Tag Archives: liver transplant

April and some Easter reflections

Happy April! Don’t you just love April? It is teeming with new life. The trees are in blossom. The tulips opened this weekend. There are little green shoots poking up out of the soil in all of the gardens around my yard. There are birds nesting in the eaves of my house. (No, that’s not necessarily a good thing.)

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April and spring also bring us Easter. A celebration of Christ’s victory over death. And spring surrounds us with reminders of the Lord’s power to bring forth life. To turn what appears dead and gone into glorious beauty. It as if all of nature is shouting the promise of renewed life.

April is also national Donate Life month. This year, with our family’s transplant journey fresh in my mind, I can’t help but see lessons about Easter and Christ’s atonement in it. I thought perhaps I would share some of those thoughts with you.

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Restoration

In the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Alma describes the resurrection in these terms.

The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.  – Book of Mormon, Alma 40:23

I used to say that I looked forward to the resurrection because Patrick and I were going to have a week-long feast. With a perfect body, I want him to be able to taste every wonderful thing that he has missed experiencing in this life.  I never imagined that to be even remotely possible in this life.

And yet, since transplant, Patrick is getting to do just that. He is finally able to begin to experience some of those things. It is incomplete. Allergies and diet restrictions and motor deficits from his brain injury still limit him. And we will still need to have our feast.

Transplant is not a perfect restoration. In fact, an x-ray or ultrasound of Patrick’s belly would reveal an anatomy that looks more like a jury-rigged mess. But it is the closest approximation that I know of in this life.  Transplant takes what is broken or missing and puts things back to their “proper” frame.

And seeing what a transformation this human attempt at restoration can bring, I look forward with joyful anticipation to a day when not even a hair is missing, let alone major organs. When everything is made right. When little eyes can focus to read without effort. When words don’t get stuck in formation. When little legs can run without weakness. When everything is made whole and perfect again.

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Resurrection

There is one part of transplant that I have a hard time understanding. When Patrick was 9 months old, his heart stopped. In essence, he died in my arms. For 2 weeks afterwards, we came back to our house every night not knowing if he would survive. I was destroyed. I had not understood until that time the literal physical ache of grief that accompanies the loss of a child.

Yet somehow, in the midst of that grief, another family found in the midst of that grief the compassion to give the gift of life to mine. Before transplant, Patrick was terminal. We didn’t talk about how very real that possibility was because we didn’t want it to get in the way of his living the life he had. But we knew. We had made plans and were preparing to one day have to let him go.

With transplant came something different. A hope of a full and long life. A gift that rose out of the grief of loss and death. And, in a very real way, Patrick’s donor also lives on in him.

Again, from the prophet Alma:

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. – Book of Mormon, Alma 7:12

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Our Savior voluntarily laid down his life. He suffered pain and sorrow so great he bled from every pore. He hung and he suffered and he died. For us. His mother and his friends wept as they watched him die. They laid him in a tomb and they went home mourning. They wondered how and if they would be able to go on. And all of it. For us.

And on the third day, the returned to find the tomb empty. Because Jesus had risen. For us. He overcame death. And because he rose, we will rise. And death is not forever. Loss and sorrow and separation need not last forever. Because of Him.

I see in transplant a whisper of this promise. It is possible to conquer death. And I know that Christ has conquered death and that my son, if he dies, will live again. And so will his donor.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? – 1 Corinthians 15:55

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Weakness

If you are a medical nerd like me with an interest in transplant, I highly recommend that you sometime read the autobiography of Thomas Starzl, the inventor of transplant. It is called The Puzzle People and it is fascinating to read the journey, the determination, the trial and constant failure that led to this amazing medical breakthrough. It was an amazing confirmation to me that God inspires science and discovery and he leads human beings to be able to master the eternal laws that govern the world we live in.

I’ve learned that in science there are also important eternal lessons. And in transplant, there is an important lesson taught about weakness.

You see, in his early experiments, Dr. Starzl found that he had mastered the surgical technique of transplantation. And yet he struggled as recipients rejected the life-saving organs because they were foreign and seen by the immune system as a threat.

