not need as much formula at night. Dr. J was really concerned about Patrick’s 96% BMI and rapid weight gain. He said we need to get Patrick on a regular meal and snack schedule. And he said we should consider doing less “feeding while he is unconscious.”

So, I ran this all past the dietitian in Nebraska. And she made another reduction in Patrick’s formula feeding. I’m supposed to be keeping a log of everything he eats for the next 3 days so she can evaluate what he’s getting and we can start talking about a plan for all oral eating.

I’m not sure if this means needing to add other foods to his diet. Patrick doesn’t really absorb vegetables well. (Dr. J. says they are “just wood” anyway if you don’t have a colon to break them down in.) He can’t eat fruits. So he’ll need vitamin supplements at least.

Allergies

We also saw Patrick’s allergist, Dr. G, today. For years, every time we went to the allergist, he’d say that we’d need to do a whole new workup after transplant when Patrick was ready to eat. Well, Patrick seems to be more than willing to eat. And so it’s important to figure out what exactly he is allergic to. This is kind of tricky with immune suppression because the same drugs that suppress Patrick’s immune system also suppress his allergic reactions. This is good news. But it means that we don’t really know what the potential for allergies is.

So that was today’s goal. Figure out what Patrick might be allergic to. Allergist appointments are always long. Like, crazy long. We were there three and a half hours today. For an hour, we updated Patrick’s medical chart and gave history to a resident. (Which, in summer especially, is a bit like training a new resident.) And then Patrick’s allergist came in and went over possible allergens. I went through a list of things we could test for an highlighted the things I think Patrick might be allergic to. Then the doctor highlighted the things he thought from past test results Patrick might be allergic to. Plus other foods that he thought it would be good for Patrick to try to eat. We tested for just under 40 possible allergens in all. That was all that would fit on his back.

Some of the results were predictable. Cashews and pistachios, off the chart. Eggs still in a big danger zone. Oats were much higher than expected. And I highlighted peaches, oranges, and strawberries because I’ve had my suspicions. They were very surprised when some of those rare things came up positive. We had other positives for foods that rarely to never cause reactions, like tomatoes and wheat. These could be just because they are a big part of Patrick’s diet and not that he can’t safely eat them. Really, all testing done so far, we don’t know almost as much as we did going it.

Nuts, both tree nuts and peanuts, are still a HUGE no for Patrick. We are still a nut-free house, for sure. So are eggs, peaches, corn, oats. However, he tested negative for cow’s milk, which was a very big surprise. (You can outgrow milk allergies but a year ago, Patrick wasn’t anywhere close to that.)

So the next step is to do a blood test. That will test for a different type of reaction. If the negatives in the scratch test match up with negatives in the blood test, we’ll do a food challenge. (For example, offer Patrick cheese.) If positives match up with positives, then we’ll talk about a strategy to keep Patrick safe but eating as much as possible. They will not be likely to stop him from eating foods that he is currently eating without reactions. He might have become desensitized and we wouldn’t want to reverse that by taking something back out of his diet. But time and testing and trial and error will decide. And if the results conflict, meaning if one is positive and one negative, we’ll probably test again.

This is sounding confusing as I’m writing it. It doesn’t change much of what we have been doing. Just helps us try to figure out how to help Patrick eat as much as possible and keep him safe. Meanwhile, we refilled his epi and got correct dosing on his antihistimines and requested a new letter for school. And we got things started.

Patrick was a champion. It was a long appointment and he was very scared. And yet, he was very patient and helpful. He crashed in exhaustion on the way home.

Choosing a school

Enough medical updates though. I have other news. We also have been planning for school by talking to the school district. I had a meeting yesterday with a couple of district representatives (I was being transitioned from one representative to another because of some restructuring). The goal of the meeting was to finally pick a school placement for Patrick. And I did finally make a decision.

Everyone who has spent time working with Patrick: his home hospital teacher, his summer school teacher, his psychologist and group therapy leader.. they all say that he needs to be in a higher functioning self-contained classroom this year. In a regular class, he’d walk all over the teacher and never get anything done. In a low functioning class, he’d gravitate to the classroom staff and not make friends or learn to work independently. And in either, he’d get bored and then get naughty.

But, as I’ve written before, I was uncomfortable with the classroom that he’d go to by default because of our address. Well, a little over a week ago I got brave enough to ask if there were any other classrooms like that one in other schools. Since, after all, I drive Patrick to school anyway.

It turns out, there are several. And the closest to my home happens to be in the town where I grew up. Across the street from my grandpa’s house. And 5 minutes away from Patrick’s therapy office.

All of a sudden, things seemed to fall into place. The class is indoors. It has fewer students. The teacher has a pretty good reputation. And, even though it’s far from home, that family connection will make it feel like Patrick isn’t going to school far away. It isn’t farther from the other school. And it’s in a place I know. I know the neighborhood. If he made friends and wanted to play after school, I could do that. Grandparents, aunts and uncles all live nearby to help respond when he’s sick. Patrick could even, in theory, choose to walk to his grandpa’s instead of me picking him up. Eventually. Once we’re sure he will actually go there when given a chance.

