My Family

My Family

Friday, February 10, 2017

Twice Gifted

It's a term that makes me cringe.  One that I hear quite a lot when it comes to Marvin.  Twice gifted. The more common term is twice exceptional.  It means intellectually gifted children who have some form or forms of disability. These children are considered exceptional both because of their intellectual gifts and because of their special needs.

This week I sat down at UVA with a neuropsychologist.  Marvin has spent several days testing at her office and I was ready for the results.  What was supposed to be a 30 minute follow up expanded into 90 minutes and she ended up being late for a meeting.  But there was just no way to condense the results into a short and sweet package.

She started off with what she calls the "good news".  Marvin has a normal IQ.  He also tested average or in several cases above average in the learning department.  She (and Marvin) credit homeschooling and his reestablished love of learning.  The Dr. says he is super smart and tries really hard.  That was good to hear.

But she stated, for every strength there were strong deficits.  She went on to explain how brains are supposed to work and areas that are supposed to do certain things.  She went on to explain how three events reshaped Marvin's brain and in some cases destroyed vital connections that are essential.

Marvin was exposed to Meth in utero.  He was born addicted.  Strike one.  Then he he was shaken resulting in Shaken Baby Syndrome and seizure activities.  Strike two.  Then he was placed in foster care and had trauma and stress of non permanent situations until he came to live with us.  The longer you stay the more trauma.  Strike three.

What does it mean for Marvin?  Well it simply means that even though he's smart his brain sustained a ridiculous amount of damage.  Unrepairable damage.  That part hurts.  I can't fix it.  For years we have tried to "fix" Marvin.  Having a Dr. tell you you can't make it better cuts to your very soul.  I'm a fixer.  That's what moms do.  But sometimes you just can't and you have to learn to go forward with what you have.

Marvin will have to learn adaptation skills.  We will have to teach him how to work with what he's got.  Marvin has already subconsciously learned some skills.  He will have to have stuff broken down into manageable pieces.  We also will have to have more therapeutic and medical intervention. Marvin gets caught in loops and can be inflexible.  He then has triggers and emotional meltdowns. Intensive therapy will help teach Marvin coping skills.  Additional OT will help with fine motor adaptations.  Marvin may also require in home therapy.

The Dr. found that Marvin is struggling at school.  Yes, he is back in school.  He wanted to try.  We love where he is and it has a special place in my heart.  The Dr. has a large list of modifications that will need to happen there as well.  We spent a good amount of time talking about how great alternative schools are (she grew up Waldorf) for kids like Marvin.  But she also advocated for homeschool and said she believed that Marvin learns best one on one.

When I left I felt totally overwhelmed and sad.  And angry.  I don't think it's fair that he's had to have gone through so much.  When the Dr. tells you that your child will always be harder to parent than the average child and lots of people won't understand how complex his needs are it's a huge punch in the gut.  I went home and had a good long cry.  Then I binged on chocolate and chick flicks.

Right now Shannon and I are wading through it all.  Here's what I know.  Marvin is still Marvin.  Just because we know more now doesn't change who he is.  It does help me be a better advocate for him. He's an amazing kid who lived through a lot of crap and came out scarred and battered but still victorious.   He won a huge battle by thriving.  Most kids who go through what he went through aren't as lucky.  He has a family who has his back and loves him unconditionally and will advocate for him fiercely.  Just because he had a rocky start doesn't mean he will have a rocky finish.  We will continue to stand strong together and we will overcome.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Feeding Tube Awareness 2017

During this week in February we take time to bring awareness to the fact that are multiple ways of being fed.  My daughter will be coming up on her third year Tube-iversay in a few weeks as well. The decision to place a tube in my child not only gave her the ability to grow and thrive, but also gave her something so much more.  It gave her freedom from pressure and a chance to make her own choices about how she eats.  Let me take you back and share our journey. 

When she first came home at nine months old Cary Lynn was bottle fed.  Sure she was a little slower and needed to eat more often but she enjoyed her bottles.  I loved watching her smack her lips and grunt as she slurped.  

