Monday, November 29, 2010

it's a sad day today.

my post this morning was inspired by a post on Adventures of a Funky Heart, written by Steve Catoe. the entire blog is devoted to CHD, providing tons of information about research, treatment, goals for the future.

Steve was born with tricuspid atresia. it's similar to HLHS, only on the other side of the heart. he had the BT shunt when he was very young (i forget what age), he had an early version of the fontan, he had a pacemaker. he survived sepsis, endocarditis, gout, CHF. he was one of the oldest CHD survivors.

i shared many times, both on this blog and on facebook, from his blog. the writing is incredible, and the information is invaluable. so many times, i commented on his posts, and he would reply, not only on the blog, but often directly to me, as well, usually making jokes or vowing to find the information i was seeking.

today we learned that steve, at the age of 44, passed away sometime late last night or early this morning.

to say he will be missed is an understatement. he was a relentless crusader for CHD. he was a cheerleader for heart warriors and their families. he was a fount of information. he was funny, intelligent, and encouraging.

please. if you know a heart warrior, hug them today. Steve lived a long time by CHD standards. not all CHDers have his kind of longevity. but i will end with a link to his post from the other day. it sums up his mission and goal.

A Cure for Heart Defects!

RIP, Funky Heart. our broken hearts are breaking. you will be missed.

66 years ago today...

on 29 November, 1944, Dr Alfred Blalock, Dr Helen Taussig (yes, a woman) and Vivien Thomas (a black man) performed the first Blalock-Taussig shunt operation at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

the shunt was designed to help "blue babies," wee ones with a CHD known as Tetralogy of Fallot. in ToF, there are several issues:

  1. pulmonary stenosis. the pulmonary artery carries de-oxygenated (blue) blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs. with PS, the opening to that artery is too small and restricts blood flow to the lungs.
  2. VSD, a hole between the two pumping chambers. this allows blue blood to pass over to the left side of the heart and mix with the red blood and travel out to the body.
  3. right ventricular hypertrophy. the right ventricle has to work harder than usual to overcompensate for the PS and VSD.
  4. overriding aorta. this exacerbates the VSD and allows more blue and red blood to mix and travel to the body.
at this point in history, in 1944, there was no open heart surgery for these babies yet... that would come much later. and actually, up until this day, there was nothing at all that could be done for babies with severely wonky hearts. nothing. this procedure was the first of its kind, anywhere, ever. 

if you're interested in learning more about the surgery, including how to do it, click here. this will take you to a site which will teach you about ToF, and you can do the surgery yourself, in a cyberish kind of way. it's amazing, it really is!

this procedure is not what Asher had. Asher had a modified (or reverse) BT shunt, which went from his MPA (main pulmonary artery, right before it branches off to the lungs) to his proximal innominate artery, allowing most of the blood to by-pass his lungs and go out to his body.

but without this first procedure 66 years ago, Asher would never have survived beyond his diagnosis. there would have been no hope for him at all. and yet...

here he is.

almost 4.

(and for the record, i know of many people with ToF. you can click on Anniek's blog on the sidebar to read her story. and in addition to Anniek, there are two people at my church with tetralogy: a father and son. yes, the father has it, too. i've met him. he's an adult, and if you met him, you'd never know he has a wonky heart. simply amazing. and when you consider that these people would not be here today without this first surgery so very long ago... awesome. just awesome.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

how AMAZING!!!!

can you believe that

on thursday...

4 days from today...

ASHER TURNS 4!!!!!!!

honestly, i can't believe it! just thinking about it makes me cry. even the most faithful followers of this blog cannot fathom how miraculous this is, that

Asher is alive.


