Our baby is home….

Savanna was discharged early Friday morning and we made it home by lunch time.  It was so nice to be home, feeling like we were back in the driver’s seat again with her care.  Savanna is doing better, but still has a long way to go in terms of recovery.  She is in a lot of pain, and the best we have to manage the situation is ibuprofen and Tylenol.

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The past few days have been rough trying to manage her pain.  It comes and goes.  We seem to get good moments all of a sudden, and then as quickly as it became good, it deteriorates into crying and fussiness.  She has absolutely no interest in taking a bottle, so we are back to bolus feeds only (through her feeding tube).  This is tricky when she is just agitated beyond consolation, and squirming like you would not believe.

I decided to make some adjustments to her medication to see if we could level out her mood without too much sedation.  I split her onfi back to TID (tri-daily) versus morning/bedtime only.  And I went ahead and started scheduling .5mg of ativan, TID.  This has helped tremendously.  She is much happier and playful, with a lot less ibuprofen.  Once we get completely off the dexamethasone (steroid for her stridor), that will help this situation too.

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She used to crawl by doing a bunny hop, versus alternating opposite leg/arm movements and now she is crawling like a normal baby.  Albeit not much, but when you see it, it takes your breath away at first.

She is eating, like a horse.  She is chewing well.  Against normal intuition as a parent, dicing food into incredibly small pieces enables babies to simply swallow food versus chewing.  One piece just the wrong way and she chokes or her gag reflex kicks in full force.   So, the O/T (occupational therapist) we have recommended giving her larger pieces, so she would not naturally want to swallow the food, but rather naturally realize she has to chew it first.   Even if she doesn’t swallow it at first, that’s okay, she is getting over the aversion to having food in her mouth.  This has been a long process with Savanna.  A process that honestly, we almost didn’t even notice with our other kids – that is how different they are from a developmental standpoint.  It is all good.

One step at a time.

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These guys are three pees in a pod.  They are the best of brothers, and worst of enemies when it is time for ‘warfare’ – aka ‘playing wrestle’.

Tristan, Brandon and Austin are such good helpers.  They love to do things for Savanna to help us.  Most of the time, it is a good help.  Sometimes, like when Brandon wants to spin Savanna on the sensory swing, things get a little out of control.  I picture in my mind puke spraying out from Savanna splattering the walls all around her as she spins wildly…. and then… well, I slow down the swing of course.  We have yet to see the puke, but I have to admit, she likes to spin.

They just crack me up with their antics and how Tristan (the oldest) can interact so well with Austin, (Savanna’s twin and the youngest).  He is so protective and makes sure Brandon does not hit him too hard, or ‘wrestle’ him too hard.  They drive me to my wits end, especially when Savanna is having a really difficult time.  Then they turn right around and do things that are so touching and so thoughtful.

Sometimes, I have caught myself making parenting mistakes with Tristan (oops! did I say that out loud?)  Yes.  When my patience is the thinnest, I act my least thoughtful.  I am so focused on something going on with Savanna, that I have said things in a voice that was not called for, but was heard.  These situations are difficult.

Like seeing a picture you shouldn’t see…you can’t ‘unsee’ it.  Once I hurt his feelings, it can take a long time for him to get over it no matter what I do or say.

In the beginning, he (Tristan) would ‘forgive’ (more like forget) pretty quickly, but not now.  He is older and smarter.  His feelings are genuinely hurt, and most times it goes into the next day.

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I am learning as a parent and person in this situation.  It is still a work in progress, but this ‘stay-at-home’ situation is far more difficult than I thought it would be when I signed up for it.  With that, of course, goes the reward far beyond what I could ever achieve in any company, at any level.

Seeing Savanna learn and progress, knowing that I am big part of that effort, just can’t be explained in words.  There are not words that I can put together to characterize the emotions involved, especially since this last surgery.

So, overall, Savanna is progressing and doing well.  We are really anxious for the next few months to see what happens.  We continue to learn as a family what it takes to care for someone like Savanna.  More challenges are forthcoming.  Just as I have said before, God is preparing us for the future with the situations of today.