Transplantation did not move from the realm of science fiction into medical science until Dr. Starzl discovered how to use immunosuppression to weaken the body’s defenses enough to accept the transplanted organ. Transplant of larger, more complex organs wasn’t possible until the discovery of a drug called FK506, better known as Prograf, that could weaken the body’s natural immune response enough to protect the transplanted graft. The reason that intestinal transplant is so new and so rare is that the intestine is so large and so intertwined with the body’s immune system that it took such a high degree of immunosuppressive therapy.

In layman’s terms, in order for the body to accept a change as large as transplant, it first had to be made weak. Weak enough to be susceptible to infection and illness.

For the week following transplant, Patrick stayed in the ICU so that he could be given a drug that completely wiped out his immune system. It removed it so completely that they then prescribed him a year of antibiotics, antivirals, and isolation in order to try to protect him. All of his defenses were removed. Because that is the only way to prevent his body from immediately rejecting the gift he had been given.

The apostle Paul wrote about an unnamed affliction that plagued him for years. He frequently prayed and asked for this “thorn in his side” to be removed. And yet, it never was. After much time and certainly much struggle, he recorded the Lord’s response to his pleas.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Sometimes, the Lord gives us strength through weakness. Sometimes he leaves us with a thorn in our side, with prayers that seem unanswered, with trials that seem neverending. He does it because sometimes the only way for us to be prepared to receive His gifts.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6

Christ atoned for the sins of the world, taking upon him every sin and sorrow and transgression. But what good is that gift if we, thinking our own defenses are strong enough, reject His grace. Sometimes, it takes weakness first for God to work the change in us that will make us strong. Not all healing is painless.

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I am so grateful for Jesus Christ. For His resurrection. For His atonement. For His grace and for His love. I know He lives.

I see reminders of His gifts and His promise of life all around me. In the tulips and the tree blossoms. In tender shoots in garden beds. In the sparrows. And especially in my son.

We are doing well. Patrick’s responded well to the antibiotics he was started on last week. His liver numbers are normal again. We are still giving IV antibiotics. Therefore we are sleepy. But we are happy. And we are healthy. We had a great Easter full of bunnies and feasting and magnificent sermons. This life is not always easy, but it is good. We are blessed.

Transplant Day 17 and feeling better

During the night, Patrick’s temperature got higher (but just under the official fever line) until, at midnight, he woke up feeling uncomfortable. The nurse brought him some pain medicine and it seemed to break. By this afternoon, Patrick’s temperature was back to normal. Who knows what exactly triggered the change, but he certainly seems to feel better today.

Today’s been very VERY quiet. So much so that Brian and I are getting more than a little stir crazy. We held our first family Primary (sunday school) this morning. We colored. We went for several walks the entire length of the pediatric unit. Patrick and I snuggled up and read books. We played with almost all of Patrick’s toys. And we got to video chat with my family at the end of their Sunday dinner.

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Patrick’s feeds are up once more. And otherwise, things still seem to be moving in the right direction.

So – with so little news, I thought we’d start a little educational series about what changes transplant means.

Let’s start with what changed. Patrick was born with Short Bowel Syndrome meaning that his entire small intestine and 2/3 of his large intestine were missing. Over time, his liver has become scarred by TPN. So he had a multivisceral transplant.

This is the anatomy of a normal GI tract.

regular-anatomy

The greyed out portions are the parts of Patrick’s anatomy that were missing.

short-gut-anatomy

The in this image, the purple portions are what was transplanted.

transplant-anatomy

Patrick was given a new liver, duodenum, small intestine and pancreas. The pancreas comes along as part of the liver/intestine transplant package because those organs are all connected. To make room for the new organs (and because of other complications) they removed both Patrick’s gall bladder and spleen.

Normally, they also remove part of the stomach to make room for the transplanted organs to swell. However, because we asked for Patrick’s g-tube to be saved (because we didn’t think he’d be good long-term needing a tube in his nose) the surgeon saved most of his stomach, but divided his duodenum into a Y shape that should keep him from having too much trouble with reflux. (The sphincter of the stomach can’t be saved in this type of transplant, so they have to build in a different mechanism. Also, for some reason making the stomach smaller in transplant is important because most often the underlying disease makes the stomach not work as well.) If you follow along with medical stuff at all, this procedure is called a roux-en-y.