Asher is stable.

i'll admit, i never allowed myself to imagine him living this long. in fact, it's only been in the last month or so that i've been saying "he's almost 4." and yet... here we are... he is officially

ALMOST 4!!!!!!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

in case you were wondering...

recently, a friend of mine asked a question on her facebook: what are the "extra" expenses that you incur when caring for a medically fragile child, especially the expenses that you never expected or never thought about until you had this child?

great question, and WOW! did she get a lot of responses.

i know that i, for one, always believed that our health care system in ontario was fabulous... at least in that it covers so much. then asher was diagnosed. sure, i have never had to pay a dime for his care in the hospital, which is good (for example, the prostaglandins that kept him alive before and in the initial period post-hybrid, yeah. that one med costs $1500 per dose. at two doses per day. for 11 days. not to mention, the cost of the bed in CCCU - just the bed space, not the meds, surgery, nurse, therapists, docs, equipment, but just the bed space - is $2500 per day. and just in that first admission, asher spent 18 days in CCCU. and there were a lot of other meds, several doctors, heart surgery, tests, an MRI, oxygen, bloodwork, etc etc etc etc etc... yeah, thank the good Lord for Tommy Douglas, because there is no way we could have afforded to keep asher alive for just one day in there). most of asher's meds were covered, either partially (80%) or entirely, that sort of thing. i've never had to pay a doctor or a surgeon (thank God!). i didn't need to pay for his first feeding pump, although i would have had to pay for the replacement pump were it not for a generous gift from some charity (i still don't know which one).

but it's those other expenses... the ones you never think about... those are the ones that destroy you financially. things like transportation, parking and gas for appointments. food for the parent who stays with the child during admissions. food for the rest of the family when i'm away or just plain exhausted at the end of a looooooooong day (because that has usually ended up being "convenience" foods or take-out). it's things like special tape and tubes and syringes and formula. its the "special diet" asher required to gain weight, things like ice cream and whipped cream and tons of cheese and butter and mcdonalds. the "stuff" you buy for your other children in an attempt to compensate for your absence or consuming focus on the other child. it's the phone bills, as you try to contact (and/or co-ordinate) doctors and therapists, the cell phone that you must have at all times in case of emergency, and long distance calls when you're in the hospital or clinic far away from home. it's the internet access, so you can educate yourself on your child's condition, and so you can stay in contact with family and friends while in the hospital (and that's expensive). it's utility bills incurred because of your child's condition: asher needs the house warm in the winter (21-23C is ideal for him), and very cool in the summer (our a/c is set at 18-20C in the summer); when asher was refluxing all the time, it added up to a lot of laundry; hydro to run the feeding pump 20 hours a day, etc.

and with the boys' birthdays coming up, i just don't have the money for the party they really want (at a bowling alley), so we're going to do something fun here. and it's gonna be uber cheap. and i want to give asher something awesome because, well, he has survived four years! but um, yeah. not gonna happen. and i want to give bram something awesome because, well, he's awesome for putting up with this life. but um, yeah. not gonna happen. i'll figure out something good, i'm sure, i always do, but in the meantime, there's the guilt and panic. which leads us to...

the non-financial issues: the stresses on relationships and friendships. the guilt of "ditching" the other kids when asher gets sick. the stress of money-less-ness. the chaos and unpredictability. the feelings of freaxia and of being overwhelmed... i could go on,

getting the idea?

and asher is one of the cheapest and least complicated medically-fragile children i know of.


i want you to check out my friend's post. she wrote about this subject the other day (and did it better than i just did, i might add).

it will give you a clear picture of why SN/MF families struggle.

and so, since it's thanksgiving today in the states (asher has a lot of followers south of the border), and with the holiday season fast approaching, i'm asking you, gentle readers, to do something.

i know that a lot of people look for registered charities to give to at this time of year. if that's the case, i would ask that you donate to cardiovascular research at SickKids. if you decide to go that route, that is.

but i want to suggest something a little different, too. something you may not have considered. and of course, since i'm writing, it will involve a little story.

christmas for the kids and i is taken care of this year. i mean, i don't have to worry about anything. someone (whom i will not name, but rest assured this person is amazing) emailed me the other week to say that their family (including their parents) are giving us christmas this year. i don't have to buy a single gift for the kids. we will also be given groceries and gift cards, because they know that i'm low on funds (shocking, i know), so i won't need to worry about anything like that. honestly, just the thought of this gift is enough to make me cry. i'm tearing up right now, actually. this is such a wonderful gift for the kids and me, and even i cannot express how grateful i am for their generosity.