The district folks seemed to think they’d even be open and excited to have me volunteer in the school. (They have a high hispanic population. It sounds like I can use my talents to help.)

I’m a nervous wreck still. All of a sudden being away from Patrick from 9 to 3:45 every day after all this time together sounds terrifying. I wonder if he’ll make friends. I worry because I don’t know ANY of the staff here. Losing my district rep means that EVERYONE will be brand new to me. And I don’t know what writing an IEP and trying to request accommodations is going to be like. And I’m coming in with a very long wish list that I expect them to take care of.

Also, unlike some other places I’ve looked at… this is a very normal school. No big special needs programs. Just two small little special needs units.

And – I still have to make plans for safe lunch AND breakfast in the classroom. Though with only a handful of students, that should be more doable.

To make things worse, I didn’t bother looking up a school calendar until last week. Our district starts the same week of the year every year and I made plans for that. Only THIS YEAR they decided to change things and start a week early. Which means that instead of having a full week to make plans with a new school like I thought, I’ll have just 2 days. 2 days! To give medical training. To make an allergy plan. To make a behavior plan. To orient a whole new team to our family.

I am overwhelmed and scared. A LOT.

We are going to register tomorrow regardless.

Watch out for waterlemons

A week ago Saturday, we decided to go out for breakfast at Paradise Bakery. Because of nut and egg allergies, we brought his breakfast along, but when he asked to play with my fruit cup (practicing his fork skills) I agreed.

He picked up a piece of pineapple, dropped it, and gave a very big scowl. I looked to see what was wrong and discovered a long, thin cut in his finger. I thought maybe one of the finger pricks from the previous weeks’ hospital stay hadn’t healed and was infected.

So, when we got home, I put some neosporin on it, and a bandaid. That night, when I changed the bandaid, Brian pointed out that the rest of that fingertip and the one next to it looked like they were burned. We asked Patrick how he got hurt. He said the “waterlemon” poked him.

We kept doing bandaids and neosporin. And then a couple of days later, I bumped Patrick’s other hand and got the same reaction. He jumped, pulled back, scowled, then started to cry. I looked and, lo and behold, the other hand was dry and cracking too. All of his fingers looked calloused, dry, flaking and cracking.

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I panicked a little bit. TPN dependence means risks of nutritional deficiencies. Zinc deficiency causes horrible flaking skin ulcers. Fatty acid deficiency can cause dry skin, but only once it’s severe enough that you also start wondering about brain development.

I called his dietitian and made her check his labs. They were ok, except a note about low Omega-6 fatty acids. The doctor had just said he thought it was ok. She suggested I rub Patrick in safflower oil.

This created quite a quandary for me. Last time I tried safflower oil in Patrick’s diet he had an allergic reaction because all culinary oils are processed on the same equipment so safflower oil can have peanut oil and almond oil in it.

So I decided to start using his regular eczema cream and keep asking.

I got a good picture of the problem and sent it to, well, everyone. His nurse suggested an allergy to the bandaids or neosporin. His GI and I had a long talk where we discussed ways to get him more fatty acids from increasing the lipids in his TPN to feeding him microlipids through the g-tube, to rubbing him in it. (Which I put more effort into. We stopped at Sprouts market that night and read every label until I found a lotion that had safflower oil, but nothing else he might be allergic to.) Finally, the University of Nebraska called back and said that Patrick’s labs had looked good in February and could not have possibly tanked that quickly and to stop worrying about deficiency.

So then I turned to Dr. Google. I try not to research symptoms on the internet. However, Google Images is a wonderful took for looking up skin conditions. I looked up pictures of zinc and fatty acid deficiency and they didn’t match. Then I looked up pictures of cracking fingertips and I found it…

Fingertip eczema. Caused by… a systemic allergic reaction due to prolonged exposure to an allergen.

I ditched the bandaids. Switched to hydrocortisone cream and aquaphor… kept rubbing Patrick in the safflower lotion for good measure because of the other deficiency anyway. And I stopped cheating Patrick on his benadryl pretreatment.

Because Patrick is allergic to vancomycin, the antibiotic they started him on 3 weeks ago, he is supposed to get a very high dose of benadryl before every dose of antibiotic. But that high dose does a number on his gut, not to mention his concentration and his mood. So when we came home from the hospital, I started backing off the dose.

So we upped the dose.. and then we got hospitalized and they took him back up to the full prescription strength. And they made him stay on vanco a few extra days in case that was the cause of the fevers, and then finally let it be discontinued.

Patrick’s fingers almost immediately started to get better. They are still dry and we are still doing a good lotion regimen a few times a day. Patrick voted down a few brands, but is really in love with Aquaphor (“Apa-poh”) and several times a day will ask permission to just dip his fingers in it. This is helping a lot.

Poor little kid.. as if there weren’t already enough other things to worry about this month. And I still can’t convince him to lay hands on another “waterlemon.”