Having no spleen does leave Patrick with an extra level of being immune compromised. He’ll have to be on penicillin for the rest of his life. However, his spleen had been so damaged because of infection and TPN-associated liver damage that it wasn’t going to do him much good anyway.  Kids with intestine problems often develop problems with their gall bladders, too.. so that just got to go.

Obviously, this was a huge surgery, as they removed or replaced pretty much everything between Patrick’s stomach and colon. And that means a lot of immune suppressants to prevent rejection. But, the new liver will actually help prevent rejection of all the other organs.

And that is what we’ll call Patrick’s new anatomy 101.

Transplant day 4

IMG_20141103_114027 IMG_20141103_164934Today was a hard day for Patrick. It seemed to start out ok. His nurse overnight did a great job keeping him comfortable. At 6 he was well rested and talkative, though a little sad. His nose was itchy and when he rubbed it, the cannula in his nose rubbed just enough to make it bleed.  His oxygen saturation was low, so we had to suction his nose, too, which is pretty awful for him. But, with Daddy cuddling, all was good for a few hours. Until they wanted him up to walk. That hurt.

When he got to the chair (about 2 feet away), he was sore and tired, but in good enough spirits that he dared work himself down into his favorite snuggly sleep position. That’s when the trouble started. Snuggling down made his oxygen saturation dip even lower. Soon, his nurse came back to suction his nose, really thoroughly this time. He was hysterical.  And, it didn’t help.

So they decided to call for a chest x-ray and his nurse had him walk back to his bed for it. He was already sore from fighting the suction and walking was agony.  But when he was done walking, he still had to sit up straight on the bed and have an x-ray taken. And I had to step out of the room while they did it.

Unfortunately, that x-ray showed that Patrick has gunk in his lungs and fluid buildup around his lungs. (They run a ton of extra fluid in the first couple of days after a transplant to make sure the veins stay open and happy so the graft will take… All that fluid has been just sitting in Patrick’s tissues and he was rather plump and sore this morning.)

They’d already started him on a medication to help him get rid of the fluid. They decided to order some medicine to help him cough. Patrick is refusing to cough. So they gave something IV and then brought a mask to administer a breathing treatment with.

That was the end. Patrick didn’t want a mask on his face. (I’m sure he’s seen enough of them in the OR.) He toughed it out the first few 10 second tries I did for him… But then he decided to fight… And when I tried to help hold him because he was fighting… Well, he lost it. Kicking, screaming, squirming, fighting with all his strength. This is amazing considering how little strength he has. But it surely left him worn out.

The breathing treatment didn’t work. They had to increase his oxygen several times to get things stable. Patrick was spent. He just sat there, not moving, not talking. I finally told the doctor that this wasn’t like him. We were going backward if he’d lost his words again.

They listened. They let him rest. They added some pain medications. They ordered a different kind of breathing treatment that just gently massages his sides to break up the junk in his lungs. And he has done better. He’s seeming calm. He’s slept a bit. His vital signs look a little bit better. And I’ve learned my lesson about letting them push him. Patrick is not one to be pushed.  Challenged, yes.. But not compelled. I won’t let tomorrow go this way.

The hardest thing about the day is how just plain sad Patrick was. Because it was Monday, we had a parade of people in and out all day introducing themselves: social work, ostomy team. nurse coordinators, child life, and on, and on. And all the while Patrick just sat there looking like he wanted to cry but with a firm determination he wasn’t going to cry in front of anyone. And anytime I tried to talk to him about it, either his oxygen saturation would drop or someone new would come in.

He’s figured out he has an ostomy. (Where the intestine is brought outside the abdomen in one spot and drains into a bag.) He needs this so they can monitor for rejection for a year. I’m sure he’s confused. But anytime I’d try to help explain, there was one more person. Always trying to cheer him up. Some days, you don’t want to be cheered up. Some days you need to cry.

I think the treatment plan is better now. I’ll spend the night in the room tonight to keep an eye on things and to help him feel comforted. Tomorrow is another day. (And hopefully a good one, as tomorrow Brian goes home to get what Patrick and I need to stay here for a while and I’m gonna be on my own.)