so here's where you come in:

we all know families with chronically ill and/or medically fragile and/or technology-dependent children. why not help out one of those families? you don't need to play Santa like my friend is doing. but you might think about buying a gift for each of their children (please remember the siblings). and/or something for the parents. or you might want to give something simple like grocery store gift cards. or get the oil changed in their vehicle. or rake their leaves/shovel the snow. offer to watch their other children while they go to an appointment. take a couple meals to the parent in the hospital with their child. whatever. just please, do something. you can't imagine how stressful this time of year can be for families in this situation (well, maybe you can after reading these posts... at least, i hope you can). please help someone this holiday season. even something small can make a huge difference in their lives.

Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me.     ~ Jesus

Sunday, November 21, 2010

dude, you are such a dude!!!

so, this morning, i picked up asher from his sunday school class, and he and i meandered down the hall to get blithe and bram from their class. as we're walking, he saw an older kid he knows. (rowan is 13 and helps out in asher's class sometimes. asher loves him. so cute!) anyway...

rowan is walking down the hall with a bunch of his friends. asher sees him, does the little nod-thing, and says, "hey rowan." rowan looks over, does the nod-thing, and says, "hey asher."

and they both just kept walking.

because they're just. that. cool.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

look what my baby can do!!!!!!!

that's right, asher fans.


and he's not even 4.

yup. he rocks.

and those faces... those perfectly (for a kid) drawn faces... you guessed it, asher drew those, too. he's awesome.

Friday, November 12, 2010

the times, they are a-changing

well, asher is stable now. it has been over 5 months since his last admission, and even last month when he had that little "hiccup" he came out of it quickly and on one less med (leaving only aspirin!). so, yeah, he's stable now. kinda weird, no?

not that i'm complaining.

anyway, since asher is doing better now, i knew that it was time for some things to change around here. namely,

i can get a job.

so last week, i began sending out my resume. and on wednesday this week, i went out around town, handing out resumes and applying for jobs. i wasn't picky. so out i went.

the first place i went to, i asked if they were hiring, and lo and behold, they were! in fact, the woman asked me right then and there if i could come in for an interview the next morning.

that's right, folks, the first place i went to invited me back for an interview.

so i went for the interview the next morning. my first interview in about 9 years. and guess what!

i got the job!!!

so i went for my first day today. i'll admit, it was a bit weird. and i'm exhausted. but it was good. and i enjoyed it. yes, at the end of my shift i was very ready to go home. i haven't had an actual job since my contract with the Canada Games ended in august 2001, so this whole working thing will take some getting used to. but i'll manage with all that.

as for the kids... yeah, it's going to be an adjustment. for all of us. the hours at my new job aren't great, so there will be a lot of child care involved, but we'll get used to it, we'll adjust, and we'll get through. and we'll be ok. blithe prayed last night,
God, please bless mommy in her new job. please be with her and help her, and don't let them make her work too hard, because i don't want her to work too hard. please be with her on this journey. and please be with me and bram and asher on this journey, too.
yes, those are her words. we're all excited about this new turn in our journey, even though it's scary. but blithe knows... God is going through this with us, and we're not dealing with it on our own. so we'll be ok. i told the kids last night, "we'll get through. we'll adjust, and we'll do what we have to do." and bram agreed just as loudly, shrill-ly and enthusiastically as you would expect. asher just kept playing with chicky and elmo-y (who is not, in fact, the Elmo, but rather a yellow bunny). blithe said from her room, "yup! because that's what the heywood family does, right, mommy?"

anyway, i thought i would update you on the goings-on over here, even though they have nothing to do with asher's health. but it's all part of our journey as a family. if you wouldn't mind, please pray for us in this new part of our journey. it's unfamiliar territory we're treading here, so any prayers, good vibes, crossed crossables would be much appreciated.

and since you're praying/vibing/crossing...

