Tag Archives: liver woes

Adoption memories

We had Patrick’s g-tube study done. (Great results! Nothing wrong. Just a slightly upward angle that makes positioning the tube tricky.) As part of the history, they asked when the gastrostomy (g-tube hole) was created and I realized last night that I could have answered “exactly two years ago.”

Why do I remember that? Well, because exactly two years ago yesterday, the court officially named us as Patrick’s legal guardians. It was the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten.

A friend of mine has been doing something special this month on her blog. Because it’s national adoption awareness month, she’s been posting daily adoption related posts. She invited me to be a guest blogger and, by coincidence, will be running my post today… a very significant 2 year adoption anniversary for us.

So, I thought I’d share with you what I wrote for her. Here goes:

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Ours is not a typical adoption story, because Patrick is not a typical little boy. His life was meant to be something different, something miraculous, and so it required that it start in a very different and miraculous way.

But my part of the story starts the way a lot of others do. We wanted to have children. When that didn’t happen easily, we involved doctors. For years, we went through the ups and downs of charting and temperature taking, tests and medications. Finally, after several years and a minor surgery, our doctor sat us down for “the talk.” He explained that there were several causes of my infertility. The cards were, essentially, stacked against us. He still felt it very possible that we could have children, but only with major medical intervention. We had some big choices to make.

We talked about it and we prayed about it. And then, that Sunday, as we sat in church, we received a clear answer that it was time for us to stop medical treatments. Our child would come to us through adoption.

With a path finally before us, we moved forward quickly. I’ve never felt so driven to do anything before in my life. In under a month, we completed the application process, training classes, and were mostly done with our home study.

During our home visit, we had a conversation with our case worker that would play a major part in bringing Patrick into our family. She’d looked at our “preferences checklist” and noted that we seemed more open than most to adopting a child with special needs. We explained that we felt that adoption was a faith process. We believe that Heavenly Father puts families together. We knew we’d never turn away a child born to us with medical problems. So, if God was in charge of adoptions, too, then why would we limit His options? We knew Heavenly Father would help us find our child and that, if the child really belonged in our family, race and health wouldn’t stand in the way.

We decided to adopt in June. Our application was approved in September and we hunkered down for a nice long wait. We figured two years, at the least, was the average we’d heard. And still, by the end of October it felt like far too long. My heart ached for a child it knew was missing.

Then, on a very snowy morning the first week of November, my phone rang. It was my case worker. She started out by saying, “There was a little boy born on Halloween in Michigan.” My heart skipped a beat. I grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and started scribbling notes. She told me he was Korean. And then, she went on to tell me that he’d had a birth defect. His intestines had developed on the outside of his abdomen. The doctors were saying he had a life expectancy of 1 to 2 years. They needed to find an adoptive home quickly because doctors wanted to discharge him from the hospital. All she could tell me about his family that his birth mother wanted him to be able to go to the temple to be sealed to a family.

She said she’d send an e-mail with more information and a picture. She encouraged me to talk to Brian and decide if we’d like to be among those families considered to adopt this little boy, and then to call her and let her know.

As soon as I gathered myself, I called Brian. But he wasn’t at his desk. Meanwhile, two e-mails arrived. One was a short paragraph from the baby’s caseworker in Michigan explaining his medical needs and the unconventional and hurried search for parents. In the other were two photographs of a sweet little Korean boy with great big eyes and an IV in his head.

Since Brian wasn’t at his desk, I called the insurance company to find out if this we even had coverage to pay for this kind of medical problem.

That’s how Brian first found out about the offer. While I was on hold with the insurance company, he called back on my cell phone, so he heard me finish the conversation about “preexisting conditions” and “adoption”.

I gave Brian the information and, after a quick moment of thought, he said he’d come right home.

We had a prayer together, then went to the temple – the perfect setting to make decisions about life and death and eternity.

I knew that families are eternal. I knew that mortality is not the end of life. And yet, I was filled with grief. It was as if I’d just been told I was carrying a child with a terminal illness, but he wasn’t even mine yet. And I was scared. I didn’t know if I was ready to leave the life I knew then.. abandon it all, and become mom to a child who would need so much help, and who had such an uncertain future.

Still, when Brian turned to me and said, “I think we should pursue this,” my heart leapt with joy.