Then we ended up in the hospital.  She was pretty sick.  While we were there I met my first feeding therapist.  She immediately didn't like the bottle I was using.  Said it was too hard for Cary Lynn and took too long.  She found us new bottles.  Therapeutic bottles.  O.K. that wasn't horrible.  Cary Lynn adjusted and soon ate with her new bottles.  Then we met with a new G.I. who complained she was too small.  

"Are you ready for a G-Tube and Nissen?"   Ummmm no, she eats.  He wasn't thrilled but said O.K. you need to go to nutrition and feeding clinic.  So I took her, therapeutic bottles and all and we went to feeding clinic.  Because that was what the Drs. said and frankly I was worried about her.  We had only had her home for a little while and we seemed to be making frequent pilgrimages to the hospital. We also had a tube that went from her nose down to her stomach (an NG tube).  She kept pulling it out and chewing it up.  Gross.    

So we went and the people who assessed us were nice.  Cary Lynn ate and threw up everything on the nurse.  Up till that point there was a waiting list.  After she barfed everywhere they had a magic space open up.  We started next week.  

I was so excited!  She was going to eat!  I was going to put some chunk on her!!!  Yay!!  I tried to get Cary Lynn excited too.  I told her about how much fun it would be.  There would be bubbles, stuffed animals and she would eat.  She just grunted and went back to her bottle.  

When we started the first thing they did was tell me the bottle had to go.  I protested, saying that she loved it.  They gave me a bottle that hair dressers use to put coloring in with food safe tubing.  It looked like a hamster bottle.  I told them that.  They didn't like it much.  

They showed me how to squirt it in her mouth.  Cary Lynn didn't like it.  She whimpered for her bottle.  We managed.  Then we went home and I fed her bottles. 

Next week she did better.  I rejoiced, went home and threw her bottles away.  That night after four hours of crying I dug one out that I hid just in case.  I told the therapists that she wasn't ready.  They said she could and I was being difficult.  So they kept working with her.  She finally took the hamster bottle.  We were finally able to throw away her bottles.  

All during that time her weight see sawed.  It was up and down.  There was a lot of pressure for a tube but she was still eating.  Every Dr. only talked about the tube.  But she ate.  And she was happy eating.  

Then feeding clinic wanted to start on food.  They showed me how to make purees that had more calories.  It was fun.  I learned quickly.  Cary Lynn didn't get the memo.  She balked.  Some days were good days.  We had to have lots of meals.  She had to eat about eight times a day.  She also started refusing.  

Our feeding program is behavior based.  Eat a bite get TV.  Eat a bite get bubbles.  Or music or a sticker.  The problem was and is Cary Lynn has visual impairments.  So that stuff didn't mean a lot to her.  She started to wave her hands in front of her face and put them over her mouth.  The feeding therapist took her and tied her arms down.  That didn't go over well with me or Cary Lynn.  

After I threatened to call CPS she was untied.  Cary Lynn kept her arms down but every bite of food was spit out into the therapist's face.  Cary Lynn was shaking violently and turing purple.  We went home early.  

The next week we were getting ready to go back.  I was telling Cary Lynn where we were going when I heard her make a noise.  I leaned over to look at her.  Her lips were shaking, her eyes were wide with fear.  Her body trembled uncontrollably.  My kid was scared.  

Eating was no longer a fun thing for her.  She had begun to dread it.  Every meal was a nightmare. The therapy that was supposed to help her robbed her instead.  I had hoped for so long that some magical cosmic event there would get her to eat.  In following what I wanted I wrecked what should have been a beautiful and organic experience. We called out.  

The next day I went to her G.I. doctor and told him we were ready for a tube.  Three weeks later she had a tube.  After she had a tube we were "discharged" from feeding clinic because she "never had to eat again orally".  Frankly, I will never take her back there again.  What they did was wrong and I would be wrong to allow it to happen again.  