We did have some good things in the day. Brian made it to Walmart which means we have food and socks (only I packed socks in the hurry to leave) and slippers for Patrick and some other needs. We got a lot of answers to questions we’ve had from the people who came by and called.  I got time to get some of the e-mails and phone calls taken care of to tie up loose ends at home.

And in a very special bright spot, Patrick received 35 e-cards today. How amazing it was to read words of encouragement and support from friends and family and also from people we have never before met. I’ll admit, that is what got me through the moment today when my heart was breaking.

Thank you. Thank you!

Patrick’s Getting a Transplant – Day 1 (and a half)

Last night, as Brian and I were turning off the lights to go to sleep, my cell phone rang in my hand. I looked at the caller ID and my heart skipped a beat. It was the transplant team. It was 10:30 p.m. It took me 2 rings to get the courage to answer.

Patrick’s transplant coordinator asked how his health had been, and then she told me that she was calling because they had received an offer for donor organs for Patrick.

I thought I’d be excited when this call came. I was not. I wanted to shout “NO” and hang up the phone. Patrick has been having a very good year. His health has been good. He is loving kindergarten and for the first time has had friends his age. I’d just helped to a Halloween party in his class. It was a hit and he’d had a great time. We’ve gotten in to one of the best mental health programs in the state and were making good progress with his attention and behavior. We’d been trying a medication for his ADHD and it was a hard adjustment, but it seemed to be helping. He’s been learning to read. And I just planned his birthday cake and finished wrapping his presents.

Did I want to change any of that!? NO!

But at the same time, we know a very hard truth. Patrick has been defying odds as he lives with a terminal illness. There is a reason they let us do a wish trip. Patrick is running out of access. His intestines have been redilating and sooner or later would need surgery again. Patrick has been living on borrowed time.

We have said for 5 years that transplant would come at the right time for Patrick. Why that time happened to be during one of the happiest seasons of his life, I don’t know. BUT it did. And we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Who knows when it would come again.

Getting ready to go was a chaotic mess. We had bags packed for us, but needed to pack Patrick’s things. We needed to call insurance and the doctors and somehow get to Primary Children’s, then to Life Flight and then to the Nebraska Medical Center. We needed to gather family to say goodbye and get blessings. And we were supposed to do it in 6 hours.

We didn’t do it in 6 hours. I was too confused. The hospital and Life Flight couldn’t agree.. And it took extra time. And it was ok.

 

Patrick's doctor- with us since we got to Utah, almost as much family as physician

Patrick’s doctor- with us since we got to Utah, almost as much family as physician

We got to the hospital a little after midnight. There, we were met by Patrick’s amazing GI who had come in and stayed up just for us. He wrote orders and then saw us off.

We got to the airport and were met by two amazing nurses and a pilot. Patrick had to ride lying on a gurney, but they managed to make it fun enough that, even though we’d woken him 2 hours after he went to bed (on a day he hadn’t napped), he laughed and played and was ok.

The Life Flight and ambulance teams

The Life Flight and ambulance teams

We arrive at the hospital around 6 a.m. and were shown into the PICU. There was some bustle of admission, but things were pretty quiet. Before long, Patrick had snuggled up and fallen asleep. And so did I.

Eventually, they came for some labs. We let him open his birthday present. Then, Child Life came by and asked if he needed a Halloween costume. As I’d left his awesome purple minion costume at home, we borrowed a Buzz Lightyear. It barely fit, but he was happy. And it came just on time, as the Nurse Practioner told us just then to let him up to move around. We made it out just on time to go trick or treating. Each department of the hospital put together mostly non-food goodies. Patrick happily went to each of them saying “Happy Halloween” and being showered with gifts. He came away with quite the haul. We even made the news.

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Trick or treating in a borrowed costume (with accessories)

Trick or treating in a borrowed costume (with accessories)

About 2/3 around the room of trick or treats, we got a call that they wanted Patrick back in the room for a procedure. We made a hurried run back to the room where they explained that they wanted him to go to interventional radiology to try to place another line. That sounded like a request to do the impossible. It turns out it was hard, but possible. Patrick currently has 6 lumens.

Going down early for this meant that Patrick would need to be intubated and sedated earlier than we expected. It wasn’t worth the risk to wake him up again. So I used the little time that we had before sending him down to try to explain to him what would happen. I could tell he didn’t get it. I could tell he was scared.