So, we called our caseworker and gave her a list of questions we had. And then we went to visit our parents. We felt we should tell them about the offer, because we knew that whatever happened, we were never going to be the same. And we both wanted father’s blessings. We showed them the little boy with the angel eyes and explained that we didn’t know if he was ours.. But from that moment, all of our families were praying for a little boy whom the e-mail called “Patrick.”

That was Wednesday. Thursday, I sent a copy of our profile. Friday afternoon, as I on my lunch break with Brian, our case worker called my cell phone. The birth family had seen our profile and had chosen us to adopt their baby.

Now, we had a choice to make. Because we’d been selected, we could finally start filling in the gaps in the medical information we were getting. And boy, where there gaps! We called the baby’s caseworker, who referred us to the hospital social worker. Finally, we decided we needed to talk to doctors, and we needed to do it face to face.

I called my mom and told her to take my credit card and buy airplane tickets. Then, I went back to work, explained what had happened, and asked for a leave of absence. After that, we went to the adoption agency where we signed pre-placement paperwork required for us see the baby in the hospital.

Friday night, we tried to get ready. We booked a long-term stay hotel room. We faxed legal documents to Michigan. We make a shopping list of nursery items. And we tried to pack.

I packed my bags that night not knowing what exactly I was packing for. We still didn’t know enough to say if we could take care of this baby. We didn’t know if or when he’d be discharged. We didn’t know how long it would take before we’d be given permission to leave the state again.

And yet, Saturday morning as I sat on a plane to Detroit, 10 rows ahead of my husband, I felt a quiet, happy calm. If nothing else, I knew it would be ok.

We met Patrick, his family, and his doctor Saturday night. It wasn’t what we expected. Due to unforeseen problems, things were tense at the hospital when we arrived. We felt like we knew nothing at all about his condition when we heard the doctor’s account. His case was much more severe than we’d understood, but the immediate prognosis was better.

At last, they led us to his room. My first impression was of how small he was. He was SO tiny! Just a little ball with wires and tubes attached. Without them, you’d have never guessed there was anything wrong.

They let me hold him while we talked. He felt so small and fragile.

I thought that the moment I met my baby, or the moment I held him, that I’d know he was mine. But that isn’t what happened for me. There were too many questions, still and I’d have to wait for that confirmation.

Sunday, we arranged to spend the day with Patrick. The nurses were so kind to let us change his diapers and help with other aspects of his care. I sat for hours singing him lullabies and watching monitors and letting him sleep.

When we arrived, the nurses warned us that he had a reputation as a very irritable little boy. There was even a sign on his door warning not to wake him. He was famous for screaming hysterically if his sleep was interrupted. But that’s not the baby I met. He was just a sweet, tiny little boy who wanted to be held.

I remember singing to him: “I am a child of God, and he has sent me here. Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.” And my voice choked on the words because I knew that right at that moment, Patrick didn’t have that. I couldn’t imagine how any little boy could go through all he’d need to go through alone.

That night, as we looked at pictures from the day, I came across one that showed just his face with a white background. I knew, when I saw that picture, that I loved him.. and I wanted to keep him.

Monday morning, we held a “family conference.” It was a business day so we finally had been able to confirm that there were doctors to take care of him at our hospital at home. Our insurance confirmed that he’d be covered. Brian needed to hop on a plane to go back to work. (He was running a conference that week.) So, knowing we had the resources to provide for his physical needs, we asked Patrick if he’d like to be a part of our family. I swear, he looked up at Brian and smiled.

The case worker rushed to the hospital and by 1, we’d signed paperwork, and I was on my way to the airport with my husband. I was staying behind to start a whole new life.

The next few weeks in Michigan are among the sweetest of my life. With nothing else to do but hold my new baby and learn to care for him, I virtually lived in the NICU. My mom came for a week and shared with me in Patrick’s first feeding, first bath, and first time wearing real clothes. This time was also some of the hardest I’d experienced as I received a trial by fire as a mom of a child with major health problems. Patrick had his second surgery the day Brian flew back to be with us.

Two weeks after we signed papers, on my birthday, the birth parents appeared in court, and we were named as Patrick’s legal guardians. A week later, we had permission to bring him home. At 4 a.m. Thanksgiving day, Patrick and I arrived at Primary Children’s Hospital by air ambulance. He’d spend the next few weeks there as the doctors here got to know him and made arrangements for us to take care of him at home.