Now my daughter eats with a g-tube.  As much as I fought it that tube is one of the best things I've ever done.  She's growing and gaining.  She also has started eating orally again.  Because she WANTS to, not because she HAS to.  Her G-Tube has given her freedom in that department and she can approach food on her own terms.  We don't stress anymore.  Cary Lynn's happiness over discovering frosting, chocolate, and bean burritos all over again have made waiting for her to be ready all worth it.  The G-Tube has allowed us that privilege.  And for that we are grateful.  Happy Feeding Tube Awareness week!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Five things I need you to know about having an immunocompromised child


Aaahh-choo!

The woman next to us lets out a big sneeze and doesn’t bother to cover her nose. I was in a bind because my daughter’s nurse was absent and my son had to be at his appointment. The very thought of those germs made me twitch. Luckily, we were able to move to a different area after a staff member who is familiar with our family saw the events unfold.

This is our life. My daughter is immunocompromised. In a nutshell it means that a person’s immune system is weakened or absent. A person who is immunocompromised is less capable of battling infections because of an immune response that is not properly functioning.

We aren’t alone. There are about 10 million people out there. That’s a pretty steep number.

Why are infections dangerous in immunocompromised patients?

The usual symptoms may be absent. Patients with weak immune systems may not show the classic signs of infection.

Also their systems may not respond quickly to infection. Patients with weak immune systems may have trouble clearing infections from their bodies. The infection may also move quickly. In the absence of infection-fighting white blood cells, the infection may rapidly progress from fever alone to sepsis and death. Not something you want to play around with. So here are a few things to keep in mind as we head full force into cold and flu season.

1. A little illness can become a big deal. That cold that you have, the stomach bug that only lasted 24 hours on your child, or even that little sniffle can become a really big deal. An immunocompromised person can’t fight those bugs off the way you or I can. When my daughter becomes infected, a simple cold can last well over a month. A stomach bug buys us a week in the hospital. A sniffle leads to another round of antibiotics. It’s not fun.

If you are sick the best thing you can do is stay home. I know it’s not easy and I can see you rolling your eyes at me. I worked at a job that demanded I come in with a stomach bug. What’s worse was it was a daycare! The assistant manager didn’t care that I was sick. She claimed there was no coverage. So I exposed lots of people. I’m well aware of the reality. So I started wearing masks when I was forced to come in ill (and I found a new job). So if staying at home isn’t an option, trying to quarantine yourself and taking extra safety precautions is your second best bet.

2. Don’t touch them! This one is important, too. I have been in grocery stores, libraries, waiting areas and lots of other places. People feel the need to lay hands on my child. I know she’s cute, but your germs are too big for her body. Plus it’s her body. She may not want you to touch her. At home we wash frequently before we touch her and we are her family. This helps her stay well.

3. Our families may have to do things differently to keep them well. When my son started school, my daughter’s medical team sent home a list to help keep her well. It was a long one. These things aren’t always fun for my son but he knows we have to do it. We also have to step up hand washing, cleaning, and there is a sign hanging on our front door that asks you to remove shoes and wash and sanitize your hands. Some days it gives me a headache, but these things matter.

4. We can’t always go to large gatherings and typical places. I’d love to go to every reunion, bounce place, and pizza party zone. But we can’t. Please don’t be offended if we can’t be there. We want to and we will miss everyone. But these places carry hidden dangers for our loved ones. We may need a smaller gathering or a different meeting place.

5. Don’t tell the person how bad you feel for them right to their faces. They probably feel bad enough that they are missing out. My daughter may not care, but I do. Having been able to take my son to places and have her miss out isn’t fun for me. Instead of listing all the stuff they are missing out on find way to include them! It may take a little more creativity on your part but it’s so worth it. One of the best memories I have is of a good friend bringing her child over here with a few party trinkets and some cake to have a second birthday party so my child could participate. It meant a lot.


I’m sure I could come up with more. You may even have ideas too, but this is a start. We can make things better for our loved ones who are immunocompromised and keep them healthy and thriving. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

All I Want for Christmas

This year has had so many changes I feel like just when I get used to something or our routines seem set another shake up comes along.  To put it bluntly, 2016 sort of sucked.  There have been some rough years in our family but after this year I'm ready to say, stick a fork in me I'm done!!