A special thanks goes out to Grandpa Squiz, Grandma Lou, Mama Barbara, and McKenzie and Eric for being there when we really needed help.  They allowed us to devote 100% of our time to Savanna during the operation and recovery period in the hospital.  Their help was a blessing.

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Recovery from a Second Resection for Focal Cortical Dysplasia: Day One

Having taken care of Savanna after her first epilepsy surgery, I thought I knew what to expect.  I was misled by my own experience about the potential difficulty immediately post-op.  My bewilderment is like that of parent who’s first baby sleeps through the night in 3 weeks while child number 2 doesn’t even come close to such behavior.

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Savanna was very healthy during the procedure, but it still took nearly 12 hours to complete.  The craniotomy (opening in her head) was basically the same as her previous except one small relief cut around the vertex of the incision at the top of her head to allow more access.  The neurosurgeon told us that Savanna had significant scaring in the dura underneath the cranial bone which resulted in a longer procedure time than planned.  After surgery Savanna was extubated and began to experience difficulty breathing known as stridor (a wheezy, whistle sound when breathing due to constriction).  This resulted from her larynx and retinoids below it being very inflamed, which constricted airflow.  Imagine trying to run or workout while breathing through a straw only.

 

Throughout the night she was really agitated as the anesthesia wore off and the stridor kept her from breathing well.  Finally, after many doses of sedative and painkilling medicines, she really went downhill – so I thought.  I worried about her safety that night one time in particular.  Rebecca was right there and even though an RT was working on Savanna, things spiraled out of control – or so we felt.  Rebecca ran down the hall to find the critical care Fellow that was managing her case, and forcibly brought them back to the room.  I think there were some expletives used, as she too was really scared.

Savanna was in tachnycardia.  This can be really scary, but also normal presentation with a very agitated child.  For sure, with the stridor, the crying hurt as her throat was sore, and this increased her agitation, which results in more crying.  Add the constriction to the windpipe and you have a recipe requiring action.  With respiration rates in teens, heart rates in the 220-230 range, and bp north of 130, she was really unhappy.  They would administer a mg of morphine and she would settle down for about 10 minutes and then awake as though someone was cutting her leg off with a butter knife.  Then they tried something else, same result.  Everyone involved was amazed after several doses of versed, morphine, norco, the addition of precedex drip, there was still only minimal control of the situation.  Rebecca and I could not have been more relieved that we had clear contact with the doctors overseeing her neurological care.  They called the appropriate people in the PICU and we felt (even if it wasn’t the case) this made a difference in her care that night.

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Perspective:  Most likely, the Attending Physician, Fellows, Residents, Interns, and Nurses had not seen more than a few cases like Savanna’s in their lifetime.  And guaranteed, the only thing similar would have been the type of seizure disorder.  The etiology and child would likely be very different.  Some statistics for those interested in my rant on ‘perspective’ – (based on aged data, but the best I could find)

  • 4,000,000 live births in US according to census bureau.
  • 1:4000-6000 live birth rate for babies diagnosed with Infantile Spasms.
  • Result: 1000-2000 total babies are born that will be diagnosed with Infantile Spasms, total in the US.
  • The gender ratio is 60:40, boy:girl  ==  There is only 400 to 800 female babies per year born in the US like Savanna.
  • There are ~ 22 babies within 1000 square miles of Houston that are born like Savanna each year:
  • Ratio of 10-county (1000’s sq miles) population versus national population
    • 6,100,000 : 350,000,000 = 1.7% x total births = ~68,000 people born in this area
    • Factor in 1:5000 average, ~ 13 girls born that will develop IS.
    • Factor in 70% symptomatic diagnosis, 9 girls born who will develop like Savanna in Houston area (1000 sq miles) each year.
    • There are 2 locations qualified to treat this condition in the Houston area.