But it was time to go. So we did all we could to tell him we loved him and help him feel brave, and then we walked him to the procedure room and kissed him goodbye.

 

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He spent the afternoon intubated and asleep. He woke a little once and made a furious fight to take the breathing tube out of his throat. It took several people to keep him safe until they were able to get some more meds to settle him down. Hard, hard moment.

But the rest of the day was peaceful. With him asleep, they were able to get the other catheters and lines in that they will need to be able to monitor and take care of him during and after the surgery.

Finally, around 6 p.m. they came to take him to the O.R. We sat a bit on pins and needles till them, because until the organs arrived here and were inspected, there is always the chance of the transplant not going through.

It’s 9 p.m. now. The last update said that they were finishing putting in the liver and were just about to start putting in the other organs.

It has been a very emotional day. We have shed tears of fear and of hope and of grief and of joy. We have celebrated a birthday and Halloween and then said goodbye to our son for an indefinite amount of time. We have doubted ourselves, and we’ve been given flashes of reminders of faith. We have been touched again and again by the encouraging words of our family and friends and even of strangers.

Once again, we find our lives entirely overturned. I honestly don’t know how we are going to do this. But I am trusting it is going to be ok.

 

I’d like your help with something, if you don’t mind. Patrick’s birthday celebration got cut short when they took him early to place that line. I’d love for him to wake up to a room full of birthday wishes. Would you consider mailing a birthday card or sending an e-card? Mail to:

Patrick Hoopes
Patient Mail
Room # 5349
P.O. Box 6159
Omaha, NE 68106-0159

or you can send an e-card that will be printed and delivered to him http://www.nebraskamed.com/patients/well-wishers

 

Little Heroes

You’ve gotta see this story!

http://www.abc4.com/content/news/top_stories/story/Donor-transplant-brings-two-Utah-families-together/_A0j2PcCfEOkr4N_XWaMmw.cspx.

As you know, Patrick attends a weekly play and music group for children with a variety of health problems. One of my heroes from this group is a little girl named London, or as those who know her call her, Lulu.

Lulu had a liver transplant a year ago. When she first came to our play group, her mom immediately recognized Patrick’s TPN, having been on it herself when she was at her sickest. Lulu is one of the most vibrant, outgoing little girls that I’ve ever met. She and Patrick seemed to have an instant draw to each other.

One other thing they have in common is that Lulu’s family, like ours, is trying to raise awareness of the need for organ donors. Both of us have been active in working with Yes Utah, our local organ donation awareness organization, and in sharing our stories to help encourage people to sign up as donors.

Last night, Lulu’s story was featured on the evening news. A transcript of the story has been published here. (Just in case you didn’t click on the link at the top of this page.)

Please read it, and share it. And if you aren’t already registered, please consider registering as an organ donor.. and make sure your family knows of your desire to be an organ donor.

On another note, we never got a call yesterday inviting us to come up to X-ray, so that test will probably happen sometime next week. I’ll admit, I didn’t mind much. Patrick and I were both burned out from the previous two days and it was a rare treat to get to spend the day at home. Chris, his developmental specialist came to play. Patrick adores this man and LOVES their visits. Then his cousins stopped by for a short play time. And then, after dinner, we curled up on the beanbag movie and watched Cars.

I suppose that that’s only a partially true statement. Patrick was all over the room, but he returned regularly to cuddle with me or to tickle or to blow zrbbts on my tummy. This is the first time Patrick’s seen the movie Cars and, as I had predicted, he loved it. He’d return often to just sit with me and watch a scene or two. He got especially excited whenever Mater appeared on the screen.

And then, after Patrick was in bed, Brian finally made it home from Chicago. There is so much comfort just in having him here. And it was so nice to have extra hands when Patrick pulled his usual trick of picking his central line dressing off during the night so we had to change it first thing in the morning.

Today I’m proudly sporting a new Giordano’s t-shirt that Brian brought back for me. In case you don’t know, Giordano’s is the best Chicago-style pizza chain on the planet. And if I can’t have the food (Howie’s trying not to rub in the fact that he had Chicago-style pizza not just once, but twice this week), at least I can wear the schwag.