From Autism to medical issues.  From bills to poor school services.  From sickness to dashed dreams. I so wanted to yell, "Stick a fork in me, I'm done!!!"  There are days I just wanted to hide and shut the world out.  Moments when I held Cary Lynn and just cried because I couldn't stand to see her in constant pain. Days when I wanted to be supermom but couldn't even get the socks to match from my dryer.

Yes, it has been a rough year.  But despite the bumps and jolts of the roller coaster of life for every downward dip there have been wonderful moments as well.

For Marvin it was finding a good mental health provider.  Even with a new diagnosis having support in place that is helping us (and Marvin) learn the skills he needs.  This provider has been teaching Marvin self advocacy skills and he is starting to bloom.  Instead of destroying the house in a rage he's trying to slow down, using new coping skills.  He has began to speak up.  Marvin has advocated for changes in his life.  I know we have a long way to go but I feel like we are finally on the right path.

Cary Lynn is finding her voice.  Despite dealing with daily pain and a body that doesn't work right her mind continues to expand.  She astounds people with what she knows.  We've worked hard at keeping her healthy and even though she continues to have health challenges this year has been a bit better (not stellar, but enough progress to make us happy).  She loves books and music, Peppa Pig and her Dah.  She smiles and still manages to kick and bite everyone who has a Dr. title.  She laughs at her dog and gets annoyed when you invade her personal space.  And when you shut off her Ipad. I love the fact that she does get mad and annoyed.  When people tell me how happy she is I have to hide a smirk......

There are going to be so many changes this coming year.  We will travel out of state for medical care, new school adventures, more training for Noel, and trying to look after my own health a little better as well.

Looking back pre kids at Christmas I remember hanging stocking and thinking how much we wanted children. It didn't matter what kind of kids, we just wanted children.  Now two special needs adoptions later and everything that comes with it all I want is some sleep and housecleaners!! Kidding, sort of.... Seriously, if I could go back or look forward I don't honestly know if I would change anything in my part of the journey.  Marvin and Cary Lynn may have a different answer to that but it will be their part of the story to tell.  These two kids with multiple needs who are both classified as disabled have turned my life upside down but they have also made me something pretty special.  Their mom.  Not supermom, but a pretty darn decent human who on her best days can get things done and on her worst days cries over mismatched socks.

All I want for Christmas?  I have it.  And I'm thankful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Seasons of Change

I've started this blog post about half a million times and then something always happens and I need to just step back and reevaluate, reflect, and breathe.  A long time ago I decided if we couldn't be normal than I would choose to be happy.  But sometimes it's hard to be happy and you have to work harder at happiness that normalcy!

It's been a roller coaster around here.  Some of the highlights were the celebration of National Adoption Month!


Note my fancy memes.  Oooohhhh aaahhhh.  I was also able to do some speaking on adopting from foster care.  I was excited about that and hopefully will be on a podcast soon talking more about special needs adoption.  

Marvin is getting older and understanding a bit more about the process and the culture.  I am proud to be an adult adoptee and want him to take pride in his unique status as well.  He is already talking about adopting all boys when he is grown up (he's also nine so girls are a big no right now).  

Another really great piece of news is that Marvin passed his weekend seizure study. 
He got to wear a "magic helmet" that itched like all get out and he was told to do "normal activities" like sitting quietly and coloring.  HA HA HA HA.  Ever try to nail Jello to a tree?  Yep, we had to peel him off of swings, trees, and all things Marvin.  It didn't work too well, but we have no active seizures and we survived.  I told the neurologist next time I'd rather be chased by rabid cats up a tree.  
Then we've had some moments that haven't been super great.  We finally got answers on vision with Cary Lynn and they weren't what we were hoping for.  While she does have CVI there is other damage as well.  Let's start with her optic nerve.  And I even brought visuals, yay!  
So this is your optic nerve.  It's healthy, pink, and very happy to be... well working.  
Here you can see a bit better what needs to happen for healthy vision to occur.  Cary Lynn had a lot of damage due to her stage three brain bleed.  The optic nerve, which should look nice and healthy is shriveled and looks like white aspirin.  Her visual cortex is also damaged from pressure.  