Even if you add to the number of children with FCD (focal cortical dysplasia) that did not develop IS (infantile spasms), it is a small number in any given year.  So from my perspective, Savanna is very special, even if some of the doctors who care for her don’t see her situation worthy of study when dropped into their lap.  I am not suggesting they ‘waste’ a lot of time understanding the her history, but more than a look at her current chart might give some perspective to her situation and our potential knowledge as parents.  But nonetheless, I find myself ‘just the dad’, with a perceived  ignorant and irrelevant opinion not worthy of anything except keeping to myself.  A situation that would seem to warrant 60 seconds of briefing by looking through her most recent neurology clinic output note devolves into one that they are forced to go back and look or face a difficult road.  I know other parents out there have felt the same way at times.  I can’t understand why the situation has to be so difficult.

The following day, we were assigned a nurse who deemed herself all-knowing as to what Savanna wanted, although she stated the opposite.  Her hypocritical actions combined with her statements didn’t sit well with me and we decided not to stand for it.  Rebecca took on the confrontational role and initiated a nursing change.  This particular day was stressful enough already and we did not need the attitude from the nurses treating us like we have never taken care of kids before or that it was our fault the night shift crew did not do the job just as she would have done it.

So here I am, shortly after the first 24 hours in the PCIU, realizing that my baby is probably going back to the OR in a couple of days to deal with the airway restriction that is hampering her recovery while facing the fact that I am confined to this location against my will.   To top off our sour experience, Dr. V arrives around 5pm to check on Savanna.  We had never even seen the attending physician that day even though they, ’rounded’ on Savanna.  No doctor or nurse even told us what ‘the plan’ was despite several attempts to find out ourselves.  Dr V, says she is going to contact the ENT she wants involved, then leaves the room to make the call.  Magically, the attending physician comes in to speak with us, and said he had already set up the consult.  Ironic.  Not sure exactly happened outside the room during those few minutes, but it just seems odd that all that happened within about 10 minutes.

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But, here we are, Second Resection in Recovery – Day 1

-dad

The Neurosurgeon Asks: “How bad is it?”

On January 31st, Savanna had a clinic visit related to her 23 hour VEEG performed on January 16/17.  I couldn’t understand at that time why the language seemed so vague about her EEG results.  When I finally got my hands on the EEG report, it became clear.  It wasn’t processed until February 14th.  So, they had to scan the EEG themselves in the office to provide any news on the findings (thus the extra 3 hours of waiting).  Very disappointing, especially, when I learned she didn’t just have one seizure lasting only 30 seconds.  She actually had 4 seizures, none shorter than one minute and one just shy of three minutes.  I was really taken aback at the time and really felt somewhat mislead as to Savanna’s real condition.  But, somewhere deep inside me, I knew the truth.  This time, this day, was coming and it has arrived.

hmmm...  we don't know either....

hmmm… we don’t know either….

I had sent a follow-up email with more questions about Savanna’s care.  I knew all the answers.  Dr. V knew that I knew all the answers, because have been through this in the past.  But, I needed some moral support and reassurance that we were doing the right things with her care.  Dr V was simply too busy to answer such questions and brushed aside the email despite multiple requests for answers.  Instead, we were pushed to perform another MEG study and MRI.  Then we learned her case would be presented in the surgical conference a short week later.  It became clear Dr V was guiding us in the right direction.  During all of this activity, Savanna has been having a really difficult time.  We undoubtedly observed seizure activity.  Some related to teething pain, pain with constipation, and the typical unprovoked seizures during the sleep/wake cycle.  Intervention was necessary on several occasions, though no EC visit was required.

We had reached the target dose on the Trileptal (36mg/kg/day), her new AED.  We titrated the Sabril down and when we were nearly at end of that period (only 20mg/kg/day), she became out of control.  We honestly thought the IS had come back.  Her demeanor according to Rebecca was identical to the time when the IS was in full force prior to the ACTH therapy.  Intervention was necessary, and calls to Dr V were at times frantic.  Panic set aside, we knew what to do, and did what was needed to keep Savanna safe.  Maybe more sedated than she needed to be, but safe from seizures while the time passed.  We have since increased the Sabril back to around 60mg/kg/day and added scheduled Onfi at 15mg/day.  This cocktail seems to be keeping her from pulling her hair out, and us too.

come on dad, no more pictures....

come on dad, no more pictures….