don't forget to keep praying for shawna and her family. they need it.

also, little ella in australia, who had a stroke the other night. she is still in the hospital. and not only is it a hard time for her, it is really hard on her mom, shannon. she is heartbroken. please continue to pray for ella, shannon, and dad neil.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

prayer requests

i'm rallying the troops tonight for a couple friends who need prayer.

i've mentioned shawna before. and once again (or rather, still) she needs prayer. the complications in her pregnancy are getting more complicated. it's very scary. i won't go into detail, but it's terrifying. please pray for her, the baby, her husband, their seven children, and her mother. she has a couple appointments in toronto on thursday. please pray.

sweet little ella is a heart baby in australia. her mother, shannon, is on my facebook. ella had a stroke tonight/tomorrow morning (time differences). please pray for ella, shannon and her husband neil, the docs... ella had heart surgery on 26 october, everything went well, and she was home three days later. but now... yeah. please, please please pray for her.

i'll try to keep you posted. meanwhile, please continue to pray. thank-you.

Monday, November 8, 2010

and then, of course, God weighs in...

so, i'm sitting here, crying over the last post...

and there comes that still, small Voice.

when i shared at church in september, i talked about how God has been my Refuge throughout the "asher journey." and while i have been crying this morning about blithe and bram, i was reminded that

i don't see the bigger picture, but God does, and He is in control. that's really comforting, because i know that i don't need to control everything, and i don't need to know the future.
and as i was thinking about that, another thing came back to me:

... and God promises that if we're really looking for Him, we'll find Him. and i do! He's everywhere in this journey. and so, in those times when it's dark and scary and it feels like God has forgotten us - because those moments happen; it's not all sunshine and rainbows - i can look back and see that God was there and there and there and there and there, and that gives me the courage to not look forward - because i can't - but i can look around and look for God in the current situation.
so now i ask myself...

because this feels like one of those times "when it's dark and scary and it feels like God has forgotten us"...

if i look back, will i see that God was there?

so i'm looking back,

and yes. i can see that God was there.

He is there in blithe's compassion. He is there in bram and asher's friendship. He is there in their play. and yes, He's there in their arguments, because those are normal and therefore a gift. He is there during our storytimes and mealtimes. He is there when they hug me and tell me they love me. He is there when they hug each other and tell each other "i love you." He is there in the paid bills. He is in the pantry right now, in the form of beans and rice which we will have for supper. He was in blithe's room last night, while she and asher cuddled together all night. He is there in school with each of them right now, allowing them to learn and hang out with friends and enjoy their day. He is here with me right now, holding me and reminding me that, as i said in september,

i can look back - and i do look back - and i can see that, ok, God was there and there and there and there. ok. God was there, so He'll be here.
and then i continued,
and then i can, not look forward because i don't know, but i can look around at what's going on right now.
so, yeah, He didn't give me a crystal ball, and i still don't know what the future holds for my children (all of them), but i don't have to. God has a plan, God knows what He's doing. i don't have control, and i don't see the bigger picture, but that's ok, because God does. and as long as i trust Him, we'll be ok. we'll get through. maybe a little worse for wear, but on the other hand,

much more beautiful

because it's His Love and Beauty that shines in my kids right now. sure, it's a tough life we have in a lot of ways. but He never promised that life would be easy. but He always promises that He is with us throughout our lives. so yeah, i don't know what the future holds. but i know God is holding us now, and that's all i need to know. (although a little "heads up" would still be nice, i'm not gonna lie. {wink})

crystal balls, looking back, and the unanswerable questions that break my heart

a friend of mine has a blog about parenting a medically fragile child. her daughter's condition is different than asher's, but our journeys as mothers have often been very similar. and so her post today broke my heart. i'm not going to summarize it here; you can check it out for yourself, if you're interested. but i want to share my reactions to it. and please know, i don't always think about these "unanswerable questions"... in fact, i very rarely do. i know that i don't know the future and i'm ok with that. except today, it would seem. but it's part of the journey, so i'm sharing it.