Because of his medical needs, the courts granted an early finalization of his adoption and we were able to take Patrick to the temple to be sealed as a forever family in February when he was just 4 months old.

Patrick just turned 2. He is an active, happy toddler who loves cars and music and Elmo. He is a living miracle! Patrick’s birth defect came with a rare complication. As a result, at birth he was missing over 95% of his small intestine. Without intestine, he doesn’t get nutrition by eating. In fact, eating large amounts puts him at risk for dehydration and bowel obstruction. Instead, he is entirely dependent on a form of IV nutrition called TPN. He has a permanent IV tunneled through his chest, into a vein in his chest or neck that runs to his heart.

The TPN leads to complications like infection and liver disease. In his short 2 years of life he has already struggled with both. Patrick’s doctors warned us before we adopted him that we’d become such regulars in the E.R. that we’d be on a first name basis with the staff. We soon found that to be true not just for the E.R. staff, but also the IV team, the infectious disease team, the PICU team, most of the residents, several of the medical students, and the entire gastroenterology department.

At 9 months old, as a result of infection, Patrick’s heart stopped. The fact that he is alive now is nothing short of a miracle. No doctor who hears his story and then meets him can help but confess that he has beaten the odds in countless ways.

Patrick will eventually need an intestinal transplant. He is already running out of places to put new IV’s and each new infection makes him a little more fragile.

Since they don’t do intestinal transplants where we live, we have chosen to have Patrick listed at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Patrick has been on the waiting list since April of 2009. He is status 1A and will have his transplant is soon as a donor match is found.

People try to tell us sometimes what a tremendous thing we did in adopting Patrick. We don’t really feel it’s something we can take credit for. As we told our caseworker when this all started, Heavenly Father puts families together. He knew Patrick needed us. And what’s more, He knew we needed Patrick.

Raising Patrick has taught us more about life than any other experience. We have learned to rely entirely on the Lord. We have learned to live each moment to it’s fullest. We have learned to lean on one another when things are hard and we to trust in hands of friends and strangers when we felt too weak to stand on our own. And we have learned to love like we didn’t know it was possible to love.

Relieving pressure

With Patrick, there are certain chain reactions you can count on. An infection will make Patrick’s spleen go into defensive mode and hold all the platelets that pass through it, kind of like people who hear a natural disaster is coming and run to the store and buy up all the food so that they’ll be prepared in case of emergency.

When the spleen sequesters (or hoards) platelets, Patrick becomes anemic. Without platelets in the blood, there’s a lot more fluid floating around in Patrick’s veins. The veins become “leaky” and the extra fluid goes and sits in any space it can find in the body.

Eventually Patrick becomes a little marshmellow baby that feels like he’s made of concrete because of all the extra fluid he’s carrying.

Last night, we added an element to this problem. When Patrick had enough fluid in his body, it became too heavy for his lungs to be able to move oxygen well and the oxygen saturation in his body dropped.

We discovered this problem as I finally got him to bed around 10 p.m. His nurse came in and put him on oxygen and then called the doctors. This started a better chain reaction for Patrick.

The extra oxygen was enough to finally mellow him out enough to sleep. Although he just kept getting puffier and puffier and needed more and more oxygen, he finally felt well enough to sleep. His kind nurse came in and held him which allowed me to get some much needed sleep.

The doctors prescribed a diuretic called Lasix that helps make it easier to shed extra fluid from the body. With just a half dose, Patrick started to to look and feel better. By his late afternoon nap, he almost looked like himself and I didn’t think my arms were going to fall off from the effort of picking him up. Better yet, his oxygen saturation improved enough that this evening they dared take off the tube that holds the oxygen on.

The best part of this chain reaction is that as Patrick is getting to feel better.. the infection clearing now that the line is out – and an end to the fluid overload problem have made it so he can finally rest. He actually was able to take naps today at their regular times, and fell asleep right about 9 p.m… not too far different from the home routine.

I’m really happy with how today went.. We just need to  make it the next couple of days without a central line and without running out of places for peripheral IV’s.

Just wanted to share that good news. There’s probably more to blog about, but I’m going to take advantage of the change to actually get some sleep tonight without having to call in reinforcements.

All too familiar

Here we are again. Back at Primary Children’s hospital – battling yeast yet again.