During the surgical conference I get a call from Dr T’s office that they want to see her next week.  “Wow, this is moving fast” I thought to myself.  To get a call during the conference is not the norm.  The final days before we were to have the clinic visit with Dr T were filled with lots of seizures for Savanna, and inconsolable agitation.  Our APRN met us at the clinic visit which also was not normal, so we knew this was serious.  That morning, we got the MEG report which Rebecca and I reviewed on the drive to TMC.  There was a lot of epileptogenic activity, more than we realized.  That particular report didn’t show seizures, but rather, a lot of focal spikes.

We talked with the APRN for quite a while before Dr T came into the exam room.  Then Dr T burst in, greeted us, then just sat down and said “How bad is it?”  Rebecca and I didn’t know how to answer.  We fumbled through a few jumbled sentences, before he stopped us and proceeded to ask us other questions to try to figure out the answer for himself.  The rest of the conversation was about philosophy of the deciding on the surgical option and the procedure itself.  In the end, he explained the procedure plan which is a multiple lobectomy.  The intent was to remove the entire temporal and occipital lobes and the parietal lobe posterior of the motor strip.  It is a much larger resection than she underwent last year.

He proceeded to explain the procedure and what deficits she will have.  Then the conversation turned to more philosophy involved regarding making the decision to operate or not.  There was some pause on my end, but not from Rebecca.  She wanted to move forward and now.  Dr T felt if the Sabril was restarted and Savanna was doing better he would prefer her to be larger in size as she would have less stress during the procedure.  He also felt that there was a high probability that Savanna would have this procedure in the near future, even if we decided to wait now.  We left the visit with a surgery date of April 1, 2013.  Dr T felt we needed to think about the procedure some more and let him know if we still wanted to proceed.  I thought a lot about what he said and the conversation Rebecca and I had that day.  Then I turned to a story I came across from a member of an IS support group on facebook.  The mother’s son, in a slightly different situation to start with, underwent nearly the same procedures.  I read her blog on his story start to finish.  I cried.  The similarities were chilling.  Their son is about 6 months ahead of Savanna in terms of surgical timeline and twice her age.   Then I sat down and wrote an email to our doctors confirming our desire to move forward with the surgery.  I think it really summarizes our feelings, although Rebecca expounds below about what emotions go into a decision like this. While answering the question, Here is what I sent the doctors  (less the grammatical errors I found when transposing the text here):

….

How bad is it?  The first question you asked was the one we least expected, thus the fumbling responses.  Yes, she was crying and fussy for the 15 minutes you saw her.  Until you have lived with a child like Savanna, explanations to your answer are difficult.  Many of us chosen parents attempt to portray this fact/emotion blend through blogs and so forth.  But, until you have lived it as a parent, you cannot understand.   Separating the facts from the emotions is the key to your answer.  You are in a unique position as a highly trained professional dealing with kids like this frequently, and a parent yourself of I presume typical children (my apologies if I am mistaken).  I have given up my career (for the time being) to take care of Savanna.  Rebecca has assumed a role out of necessity that supports our basic requirements financially and from an insurance standpoint.  This role is slowly corroding our life as the job sucks – simply put.  (Yes, we can and will change that, but when you are in the middle of a battle, sometimes strategic decisions have to be made to win the war and that was one of them.)  We moved our family closer to your place of business and our family for her sake.  It has nearly broken us financially, and for sure wrecked our future financial planning.  She is developing, but at a snail’s pace.  And, now complex partial seizures are back and clustering.  Do we have diagnostic proof of the existence of the complex partial seizures, no.  We are willing to run more tests if you need to see more data.  I am using ativan to intervene occasionally and now onfi is scheduled TID.  It was just a personal choice to use ativan versus rectal valium.  You are not hearing about idiotic ER visits now, for several reasons.  Dr Von Allmen is not in France and unreachable.  Now, we are armed with experience, knowledge and access to medications to help her quickly.  It is not because she is not seizing.  Yes, I agree and admit the seizure frequency is lower than prior to the first resection.  But, how bad is it you ask, it is bad.

