Tag Archives: Seattle Children’s Hospital

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.

Seattle Checkup and a Miraculous Anniversary


Not sure what we were thinking, but 3 days after returning from Yellowstone, we headed up to Seattle. It was time again for Patrick’s quarterly checkup and we decided to keep the vacation going by taking a few extra days and going as a family.

We arrived the day before our appointment and spent the afternoon and evening with our good friends. Lindy, her husband Kelly, and their daughter Lauren live north of Seattle and are kind enough to let us crash their home for these regular checkups. Lauren’s just a few months younger than Patrick and is one of his very favorite friends to play with.

Patrick’s appointment was Thursday afternoon. So, after making a stop for Mighty-O doughnuts (a special treat one of Patrick’s nurses introduced us to), we headed up to Seattle Children’s.

Every visit, they send us a detailed itinerary with individual appointments with his transplant coordinator, dietician, and doctor. But the reality is that they all come into the room at once to see Patrick. His dietician appeared first and couldn’t wait to show me his growth chart. While most kids’ chart shows a nice even curve that tapers off as they get older, Patrick’s has been taking a steep vertical climb lately. He’s in the 50th percentile for weight right now.. However, because he’s only around the 10th percentile for height, this means that he was at about 104% of his target weight. As the team gathered, they couldn’t help commenting on how nice it was to see chunky little legs.

Dr. Horslen, Patrick’s GI, seemed quite happy with how Patrick is doing overall. We talked what Patrick’s eating, how his stomach had been upset by travelling, and some of the strategies being used to prevent infections. Then, after examining Patrick, Dr. Horslen said that he didn’t see a reason for Patrick to need to be seen again as soon. Instead of 3 months, they suggested that we come back in 6. The team in Salt Lake has been doing a great job caring for Patrick and they are happy letting them continue to do so until the transplant comes.

Hearing an enthusiastic clean bill of health (well, except for the Short Gut and obvious problems that come with day to day living) was a special treat on that day. See, July 15th was more than just the day of Patrick’s appointment to me. It was the one-year anniversary of the worst day of my life.. the day of Patrick’s cardiac arrest.

When I look at Patrick now and compare it to what the doctors were telling us was the projected outcome of such a traumatic event I can’t help by say that I believe in miracles. One year before I was watching doctors work frantically and feeling uncertain of what the future could hold. Now, he was full of energy crawling around the doctor’s office, impossible to contain, showing off and flirting as only Patrick can.

After the appointment, we made a quick stop at the Ronald McDonald house to try to get a vision of where it is Patrick and I will be living during his recovery. Patrick LOVED sitting on Ronald’s lap, and especially, for some reason, honking Ronald’s nose. The house is different than I’d imagined, but kind of felt like it could be home for a while.

We decided that dinner that night needed to be something special. Brian suggested a picnic and Lindy and Kelly told us about a place called Carkeek Park in the city.

So, after a short detour chasing down a lost delivery of TPN, we headed into Seattle. We stopped at Pagliacci’s for pizza, then the Laylands guided us to a road where city suddenly turned to beautiful forest that then opened up to a beautiful view of the sound.

We ate dinner, then let the kids play on a little playground in the park. Lauren tried to teach Patrick to climb up the slides.. but in the end, he decided he was a much bigger fan of a giant teeter totter.

Then, we took a bridge with stairs that led us down the bluff and onto the beach.

This was the first time Patrick’s been to a beach and I wasn’t sure what he’d think of it. At first, he wasn’t so certain.. But soon he discovered the joy of walking and stomping in the sand.

Before long, he was cheering out loud! Then we sat for a while and watched Lauren, Brian and Kelly throw rocks in the water.

Finally, we decided it was past bedtime and we’d better head back. But to leave, we had to carry Patrick out. He wouldn’t take more than 3 steps without stopping to cheer.

Friday morning, Brian went in to his company’s offices in Seattle for a few hours. That left Lindy, the kids and I to play. We decided to go back to the beach because Patrick loved it so much. This time, we went to a beach about 10 minutes from the Lindy’s house.

Since I hadn’t planned on beach trips, I dressed Patrick in the only clothes I could come up with for the job. For shoes, he borrowed a bright purple pair of Crocs from Lauren. The result was quite the fashion statement.

It was a cold morning, though. Even beach savvy Lauren didn’t want to throw rocks in the water. I took Patrick down to watch the waves but decided it was a bad time to get wet. So I took his hands and went to lead him up the beach. He surprised me, though. He turned around and headed back to the water and stood where the waves would just lap onto his toes. Once he knew that was safe, he crept forward until the water came up to his ankles. Then he stood there until the cold water had him shivering all over.  The only pictures I got there he looks miserable because he was already chilled to the bone. But at least now we can say Patrick’s stood in the surf.