Sunday morning, Patrick developed a fever. It started low, but after a couple of hours, it was evident that he didn’t feel well. It seemed to both Brian and myself that he was trying to communicate with us that he wasn’t feeling well and needed help.

We’d made it through 2 hours of church, but decided it best to leave before Sacrament meeting was over. We got home, took his temperature – 101.4 – and he was starting to have chills. So we packed up and headed to the E.R. as quickly as possible.

Once we arrived, things were pretty much the usual drill.. they gave him some Motrin, took his history, drew blood cultures and started antibiotics and antifungals.

It didn’t take long for us to get into a room. But we started out right away with excitement. Before the nurse had even finished her initial assessment, Brian noticed hives forming next to Patrick’s ears. Within 5 minutes he was covered with hives from head to toe and his lips and eyes were starting to swell. They turned off the antifungal medicine and the reaction stopped and started to reverse. We think that they ran that medicine faster than his body’s used to and it caused the reaction, but it was a very scary moment to think that our preferred antifungal medication might suddenly have become off limits.

That night, Patrick was really, really sick. His fever reached over 104 degrees and he was sick to his stomach. We barely slept at all. The only rest he got was if he had both Tylenol and Motrin in his system. The problems continued through the next day and the antibiotics and antifungals didn’t seem to be making much difference until afternoon when his fever finally broke for the first time.. But his blood cultures stayed negative all day.

Around 8 p.m. a doctor came to visit us, though, and gave us results. Patrick has yeast in his bloodstream again.

The rest isn’t unexpected, but that doesn’t make it easier. Today’s been scary, stressful, and exhausting. Especially since Patrick is not cooperating with me about sleeping in his bed and neither one of us has had a good night’s sleep since we got here.

We talked to the doctors early and they confirmed that we needed to pull out his line. They also explained that Patrick’s spleen, yet again, is sequestering platelets and his blood counts are falling to dangerous levels. This means transfusions again with all the potential complications that come with that.

We spent the morning getting a little more settled in. Social work and child life came to visit. Child life talked about ways that we can help Patrick to be less afraid while he’s here. They brought him a baby doll with a little oxygen mask and blood pressure cuff to show him that they’re ok. He gave the doll lots of kisses and snuggles.. But took the blood pressure cuff off.. I think he was protecting it. They came along to all the following tests and surgery, too, to help minimize the trauma of these procedures. This was a new experience, but he seemed to enjoy it.

We went down to ultrasound around noon. They were looking for fungal balls in his organs. The poor radiology tech and radiologist were very confused trying to understand the anatomy they were seeing. I tried to explain that his gut looks funny and that his gall bladder is so small it’s almost invisible.. but they still were pretty sure his small intestine was his gall bladder. As we were leaving, the technician said “He looks so healthy, though”.. implying that on the insides he looks far from healthy.

When we got back from ultrasound Brian was waiting for us. He’d been given the afternoon off of work to come help. I was so grateful he was here!

We hurried and got ready for surgery. Just as we were about ready, the resident from the infectious disease team came to examine Patrick and take a history. Surgery showed up to take us down before he’d finished his exam. Patrick was jumping on the bed. I said to Brian “He’s just jumping because he knows he’s about to loose his foot”, referring to the fact that he’d come back from surgery with an IV in at least one foot. The guy from surgery looked up and said “Wait. What? Do I have the wrong kid?” We had a good laugh after that.

We went down to surgery with the child life specialist and infectious disease doctor in tow. After talking to the anesthesiologist, we sent Patrick on his way in a crib full of toys. Then we sat down to finish the history with infectious disease. Before we finished, Patrick’s surgeon came in.

Dr. Rollins, the surgeon, talked to us about what a dangerous situation we are in as Patrick is running out of more and more places to put lines. We’re aware of this, but hearing it vocalized by our surgeon made it all the more real.

Worse yet, he called from the OR as they were trying to place peripheral IV’s to tell us that they couldn’t get them in and to ask my permission to put in a “shallow central” line in his leg or neck. Apparently, they’d stuck him 8 times attempting to place a peripheral IV.

In the end, though, they got 2 peripheral IV’s in. Infectious disease didn’t like the idea of using a central line at all and asked them not to leave one in. So we find ourselves in a scary position now. Patrick needs IV’s for his nutrition and medication. He also needs to have labwork drawn to keep a close eye on his fragile health.. and we don’t know where else they can get needles in.