Cary Lynn also has ROP or Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). It is a potentially blinding eye disorder that primarily affects premature infants weighing about 2¾ pounds or less that are born before 31 weeks of gestation. The smaller a baby is at birth, the more likely that baby is to develop ROP. This disorder—which usually develops in both eyes—is one of the most common causes of visual loss in childhood and can lead to lifelong vision impairment and blindness.  

The Dr was very concerned that VCU did not perform surgery to help with the ROP.  Even though she would still have vision issues he felt that surgery would have helped save more of her sight. Since she was a ward of the state at that time we will never know.  And that really hurts more than anything else.  

The Dr was compassionate and all together wonderful.  Cary Lynn can see light, colors, and is responsive to visual stimulus.  He also said that the only person who knows what Cary Lynn CAN see is Cary Lynn.  We were also told that glasses were a waste of time on her as they make things smaller and that's the last thing she needs.  
As you can see she totally agreed with that statement.  It was a hard few days, it didn't really hit me until I was driving home.  I got home, had a really good cry, cleaned a few closets, got mad, and then decided that this doesn't change what we have been doing, and decided to just keep on keeping on. 

I had been feeling better and we were getting back into the groove when another Dr. decided to rain on my parade.  This time it was Marvin and I was sitting in another office and while Marvin got to go hang and watch TV with the ultra cool front office people the Dr. and I were discussing a new piece in Marvin's puzzle.  

Autism.  

It's amazing the power of one word and what it can do to even a stoic been there, done that, bought the T-shirt mom that I tend to be.  

"Mrs. Fields', I've reviewed all of Marvin's testing results, talked to his other Drs., worked with Marvin, and been through all of your notes.  I don't know why everyone has danced around it and I believe in calling a spade a spade.  Have you heard of Asperger's Syndrome or mild autism?"

"I'm sorry, you have the wrong kid.  Marvin isn't autistic, he's a social butterfly.  That just isn't even possible." 

"Mrs. Fields', I know this isn't really fantastic news, but you can be social AND have autism.  Marvin matches the profile and his other Drs. agree that Marvin falls in the spectrum.  The good news is that he's still the same kid you came in here with.  This doesn't change him.  What it does change is how we can work with him better to help him be the best Marvin and the rock star kid that we know he can be. We can help you and your family understand and work with this."  

Needless to say, this was not fantastic news.  But the Dr. is right.  The diagnosis doesn't define him or change him. He's still the same goofy nine year old who talks about video games and sharks nonstop. My cheeseball who likes to ham it up.  He's still Marvin.  
Both of my kids have not changed due to all the new and less than fun diagnosis surrounding them. They both rock out who they are and live loud and proud.  While I'm writing Cary Lynn is napping in her pod swing (we got a nasty virus because no holiday season is complete without disease and pestilence in the house) with her ipad and Marvin is running around outside finding the tallest tree to climb up.  Everything has changed while nothing has changed.  It's just a new season in our home and one that we will adjust and adapt to because like it or not, the changes will keep coming and we will meet them head on.  


Friday, October 14, 2016

We've hit 5!!!

Five years ago something amazing happened.  A little girl was born at 24 weeks old.  Her mom was addicted to drugs and not fit to parent her so that little girl was put up for adoption.

Nine months later she came into our home and hearts.


She was little and full of sass!  She changed our lives.  

Through all the years and medical crap that we've had to wade through she's always been a trooper. But at the back of my mind an old neurologist we went to at VCU told us, she will never make 5.  

But guess what?  Today my daughter not only has made 5 she is also doing other things that people said she would never be able to do.  It's always going to be an uphill battle for her but my daughter is a fighter.  She fights and she triumphs.  
My daughter is a super hero rock star diva who wants to be called by her stage name, Barbra (thanks Kate for that one).  Every day is a gift and a blessing around here.  We celebrate every inch stone, every smile, and everyday.  

Happy Birthday to a little girl who has made my days brighter, my nights longer (because we don't sleep), and who has taught me so much more than I will ever teach her.  I love you.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Serving for a Cause

"You know," the doctor said to me quietly as we were leaving the appointment, "a service animal is just what you little girl needs.  They are wonderful with children and can be trained to do so much."

