Whatta Week…

On October 15, 2010, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

I’m sitting next to my wife with the baby in her arms after a pretty tiring day. After a week’s blur of doctor’s appointments, trips to the pharmacy and paging through volumes of insurance forms, we are really feeling the fatigue.

Julia has had a lively day where she stayed awake almost the whole morning and then had an afternoon photo shoot with a family friend who happens to be a very talented children and lifestyle photographer. Shannon is a good friend who actually got me out from behind the camera for a few family shots (more on that later). It turns out that all the activity tuckered our little girl out and put her on the corner of Fussy Ave. and Cranky Street. No fun when that happens, but now she is resting comfortably. Even as I write, I am watching the pacifier in her mouth bob hypnotically up and down, pause, and then start again as she dozes and coos, waiting for her evening bottle.

I spent most of the morning lining up consults with pediatric heart surgeons – one at University of Michigan and the other at Children’s Hospital. I even drove downtown and navigated the rabbit warren of halls and elevators of Detroit Medical Center to drop off Julia’s chart at one surgeon’s office. This will be my life for a while – trying to juggle the roles of dad, husband, pastor, and (somewhere in there) child of the Creator.

I’ve received feedback from many saying they are praying for our little girl – thanks for that. It turns out that the results are… mixed, but ultimately hopeful. The Wednesday meeting with Julia’s cardiologist revealed that the “honeymoon period” is drawing to a close and the symptoms of her heart defect are beginning to show themselves. After intently watching her as she laid on the table, the doc detected a very subtle shift toward rapid, shallow breathing – a telltale sign of stress on the left ventricle of her heart. But he assured us that it was nothing to be alarmed about and that God loved Julia. And even through the quiet panic I have to fight off when I hear scary news about my daughter, at that moment, I believe him.

Dr. Elliot Weinhouse is truly an amazing man. An Orthodox Jew who, legend has it, is a rabbi at his temple and the father of nine children. Oh, yeah – he’s also one of the best pediatric cardiologists in the Midwest (my assessment). I’ll share another story of his passion for God and people – especially children: The first time I saw him at Julia’s bedside in the NICU, he took my hand, looked me in the eye and quoted the Priestly Blessing from the Book of Numbers – some of it in English, some in Hebrew:

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you
and give you peace.”

… soothing words for a shell-shocked, uncertain new dad to hear. We even prayed together at her bedside with his uncertain East Indian resident.

He always has a kiss on the forehead for Julia, warm words of encouragement to steady the nerves of her parents, and as I mentioned in a previous post, his office walls are literally covered with the children (he says “precious children”) that have been under his care over the years. And anyone who, at the end of every visit, prays in Hebrew over my kid is a rock star in my book.

The disappointing news of Julia’s symptoms made Wednesday a quiet day as my mind churned through the emotion of it. This was going exactly the way medical science predicted. God seems to have decided not to delay the symptoms, as I had asked so many to pray for.

Damn.

But I, prompted by a benevolent butt-kicking by a friend, woke just enough from the weight and stress in my head to decide to be grateful in this. Notice: I did not say grateful for this, but in this. God gave us over a week at home to enjoy our little girl and not think about the heart defect too much. There will be a time that the trial will be complete. An in our more clear-headed moments, we do not fear for the life of our child. That is something worthy of celebration.

And the celebration continued the following day. The audiologist’s findings are that there is NO EVIDENCE of hearing loss in Julia. The right ear passed immediately and the left ear shows mere signs of fluid that can be remediated in many ways.

My baby will one day enjoy the symphony with her mommy and daddy.

So tonight we will celebrate, rest and hit it again tomorrow.

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Little Bag O’ Sugar

On October 12, 2010, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

A variant on the old Sesame Street tune: One of these things is just like the other! We have had some real encouragement over the last 24 hours. The visit with the hematologist yesterday went very well. Dr. Jamil has been watching Julia’s platelet condition over the past couple of weeks (you can read the backstory here and here), and we got the happy news that her count has tripled to well over 300k per microliter – well into the normal range! There will be a final follow up in a month, but this is a big win.

As the pic indicates, we have reached another milestone in her growth. Julia gained four ounces in the past four days and passed the five pound mark as of today! She has been eating well and the concern that we had about her growth has been allayed somewhat.

It’s amazing how these comparatively small, incremental improvements can really make my day! I even broke into a little victory dance when I got the news (a sight definitely not ready for prime time). There are going to be days where the news isn’t as encouraging; but today, it’s very, very good.

Okay – if you are the praying type of person, I have a couple of requests: Julia has a couple of appointments coming up. The cardiologist is tomorrow to continue monitoring her heart condition. We hope for continued comfort and ease of breathing and a delay of her symptoms.

The other is with the audiologist on Thursday. The NICU staff did a routine hearing test on Julia, and the findings were such that further testing is required. Granted, there are issues of her health that are far larger than this one, and the situation may be remediated in many ways. But I really, really want my kid to hear. I was listening to Vivaldi, Alison Krauss and David Gray as I was working today, and I prayed that God might someday grant my daughter the same enjoyment (okay, maybe different music). I’d really love it if you would join us in that prayer.