I was grateful for an Ivar’s stand on the way back where we could get some clam chowder to warm us up. Patrick was just grateful for his carseat. He fell asleep immediately and both he and Lauren slept 3 hours.

We went to a japanese steakhouse for dinner. It was a first for everyone but Brian and myself. Most loved the show, but once Patrick saw fire come from the onion and oil volcano, he was pretty nervous about the rest. He was a fan of the chopsticks they gave him to play with, though.. That was our saving grace.

And then, like all good things, our vacation had to come to an end. We flew home Saturday. Patrick showed his true daredevil character on landing. Because of the heat in Salt Lake, the landing was a bit rougher than usual. The girl sitting next to me almost turned green. Then, as we touched down, I looked at Patrick. He was grinning from ear to ear and chuckling. The smile didn’t leave his face until we’d reached the gate. He LOVED the bumps. My little thrill seeker!

I don’t know anyone who loves life as much as Patrick does. Perhaps because so early on he had to fight to keep it. What a miracle it is to share his life with him.

Our Seattle Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 ways you’ll know that Patrick has had his transplant

It seems that our fundraising efforts have created some confusion about Patrick’s transplant. The fact that the Produce for Patrick stands coincided with Patrick’s intestinal reconnection surgery has led a lot of people to believe that transplant has already happened. As much as we wish that were true, Patrick is still waiting for his transplant.

I’m asked every few days how the transplant went. And when I explain that we’re still waiting, the response I almost always get is “Well, you’ll let us know when it does, right?”

So – for all who are afraid that they’ll miss word of Patrick’s transplant, here is a list of ways you’ll know it’s happened. (It’s also a little intro to what we expect life to be like after transplant.)

1) We’ll be in Washington. Patrick is having his transplant done at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

2) Brian will be alone when he’s at home. Patrick needs to live near Seattle Children’s for at least 6 months. I’ll be there with him.

3) Brian will achieve frequent flier status. The plan is for him to go back and forth between cities until Patrick and I can come home.

4) We’ll be germophobes. To prevent rejection, Patrick’s immune system will be suppressed. We won’t often take him into public places, and when we do, he’ll probably be wearing a mask. If you visit us, we’ll demand that you be healthy, and that you make sure to wash your hands… often.

5) Patrick will be allowed to eat. Not just a teaspoon of formula and one bite of solid food every 3 hours. He will need normal quantities of real food because…

6) Patrick won’t need TPN anymore. At first they’ll slowly decrease the number of hours that he has it. A goal before he comes home will be that he doesn’t need it at all anymore. He won’t have an IV anymore. It’s possible that for a while he’ll be fed through the tube in his stomach.. but eventually, even that will not be needed.

7) Patrick and I rack up a different kind of frequent flier miles. For the first little while after coming home, Patrick will need to go back to Seattle Children’s much more often than he goes now. To make these trips while he’s on immunosuppressants, we will probably stop flying commercially and use smaller planes through a service like Angel Flight. Since small planes fly more slowly, the trip will take a day each way, not counting time in clinic.

8 ) We’ll have to start watching our budget even more closely than we do now. Right now, most of Patrick’s care falls under our insurance company’s catastrophe protection. However, immune suppressants are a pharmacy benefit, to which no out of pocket maximum applies. Co-pays for transplant medications average hundreds of dollars a month.

9) We’ll probably change a lot of what we do. Patrick’s care will require a whole new and different routine. Because his health will be at risk, we’ll have to be careful of where we go with him, as well as what we do around the house. (For example, gardening is a huge health risk for Patrick.)

10) WE’LL TELL YOU! I promise, when it comes time for Patrick’s transplant, we will be overflowing with excitement, fear, and anticipation. An intestinal transplant is MAJOR. You won’t be guessing if it’s happened. It will be all we can think about for a long time.

Now, the next question I’ve been getting is this. “If Patrick hasn’t had his transplant yet, why are you fundraising?” The answer is this… Patrick’s transplant is a VERY expensive one. It’s a newer form of transplant with higher rejection risk, and so follow-up care for this transplant is quite intesive. Furthermore, we have to travel to have the transplant done, which ups our cost exponentially, especially when you add in cost of living and travel on top of out-of-network medical bills and medication co-pays. Raising $70,000 can take some time, and we’re trying to be prepared and to help in the fundraising efforts while we are still in a position to do so.

There is, of course, the possibility that Patrick’s health could fail before he gets to transplant. This is one of the biggest reasons that we decided to work with COTA to do fundraising. Any money raised that Patrick doesn’t need will go to the transplant-related expenses of other children.

So there’s my educational spiel of the morning. Hope it helps to answer some of the questions you may have.

Re-evaluation at Seattle Children’s

Sick boy on beanbag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transplant Pre-evaluation: Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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