when a family has a special needs or medically fragile child, suddenly, the entire family dynamic changes. in every imaginable way. we went from "ed, heather and the kids" to "asher and heather... and aren't there some siblings in there, too?" since 10 december, 2006, my life became centered around asher. asher became my identity. even my email addy is "wonkyheartmom" for crying out loud! his wonky heart became my wonky heart.

as for blithe and bram... sigh... (please bear with me in this post. my heart is breaking and i'm in tears, so if there's typos, it's because i can't see them.) it's like there are two sets of children in my life now. there's asher, and there's "the kids." and "the kids" are blithe and bram. yes. they're separate. when asher is in the hospital, or he's in emerg, or he's sick at home, i need help with "the kids." and that never means asher. that means blithe and bram. i mean, think about it: people ask me all the time how asher is doing. occasionally, they'll ask how i'm doing. rare is the person who asks about blithe and bram. and by "rare," i mean, i don't remember the last time someone asked about them. here's just two examples: a book is being written about life with a single ventricle kid, and ours is one of the families being "showcased" (for lack of a better term). the authors wanted to know about asher and his parents. the kids? mostly overlooked (because we did discuss them, but not in depth). and when i was asked to share at church about our journey, they asked about asher and me. again, there was no mention of blithe and bram, other than that i have three kids. i'm not blaming anyone here; it's natural to focus on asher, because his part in this is so obvious and dramatic. but still... i have two other kids whose stories don't get told.

and how have blithe and bram responded to all of this? generally speaking, they deal with all of this wonderfully. a SN/MF mother's dream. they are strong, joyful, resilient, compassionate. they just roll with it. "asher's in the hospital again? hooray! that means we get to spend time with nana!!" but then i wonder... you know... in the bigger picture...

blithe knows way too much about asher's condition. and i don't just mean that she knows about all the defects in his heart and she can tell you about the surgeries and she can find the aorta on a picture of a healthy heart (b/c there isn't one on the picture of asher's heart, and she knows that, too). i mean... she knows. she knows he's fragile. she knows that there is no medical explanation for why he's still here. she knows that he could pass very quickly, with very little warning. as for bram... he was so young when asher was born, to a large extent, this is the only kind of life he has ever known. the instability and unpredictability and stress and chaos and unknowing. up until the other week, he assumed that when he was asher's age, he had all kinds of scars on his torso, too.

and then there's the non-asher factors that go with this life, which are inextricably intertwined with the journey. asher's care is expensive. so um... yeah. i'm usually broke. and the kids know that. we don't get to buy new clothes very often, and when we do, they're not super cool. they're super cheap. we don't get to eat out very often. a full tank of gas is a luxury. the kids are aware of this. they don't get the cool toys that they see advertised on TV. nope, they have to make due with the same broken toys they've had for years, unless their dad buys them something (which is also nothing expensive). i mean, seriously, right now, asher needs a new pair of everyday shoes. and can i buy him a pair? nope. he's just gonna have to make do with these shoes that don't stay on his feet, because i just don't have the money for a new pair. as for groceries... the kids don't get lunchables or special treats, they don't get their favourite cookies. they get homemade cookies. and sandwiches on homemade bread (other than today, because my mother bought a loaf of bread for us on saturday)... i'm not trying to say we're starving or anything; they're fed, don't worry. but my point is this: the kids have to sacrifice a lot.

and it's not just sacrificing material things, either. as joyful and gracious as blithe and bram both are, there are those tell-tale markers of this life: they both struggle a bit with anxiety. granted, some of that is genetic. but it doesn't help that they have very little control or predictability in their lives. i'm working on getting some sort of routine now, but it's hard. we've been without it for so long, i feel like i have no idea how to do that anymore. but even developing a routine now is a huge change for them, and that causes them stress.

the point i'm trying to make is this: having asher in our lives has been very difficult. yes, it's wonderful, he's an amazing boy, and i love him more than i ever imagined i could ever love another person, and he is a gift and a blessing in innumerable ways. don't misunderstand me. but... sometimes...