Yes…we can probably optimize medications to help her with the complex seizure control, but it will be at the expense of becoming non-participatory in life.  We already see that happening now.  We also feel confident this will over time degrade her state of health and make the procedure more difficult for all parties.  And, she is still having lots of electrographic events.  We are ready to act now.  We say that without the benefit of years of experience you have seeing patients like Savanna and knowing that we are making a dramatic decision that cannot be undone later.  We are making the most informed decision we can based on the collected data, opinions expressed by you and Dr. Von Allmen, the stories of other children in similar situations, and our faith in your God given understanding of the science. 

Savanna needs your help sooner rather than later if you feel she can safely withstand the procedure.  You can help her.  We trust you and Dr. Von Allmen, and your team members, to the extent that we are prepared to hand her life over to you for a short while why you all do what you do best knowing the outcome has lifelong effects, some good and some bad, and some risk of unintended permanent effects.  We trust your judgment on the intended procedure plan.  

….

there are no words....

there are no words….

Many of you may wonder (as do we), what will she lose when these sections of her brain are removed?  She will lose her speech, attention to her right side, and short term memory.  Those functions will move to the healthy side of the brain and she will learn to compensate accordingly.  She may have some weakness on her right side, particularly in her right leg.  If it does not go as planned, she may have paralysis on her right side.  This can be overcome with therapy, as it will plasticize to the right hemisphere.  She will lose her vision in the right half of both eyes, resulting in her loss of her natural peripheral vision on her right side.  This will not change, as it is a function that cannot move to the right hemisphere.  She will learn to compensate by scanning her right side every so many seconds.

(Commentary from Rebecca)  We are living now for this opportunity that has given many other parents hope for seizure freedom, and hope for a near-normal life for our daughter.  If successful, Savanna has a 40% chance of becoming seizure free after surgery without long-term medication.  Seizure freedom is what is required to give her the best chance to develop “normally”.  The odds may not sound good, but when we started our journey with infantile spasms (IS), her odds of even having IS, were less than 1 in 10,000.  Her odds of averting severe mental, physical, and emotional handicaps were only in the 5 to 10% range, so to us, 40% sounds very good.  It is “cause for celebration” as our first epileptologist put it.   As a conservative gambler, an engineer, and a statistician, I never thought I’d be one to go “all in” on 40% odds, but today those odds mean everything.

The risks involved in a second surgery are higher than with the first.  Savanna still is barely above the minimum 10 kilograms at which our surgeon will agree to operate.  Our surgical team will also need to navigate the prior resected tissue in her brain which presents it own set of challenges versus virgin tissue.  She could experience too much blood loss.  She could have a stroke during the operation.  The surgical team could have to abandon the surgery prematurely, requiring us to have to wait many more months before a third attempt can be made.  We could lose her.  Most of these risks are very very small according to the surgeon.  It is beyond terrifying to agree to these risks for your child, when they themselves have little say in the matter.  We remain focused on the 40%.

We are trying to balance the risk of moving forward with surgery now, to the risk of waiting too long, and having her lose milestones or go back to the weeks and months of constant seizures and near-coma sedation.  Some days, we watch her, and see how far she’s come since her 1st surgery.  Her hair has grown back, and you don’t notice her scar.  Maybe a few seizures aren’t so bad…She smiles at us.  She loves her brothers.  She’s getting so close to starting to crawl.  She gets excited when we walk in the door…then like so many other times, she’s just not there…  She’s staring off.  Her eyes are rolling, drifting cross-eyed, or pegging in an unnatural direction just for a few moments longer than what can be considered normal.  She goes limp.  Her breathing becomes labored.  Is it a seizure?  Is it just the way her brain and eyes function?  Ok, we think, we just noticed this…how long has it been going on?  Our minds start the mental count 1,2,3,…24,25,26… ok, this is really a seizure…Is it the first one she’s had today, or just the first one we’ve noticed?  We don’t really know.  In the middle of all this, there is life with the other kiddos…

Brandon in the sandbox

Brandon in the sandbox

Saturday morning with powdered donuts!  mmmm!