Holiday fun

We’ve been doing our best to make the most of the holiday season. How fun it is to have a 2-year-old this year! Christmas is so magical for a child that age… and it’s the littest things that make the most difference. For example, Patrick’s been glued to the Christmas lights we hung on our house since the night we put them up. Now, given, we have some very cool lights this year – LED color changing icicles… He watches them and smiles whenever he sees them.

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Hiding ornaments behind the toybox

He loves the tree, too.. especially the ornaments.. and I’m finding that my investment in Ikea’s unbreakable ornaments has been a blessing because then he can take them off and carry them around without worrying me, and then we put new hooks on and hang them back up. (One disclaimer – they do break if you push a full toybox into them repeatedly.)

Of course, we took him to the Festival of Trees again this year. Last year, this really was a test of his patience. But this year, he loved the trees – especially the tree covered in Elmo dolls, and any tree with cars or trains under it.  He wasn’t so happy that we made him stay in his stroller so we couldn’t play with the toys in the displays and did his best to sweet talk someone else into taking him out.

We did our best to see Santa there, too… but we arrived as Santa went on break and by the time he’d made it through the crowd (giving hugs and candy canes along the way) we’d run out of time.

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Waiting to (NOT) see Santa

After weeks of snow, we had some unseasonably nice weather last week. Monday night I realized that it was probably the warmest evening we’d get all year. So, I called Brian at work and we decided to seize the opportunity to see some Christmas lights.

I made some taco soup and we picnicked in Daddy’s cubicle. For the record, soup is Patrick’s current favorite food. We stick to clear, mild broths. I’m not sure it’s the best thing for his tummy, but it he loves it and there are worse things for him, and so I let him have it from time to time. He makes a little sipping sound to ask for it and will eat until there isn’t a drop left.

After eating, we bundled up. I made a little tube warmer for Patrick because if the fluid in the IV’s gets cold on the way into his body, Patrick gets chilled really quickly. It takes about 5 minutes to do the 10 feet of velcro, but it seems to work. Then we added coat and hat and gloves. Patrick was more than happy to stay bundled and warm.

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Bundled and ready to go

We’ve got a zoo pass, so Patrick is familiar with the zoo… but looked a bit confused when we arrived there after dark.

And then, when we walked in and saw the lights, his eyes got big and he grinned from ear to ear!

 

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Posing with some of the lights (the little grey thing by his back is end of the tube warmer)

They had a really impressive display. Lots of lights everywhere, including full habitat scenes. And, where possible, we were able to walk in and see some real animals… mostly fast asleep. The leopard was sleeping sprawled in plain sight, but woke up to give us all a nasty look for interrupting his rest. And did you know that monkeys sleep all in a pile in the top of a tree?

Afterwards, we stopped in the gift shop to pick and ornament for our tree and let Patrick pick out a stuffed animal, too, that he’ll get on Christmas.

The next night, we finally got to see Santa. HopeKids had a big Christmas party for the kids. So big, in fact, that it took 3 sessions to accomodate everyone and there was still a huge crowd.

Meeting Santa- First Impressions

Meeting Santa- First Impressions

If I haven’t explained it before, HopeKids is an organization that plans free activities for kids with terminal illnesses. The idea is that if you have something to look forward to, then you have something to hope for and something to live for.

Well, we can’t really explain plans to Patrick. However, he’s beginning to understand one thing… the HopeKids shirt means fun is coming. I went to get him ready to go and pulled out two choices – a Christmas shirt because I knew photos would be taken… or the HopeKids shirt. Patrick caught one glimpse of the shirt and started to beg to wear it. When I tried just putting the Christmas shirt on him, he melted into tears.

 

This is what happens when mom says "No, stay there a little bit longer"

This is what happens when mom says “No, stay there a little bit longer”

Finally, I conceded and let him wear both. Which made him happy enough until that night when it was time for PJ’s and he fell apart again because I made him take it off… he carried it with him the rest of the night.

Why so much fuss about a shirt? Because Patrick knows that if we get out our HopeKids shirts… especially if we all wear them… that something really fun is about to happen.

This time, it came in the form of the biggest and most kid centered Christmas party I’ve ever seen. There were photographers, of course… and Christmas presents. (They let the kids pick their own… Patrick picked a fire truck). There was a magician and a juggler and pizza and so very, very many crafts.

Patrick looks pretty unhappy to see Santa in the picture we took. I think that’s cuz we put him on Santa’s lap and then made him stay there while we took pictures. As the night wore on, Santa came back a few times and each time, Patrick was less nervous. By the end, Santa could come get a high 5 or a pound on the fist and even a little grin.

Amazingly, Patrick even enjoyed the show. Usually he’s pretty unhappy when crowds laugh or applaud, but this time, he clapped and pretended to laugh right with everyone else, though I’m not sure that he really could see what we were all laughing at.

There’s still more Christmas fun to be had. We are almost caught up with shopping and half done wrapping presents. We’ve baked our goodies and visited the neighbors. Tomorrow is Patrick’s last appointment for the rest of the month… We had a busy couple of weeks trying to fit everyone in before offices closed for the holidays. But I’m hoping now it will be worth it as we have nothing left to do but play and enjoy the family and the holiday.