and i'm just being honest here...

i ask myself, "if i could go back, knowing what i know now, what would i have done?" if i knew the cost to us as a family, if i knew how he would suffer, if i knew how blithe and bram would suffer...

would i change anything?

and again, i'm being honest here.

knowing what i know now, both about the condition/treatments/odds/etc and about the life itself,

i would still have made the same decision.

but i would not have brushed off some of the options quite so quickly. i would have at least entertained the thought for a few minutes, instead of snapping at the cardio. i would still have chosen the hybrid. i honestly would not change a single thing that i have done over the last nearly 4 years. but i would have given more thought to the impact of my decision on the other kids. again, i'm not saying that i would have chosen comfort care. i wouldn't have. it's not mine to decide how long another person lives, so i wouldn't have chosen that. i would still have chosen the hybrid, too, even though a couple complications along the way were directly because of that surgery.

and then there's the other unanswerable questions...

how will this life impact blithe and bram as they grow up? what kind of adults will they become? what kind of parents will they be? or will they even have children at all, too afraid to risk having a child like their brother? will they hate me and resent the life i chose for us? will they hate God for giving us this life? or will they grow up to love God? will they find comfort and refuge in Him and His promises? will they be compassionate toward other people? will they have learned to embrace today instead of fearing tomorrow or regretting yesterday? will they see God and Beauty and Light where others see darkness? or will they be consumed by fear and anxiety and mental illness?

if i'd had a crystal ball back in the day, even before asher came onto the scene, i think i would have made pretty much all the same decisions i've made anyway. and in the meantime, "all" i can do is to do my best, love them unconditionally and completely, and trust that God has plans for them, plans to prosper them and not to harm them, plans to give them hope and a future. it's just...

sometimes it would be nice to know ahead of time...

Monday, November 1, 2010

happy hallowe'en!!!

yes, yes, i know. it's already november and i still haven't posted about hallowe'en. bad asher's mom, bad bad asher's mom. and so here we go: the long-awaited post.

asher got his costume a couple weeks ago, and so he wore it. a lot. everywhere. all the time. yup, he LURVS his costume.

alright, fine, twist my arm. here's a pic:
that's right, folks. he was ELMO!!!!!!

(funny story: so, you may or may not remember how i got through his diagnosis and first admission. when i learned that he would be blue, i thought, "well, that makes hallowe'en easy. he'll be grover." so, now that he's pink, he doesn't need to be anyone blue. nope. asher almost blends in with the costume now!!! WOOHOO!!!!)

so, i'll tell you about hallowe'en now. i got all the kids dressed. you've already seen asher.
bram was Sheerluck Holmes, from VeggieTales. Sheerluck is their version of Sherlock, and is played by Larry the Cucumber. hence the green face and buck tooth. how cute is he, eh??
blithe was Mina Harker, from Dracula. look at her working that costume. i'm actually quite proud of this one.
here's the close-up of the make-up. now, i don't usually allow the kids to be anything evil or scary, and blithe wasn't supposed to be. this started as a medieval princess, which blithe understood to be an evil princess, and well, it went from there. and then i was having so much fun doing her make-up, and i guess i got a little carried away. but she looks fang-tastic, wouldn't you say?

anyway, the kids got all costumed, and out we went.
with bram's bestest buddy nicholas. nicholas' mom lori took us all around her usual "haunts." we left their place at 6:00, and didn't get back till almost 8. and you know what?

asher walked.

the whole way.

the whole time.

sure, he was a little slower than the other boys, but that's because they are two years older and have longer legs.

not because asher was tired.

yes, you read that right.

asher walked.

and ran.

and jumped.

and carried a pail full of candy etc.





for two hours.

and he wasn't even winded.

just a normal kid doing normal kid stuff at a normal 3 year old pace.

extraordinary, no?

i love it.

(and you're gonna laugh... i told him he's allergic to chocolate. and i got blithe and bram in on it. so he handed me every chocolate bar he got. mwahaha)

(and yes, i have some ideas about future costumes. next year: a robot. {wink})