Saturday morning with powdered donuts! mmmm!

We have to give her this chance.  We pray that we are not selfishly doing it for ourselves, to have a chance to have our normal, healthy baby girl back, a child without lifelong harsh sentence of unknown special needs.  Is it really possible?  How terribly arrogant that sounds as I put my thoughts on paper.  We will love her no matter what, fiercely, and always, but we will do anything and everything within our power to take this burden away from her…away from us…to give her a chance…even a glorious 40% chance…  We pray it is the right decision…(back to Ken)

How bad is it?  Well, it can be worse.  As we have learned, it can always get worse, but we are so fortunate to have this option to hope for.

A Day to Give Thanks, to God.

An update on Savanna’s situation.

She is 4 weeks post-operative, and she is well.  We have started to titrate down some of her medications, but she is still on basically the same panel of medications that she was prior to the operation.  This is keeping her quite sedated.  We are starting to reduce the Onfi first, and see how she responds.  Despite the level of sedation, we are happy to report significant changes.  The biggest change we have seen is the engagement in her environment.  She seems to see her world differently now than she did prior to the surgery.  I looked at her over the crib rail one day and she smiled at me without any stimulation or sounds from me.  To most of you that may sound silly or trivial to bring up, but for me personally, it was profound.  She had never done that before and more importantly, it was a sign that at some level, her brain is working correctly.

She has periods where she tolerates sitting up in a bumbo seat or bouncer or something similar.  It is really rewarding to see that type of progress.  We still harbor a guarded optimism for her immediate outlook as we know some of the facts.  We know that the Sabril could be helping to suppress the Infantile Spasms.  Should we lower that dosage and the Spasms return, it would be another fork in the road of her journey to put it nicely.  Also we know that if Savanna would not have struggled as much as she did during the surgery, the surgical team would have expanded the resection.  While not trying to be an eternal pessimist, it is important that we have some emotional preparation for what the future may hold.  Another surgery is quite probable, and a life-long battle with seizures is also quite possible.

Unfortunately, we are still seeing abnormal activity at times.  Just last night, she was having a really difficult time sleeping, and I witness about 6 hours of what I would consider a seizure-filled period.  I am not positive that what I saw was seizures, but it would appear she has some partial activity still in the background, and it occasionally spikes enough to cause complex or clinical indications.  I am certain that a VTM/LTM is in her near future to diagnose what we are witnessing.  She has become quite cross-eyed lately and it is asymmetric in nature.  What is weird is that the opposite eye is effected than prior to the operation.

We are told she may be experiencing many circumstantial situations as she develops a new baseline.  In the mix too is that she is growing, and with infants, things can change fast as we have learned.  So, it may be possible she doesn’t reach a baseline for quite some time.  We have scheduled clinic visits to see the doctors in the neurosurgery, neurology, ophthalmology, and genetics departments next week.  We will send our blood samples to a couple of different labs to sequence her exome and our genome.  We are starting therapy again for motor skills, speech, and cognition.

I have included some pictures here that are from the last couple of weeks.  She truly is an angel and while we live the myth of Thanksgiving nowadays, we are very thankful this year for what God has given our family.  The true story of Thanksgiving has long since been white-washed and papered over with liberal textbooks.  It is a day that requires some inward thought about the real story, our past, and the future of our country.

For those of you who might want a closer look at what she underwent 4 weeks ago, there is a hidden link on our website that shows a few pictures from the surgery. [taken down, as of 2-2013] I am not posting the link, to the pictures, just to the website.  The link is the homepage picture.  It is mobile friendly.  Warning: they are graphic.

www.kenandrebecca.com

Have a great Holiday this weekend, and hope this email finds you and your family well.