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So Far, So Good…

On October 7, 2010, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

I took a couple of days off, putting down my camera and computer, and simply enjoyed the new addition to the family. A new rhythm is beginning to develop in the house, and I can’t express how marvelous it is to have Julia home. There is not a lot of sleep; we just haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. But there is the joy of not having to schlep to the NICU twice a day; and knowing that, for now, our daughter is safe.

Not that we are not spending time with doctors. It is amazing the crush of appointments our little girl has been a part of. But here is where I’m glad to give you some very encouraging news: Julia had an appointment with a blood specialist regarding her platelet condition, who told us that her count had almost doubled since the last blood sample. This is great news, since we have some evidence now that the whatever was destroying her platelets is beginning to resolve itself. We’ll need to take another blood count on Monday, but we felt like this was a great win and one thing we can take off our list of concerns!

Perhaps the most encouragement came from our meeting with Dr. Elliot Weinhouse, a specialist in pediatric cardiology. We first met him a few months ago at Julia’s multidisciplinary consult (a collective meeting with all of the disciplines surrounding Jocelyn’s pregnancy and Julia’s heart and genetic condition). I have met him a few times since then and have been impressed with his deep concern not only for the child, but for the well-being of the parents as well. His regard for life can only be described as… reverence. These are more than cases for him, as evidenced by the pictures of all of the children he has treated over the years that cover all four walls of his office. In our first meeting with him in June, he used Julia’s name without our prompting him; and from that moment, his stock went way, way up in our minds.

Julia went to meet with Dr. Weinhouse today for an echocardiogram (basically an ultrasound of the heart) and a consult on her situation. An Orthodox Jewish rabbi in his off-hours (I believe), he spoke in glowing terms of the essential beauty of the structure of Julia’s heart, despite the malformation that was again confirmed in the ultrasound. He described her ventricles – the lower chambers and the area of primary concern – as symmetrical and sound. The blood vessels entering and exiting are well formed and free of defect, and the conjoined valve that will eventually be separated is sealing very well.

From a symptomatic standpoint, Julia is showing no signs of distress in her breathing and none of the discoloration or feeding issues that one would expect. We were especially encouraged when Jocelyn noticed one of the notes on his chart: “So far, so good.”

The game between now and the surgery is a race to a body weight of eight and a half pounds or so before the symptoms manifest themselves to the point of danger to her life. The ugly truth is that without intervention, Julia is on a slow boat to congestive heart failure – a term that is not quite as scary as it was. The process will be a slow one, and delayed by short-term drug intervention. But we have our marching orders: Get this kid to eight or nine pounds, and surgery can proceed most safely. If you are the praying type, please ask our Creator for a long delay in the symptoms so that Julia’s soul can remember as little discomfort and distress as possible.

On a more personal note, fatherhood is beginning to settle in on yours truly. I carried my daughter today through the examination – from the weigh-in through the echocardiogram to the EKG. I have heard her squawk in indignation at the pokes and prods by the NICU staff and was beginning to feel a little less sensitive to them. But this morning I was thunderstruck when I saw tears in my daughter’s eyes for the first time as the technician pulled off the leads of the EKG.

Amazingly, after everything that we have been through thus far, today was the first time I cried for my daughter.

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UPDATED: Prayin’ for Platelets

On September 26, 2010, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

 

*** Update: Julia had her transfusion and early lab tests after are promising! Her platelet count went from 17 (quite dangerous) to 145 – well toward the normal range. Further monitoring will be required, but this is a very good first step! Thank you so much for your prayers! ***

Hey Gang –

There is a little wrinkle in a day of otherwise good news that could use your prayers and good thoughts. After a couple of great breastfeeding sessions today, I noticed a furrowed brow on our nurse, Laurie. She came over to us and said that Julia’s platelet count was down.

This important blood clotting component has been suppressed since Julia was born. I remember hearing mentions of it as I listened in on doctor’s rounds over the past few days. But her platelet count had now dipped to a level where intervention was required. We spoke with the doctor and he is not yet concerned about the origin of the issue, but is more focused on avoiding the complications that low platelets can bring.

The cause is most likely a relatively benign disagreement between Mom & Julia’s blood type that will work itself out. There are, however, rarer possibilities that are just no fun to think about at the present moment. Additionally, this could be connected to Julia’s Down Syndrome.

Right now, a transfusion of platelets to fortify Julia’s flagging supply is in order. It’s a simple band-aid for right now, but that may be all that’s needed. Of course, we have to wait over the next few days to see if the problem sorts itself out or if further intervention is warranted.

In the meantime, we have given this situation to our Creator and Redeemer, asking Him to do what he has done before: create more platelets and redeem the disconnect in Julia’s body that is keeping that from happening. Jocelyn and I are fine – well, not quite fine. But we are weathering this well, knowing that there would be a few dips in the road as we navigated this.

By the way – don’t be too disturbed by the pic. It was a routine weigh-in last night and Julia was a little cranky that the nurse had taken her out of her nice, warm jammies. The good news is that her weight is up!

Thanks for your prayer and support on this!

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