Flashback to 40 minutes ago.  We had just been called back to see the doctor.  He had come in and we had talked.  Cary Lynn immediately froze in her chair.  She knew who this guy was and she knew it was going to hurt.  A little whimper escaped her lips.  That whimper turned into piercing screams as she was pulled and prodded.  She then started trying to launch into her vampire routine.  You could hear us all the way through the 3rd floor.

"Hey, call in Sarge."  The Dr. turned to the nurse who came from the other end of the building to see what was happening while I tried to crawl under a table.  Cary Lynn was put in my hands and her screams of rage became gulping cries.

Enter an 800 year old dog.  (Maybe not that old but no spring chicken either).  He saw my daughter and began to lick her toes.  Her cries disappeared and a what the hey expression replaced it.  I whispered to her, "It's a doggie."  Her face lit up and she began to squeal with joy.  We put her back down for the exam and I kept looking at her like she was a bomb ready to go off.  But Sarge kept her occupied and delighted the rest of the exam.

The doctor's words echoed in my mind as I left.  All through the ride home and into the days that followed.  So our search began.  It had to be a dog that was just right.  But then we hit dead ends. There wasn't a service agency placing dogs.  It was frustrating.  I spent hours on the phone, emailing, and following leads.  Every one was a dead end.  The last call I made I got really mad and ended up in tears.  The lovely woman made a simple suggestion.  Train your own.

So I scrapped all my original research and started again.  The more I found out about it, the more excited I became.  This dog could not only help my daughter, but my son as well.  It could be Super Dog!!  I was so stoked!

But I was also not dumb.  I have many talents.  Training a service dog is a bit out of my realm.  So I talked to a bunch of other people.  One name came up over and over.  Dee Bogetti.  You can check her out here.  I liked her right from the start.  She is smart, no nonsense, and knows dogs.  She came to our home the day we brought Noel to live with us.

She was little and a ball of personality.  I was a little concerned about how she and Cary Lynn would hit it off.  
Buuutttt it seemed I wasted a good worry on nothing much.

Now the story could have ended here and I could just say she's a Great Dane and everyone loves her, the end.  But Noel serves a purpose.  She's not just here to inhale kibble and grace my sofa.  She has a job.  It is a 24/7 job with no holidays, no sick leave, and no slacking.


For my son she is comfort and safety.  You see her following him around in the last picture.  She's not just doing that because she has nothing better to do with her life.  Marvin is a runner.  Loud noises, any danger real or imagined, when he triggers she is there.  Her calming presence, the way she is attuned to him and when he starts amping up, and how she pulls on his shirt or herds him to a safe location.  Noel has given me peace of mind when she is on the job with Marvin.



For Cary Lynn, Noel has proved time and time again that she is worth her weight in kibble and cheese.  She is able to alert me when Cary Lynn is becoming ill or needs me.  That's not something you can necessarily teach an animal.  Noel has saved us from several visits to the hospital by alerting me before I knew there was a problem.  Her keen animal senses are superior to our human ones.  She also provides my daughter with comfort from doctors that poke and prod, she can bring and carry medical supplies, she can activate switches and doors in the home.  The more training she has the more she will learn.  

Training is important, but it can also come with a cost.  We are very blessed.  An amazing foundation, We Heart Harlie and Friends (you can visit them here), has started an on line fundraiser to help us fund Noel's training.  This organization helps families with medically fragile children and has a lot of amazing people.  But they can't do it alone (see I bet you knew there was a catch!). 

This is where you, the reader comes in.  There are many things you can do.  The most awesome one would be to donate.  If you feel that's something you can do you can go here.  You can also share this post.  The more shares, the more people we can reach.  The more people that see our story the more that may be willing to help lend a hand.  You can even share the link to the fundraiser.  Pin us, tweet us, whatever you do.  It only takes one small stone to start a ripple in a pond.  Let's make some waves! 
Noel continues to learn and every training brings us one step closer to getting her to become what she already is in her heart.  A service dog.  Serving for two children and making this mama's load lighter. A hero in fur.