Mom and Dad

(Ken and Rebecca)

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Epilepsy Surgery – Post-Operative

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Savanna was under the care of her doctors and anesthesia for about 14 hours yesterday, and is now on the road to recovery.  She spent the first night in the PICU, and as it was as predicted, it was a difficult night.  It took a while to find a combination of medications to help her pain level and soothe the agitation.  Overall, she is not experiencing any serious complications.  The swelling was significant immediately following surgery, but reduced dramatically during the first night in the PICU.  By the morning, she was sleeping well, and the swelling had come down significantly.  She was released to the EMU, which was really good news.  She really isn’t herself yet, and all normal medications are continuing for now. 

Moving forward….

The plan is to continue medications as they were prior to surgery, wait, watch and see how she does.  Once she recovers from the surgery , we will begin to reduce medications, normalize her diet, and observe.  If we see behavior that appears to be seizure activity, then EEG and imaging studies will be ordered.  Right now, the neurosurgeon felt like the abnormal tissue was removed in its entirety.  However, the epileptologist said she measured abnormal spikes and activity in the parietal lobe, further up and back on her head from the primary seizure focus.  But collectively, they didn’t feel she could tolerate more surgical time, so they left that tissue in place and proceeded to close.  This doesn’t mean she will have seizures in the future.  It also doesn’t necessarily mean she will need another surgery.   

Only time will tell.

We are expecting to see acceleration in her development, due to the lack of disruption during the day when she is having seizures.  We are expecting to see some noticeable visual deficit in the right half of each eye due to the occipital lobe tissue removal (on the left side).  They were able to spare the occipital pole region of that lobe, which is where central vision data is processed.  So the level of peripheral vision deficit is unknown at this time.  We will restart occupational, physical, and speech therapy as soon as she can participate.  We are really anxious to get her home.

Special thanks to Rebecca’s parents, Ray and Mary Lou, and my mother, Barbara, for holding out during the delays and staying here through the surgery.  They have provided emotional support during this difficult period with Savanna.  They have also provided some logistical support with managing the care of the other kiddos while Savanna is an in-patient.  Thank you to you all from both of us.

Finally, a special thanks to Andrea, our Au Pair.  She has really stepped up during this time and allowed our family to be where we need to be.  She has learned what is required to take care of Savanna and has provided me much needed time to guide her care, deal with the insurance company, and provide support to my company after my departure.  Thank you from both of us.

-Mom and Dad

(Ken and Rebecca)

More Seizures, and Finally: Epilepsy Surgery

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Finally, after 2 weeks of high stress and hundreds and hundreds of seizures, Savanna was in the EMU.  Tuesday morning, September 4, was a very busy day. By 8am, the EEG equipment was installed, an IV had been started, and the reality of her situation became apparent to all.  She was having a lot of seizures with increasing frequency and length.  The sense of urgency to control her situation was present in everyone around involved in her care, which had not been the theme of the past two weeks.  The sense of relief as a parent was overwhelming, for about 1 minute.  Then reality set in, that her situation is as bad as we thought.  Our doctor recognized how difficult our situation had been over the past couple of weeks after a short discussion.  I briefly explained our experiences in the EC and she remarked that an experience like ours it is not uncommon for a child like Savanna.  I found that comment to be really depressing, as that means many families like us are dealing with this situation.  Anyway, after about  3-4 hours of monitoring, many, many seizures were captured.  Intervention was often initiated , with high doses of chlonidine, ativan, versed, and valium.  Savanna’s seizures were proving to be refractory, however their presentation was always the same, clinically and electrographically.  While it was not good that she was having seizures, it was good that not only were all the seizures the same in terms of presentation, but the data correlated with data acquired in CA.  It seemed like we were finally starting to gain some traction.  The momentum toward epilepsy surgery was building quickly.  Finally, she was able to sleep soundly for a few hours after receiving enough medication to sedate several normal adults for many hours.  She was quickly moved to the imaging department where a high resolution MRI and MEG preparatory scan were performed.  EEG equipment had to be removed and then re-installed.  Down to the CT scanner for a PET scan.  This was then cancelled because this hospital doesn’t use GA (general anesthesia) for CT scans.  Our ultimate focus was turned to the MEG scan schedule.  A MEG study had great potential for Savanna to be a very compelling diagnostic tool.  We would have to wait on the scan this week, as for some reason the insurance approval is not quick for this type of test.  I would say too, that ‘logic’ and ‘medical insurance company’ should not be used in the same sentence.  Their business model is to make money by limiting reimbursement or simply disallowing reimbursement.  They accomplish this by making the billing so complicated and convoluted, that few can understand it.  To date I have spent ten’s or hours on the phone trying to straighten out tangles in our benefits.