After talking to the surgeon, they let me go back to the recovery room where I found Patrick just by following his screams. He was hysterical and they told me that the anesthesiologist had prescribed me as his pain medicine. So I sat and rocked him and eventually got from screams to whimpers to sleeping.. But that was the situation for the next 5 hours or so. Patrick screamed bloody murder whenever anyone but me or Brian touched him. He was only content being held and rocked by one of us.

He just woke up about half an hour ago, though.. and for once seems back to himself. They gave him medicine for nausea and started his last transfusion of the day and it seems to have him finally feeling better. The best news is that he doesn’t have a fever.

Right now, he and his daddy and playing with toys in his crib. He’s not 100%, but doing ok for now.

Prayers for IV’s to last, for veins to be found when needed, and for Patrick to feel comfort in a very scary situation would be appreciated.

The attending from infectious disease explained that they don’t think this is the result of an untreated infection. The previous infection didn’t grow back. Instead they think these infections are coming from his gut.. and we don’t know how to stop that for now.

A lot is still up in the air. I’ll post more as I know it.

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.

So what is tomorrow’s surgery, anyway?

We’ve had a lot of questions recently about Patrick’s surgery. Seems that there’s some questions about what exactly is going on. I’m going to attempt to explain what is happening in this blog post.

First, though… This is not his transplant, nor does it eliminate the need for his transplant.

Patrick is scheduled to have his small and large intestines reconnected tomorrow. To understand why this is necessary, let me tell you a little bit about his anatomy. While the average small intestine is about 20 feet long, Patrick was born with just 10-15 centimeters of small intestine. He has under a third of his large intestine. Because the large intestine has never been used, it is pencil thing. In contrast, the small intestine has been trying to adapt, which means it is larger in diameter than it would normally be. Here are a couple of images taken in April that might help you to visualize what that means.

From The Hoopes’s’s
From The Hoopes’s’s

The small intestine has three parts with 3 different roles. You can read about them here. Patrick only has the first part, the duodenum, which is very short, and an equal portion of the second, the jejunum.

The surgeons at the hospital where Patrick was born were not comfortable trying to put two pieces that were so very different in size together. Instead, they opted to create an “ostomy”, or “outward hole”. They made a whole in his side and brought the end of his small intestine out through it.

This option has it’s advantages. It’s easier to keep his skin healthy. (Patrick’s small intestine ends before stomach acid is reabsorbed so his stool can easily burn the skin.) And it’s easier to track fluids lost so that we can replace the water and electrolytes he loses. (The small intestine also ends before water and electrolytes used in digestion are reabsorbed.)

However, Patrick’s transplant surgeon and GI have asked us to take down the ostomy and connect his intestines. There are risks in having an ostomy. As his liver begins to scar, it will start looking for other ways to send blood away from it. The result is that smaller vessels will carry more blood than is usual (hyperportal tension) and a stoma could start bleeding uncontrollably.

Furthermore, the colon, while it doesn’t absorb nutrition, does absorb some bile and water and electrolytes, so in the end Patrick might lose less. This would mean he could eat more without it becoming dangerous for him.

Finally, Dr. Reyes says that he’s learned over the last 20 years that patients whose colon is in use, rather than having an ostomy, fare the wait for a transplant better. The body is happier when all the organs that can be working are. And the colon sends bile and water back to the liver, which is the liver’s version of job satisfaction. It will work better because it’s getting a positive response from it’s work.

So… the next questions you ask me are these.

1) Does this mean he won’t need a transplant as badly? No. Although the intestine does a fabulous job of adapting when it’s shortened, Patrick still is missing the vital section called the ileum where all the nutrition is absorbed. Without it, he is TPN dependent, which is where the risk to his life lies.

2) Will his diapers be normal? Well, yes and no. He will poo now. But it will still be mostly water and bile, kind of like a severe case of diarreah. We’ve been told we’ll change at least 12 diapers a day and need to use heavy duty diaper creams in order to keep the skin from breaking down in diaper rash or worse. We will also probably have to do some form of “double diapering” to prevent against explosive leaks that are common in kids with short gut and to be able to continue to monitor the fluids he loses so they can be replaced.

3) What will his recovery time be? We’ve been told to expect at least a week of recovery. He’ll go first to the PICU because he failed extubation in July. The critical care doctors will then be able to wean him off of the ventilator at a pace that is better for him. Once he can breathe on his own, he might be transferred to the infant unit… or he might stay in the PICU. It all depends on how his recovery goes.

4) Is this a risky surgery? Well, yes. With the run of infections Patrick has had lately, they are operating with him not quite as healthy as they would normally ask. There are risks of the connection leaking, or losing even more of his intestine, of the wound not healing because the skin where they are operating is so frequently exposed to stool. It’s also risky to reintubate Patrick right now. But, the risks of bleeding from his stoma are worse and Patrick is the healthiest he has been all summer, so it’s a chance we need to take.

5) What will happen on surgery day? We’ll get the time for surgery this evening. Tomorrow Patrick will fast. We’ll be admitted through outpatient surgery because Patrick’s surgeon was scheduled to be off tomorrow and added Patrick on because it was the time that was best for Patrick. The wait for surgery itself is always a bit nebulous. We’ll meet a surgery nurse and an anesthesiologist, and then finally Dr. Rollins will come talk to us.

In addition to the intestinal surgery, Patrick will have a liver biopsy, have his PICC line removed and a new broviac line placed, and have a scope done by urology to look for scarring from the catheter he had placed in July while he was in the PICU. The total OR time scheduled is about 3 1/2 hours.

We’ll wait in a parent’s waiting room where they’ll come to keep us up to date. Then instead of going to recovery, he’ll go straight to the PICU.

6) Are you nervous? It’s always hard to take your child who is healthy and happy and playing to a surgery knowing that there are risks involved… and even in best case scenario, knowing he won’t feel well for several weeks afterwards. However, we’ve been praying about this and feel calm that things will go as they’re meant to.

So – there you go. All you could hope to know about tomorrow’s surgery. We’ll do our best to keep you updated as soon as we know what’s happening. Most of the time, we’re waiting for answers, too.

Thanks for your continued prayers and support.

Inch by inch

Patrick is now 22 inches long and weighs a whopping 7 lbs 11.8 oz. Now, I understand this is small to some, but this means that he is just about out of his newborn size clothes… So right now, it’s HUGE to us! I can’t believe how well he’s growing. The doctors are pleased too.

The story of this week has been trying to get settled into a non-holiday routine. We had our last wonderful daddy-home days this week as the holidays came to a close. We went to bed early on New Year’s Eve because Patrick was willing, but still celebrated a bit when it was time for his midnight feeding. New Year’s day, Howie took some pictures of Patrick (just to see if the backdrop worked). We also watched a few bowl games and went to the mall just to have a warm place to go for a walk to help a bit with the cabin fever we’ve been experiencing.

While there, we bought Patrick his first church clothes. They’re overalls, of course, because that’s the best option of pants to protect his central line. And they’re also huge on him right now, since we bought 0-3. But I’m such a proud mama with a son wearing real clothes instead of just jammies all the time.

Medical milestones this week… They readjusted Patrick’s TPN (iv nutrition) to a 22 hour schedule instead of 24. This gave him 2 hours a day disconnected, which sounds pretty fun, but he’s decided is his preferred time for sleeping, so I don’t think he knows much difference. This week we go to 20 hours… we’ll see how that goes.

We’ve had to start doing a lot of replacement fluids this week. He doesn’t have the right portion of intestine to reabsorb stomach juices so he’s at a really high risk for dehydration. We keep track of all the fluids he loses and then calculate what he needs to have given back. Previously, we hadn’t been replacing much… But this week things got really high. That means one of two things. 1) He might be sick and just manifesting it differently. Fortunately, though, no fevers so far. 2) He might have just hit his limit for oral feedings. We’d been increasing things, and this might just be all that he can handle.

In other news, his labs this week are starting to show the beginnings of liver trouble… which we expected to see at one point or another.. so some adjustments may need to be made to the formula of his TPN. He’s also starting to be a bit anemic again. (Too much labwork required for a kid who’s not old enough to make his own blood cells). I guess it’s time for us to start praying that his body kicks in soon and his blood counts look better. Transfusions put the success of a transplant at risk, so if we can avoid another one, it would be ideal.

Mom and dad are doing fine… Just ever busy and ever sleepy. Fortunately his Christmas sleeper still works wonders and he isn’t up nearly as much at night.