[Sidebar:  When we left CA, we were using a CA based HMO – meaning a plan subscribed to by CA doctors only.  This meant that we had to either start over on Rebecca’s plan, or engage in Cobra insurance through my employer.  It appeared on the surface that it would be better to engage Cobra, as we had already paid the maximum out of pocket by family, and our additional payments would be limited to just a few thousand dollars, plus premiums.  My company is a small group, and as such they used ADP for payroll and medical insurance premium collection and payment.  This meant, I could not work with BCBS myself, I had to involve ADP and my employer.  We needed to select the PPO plan offered by the company to make sure we could get coverage in Texas.  There was a real problem getting ADP to talk to my employer to straighten out the offering, as they continued to only offer me the CA based HMO.  Now the deductible and out of pocket monies had to moved accordingly.  BCBS had some other billing problems still in play when this switch happened, and that seemed like a wrench thrown into the transmission.  It took several more weeks to straighten out the situation, and Savanna needed a lot of care in the meantime.  This meant a lot of providers pinging the insurance company for payment instructions, and I could not explain to these people what was going on.  It turned into an accounting and insurance headache that we did not need in the midst of this crisis.  To add to the problem, a system issue created a billing problem with the twins.  The hospital and other providers submitted claims on Savanna’s behalf, but the insurance company was recognizing the claims for Austin instead of Savanna.  Birth date is now a big factor with the new HIPPA rules in place and the BCBS system had a glitch with multiples.  This meant all claims were being paid based on Austin not having met any deductible or out-of-pocket expenses, not to mention no need for some of the extremely expensive testing that we were trying to undergo with Savanna.  What a mess.  I noticed the issue on the web portal and have been fighting it ever since.]

Wednesday saw the start of the ‘magical’ Keto diet.  There is not scientific proof of why this special diet works.  However, it can work, has proven to work, and now is considered a front line treatment option in many comprehensive epilepsy clinics for infantile spasms.  In some cases, when all else fails, it has provided relief from seizures.   Also, in many cases, there is no diagnostic proof that it will or will not work.   It is more of scientific herbal therapy in my view as the scientific manner in which is stops seizures is not known.  The field of genetics is also exploding right now, and eventually the severe metabolic disorders that enable the Keto diet to provide seizure relief, will be discovered.  The Keto diet has been around for many years, and it is similar to a Atkins style diet.  Basically, the intent is to change the fuel for the brain from glucose to keytones.  More information about the Keto diet can be found here, at the Charlie Foundation website.  Savanna’s titration schedule for Keppra accelerated to go to the maximum within a few days, rather than another week or so.  At this time, she was on schedule dose of 1.0mg of ativan Q6. (every 6 hours) and this was keeping her quite sedated.

Thursday, Keto implementation continued, and ativan dose was adjusted to 1.5mg Q4.  She was starting to get used to the ativan, so we had to increase the dose.  It was an overall good day.  No EEG equipment was installed, but I still could not hold her to console her as she was so agitated when awake.  Again, she was still having 2-3 seizures per hour, sometimes more.

Friday, she had a much better day.  The Keto diet was 100% in place now and she seemed to be tolerating it well.  She was still having several seizures per hour.  The video in the previous post is a short clip from this day.   The time between the seizures was not always so difficult.  This was a great relief to us and was very inspiring to see her more engaged and at least not so unhappy.   During all of this,  Rebecca had been maintaining a high-visibility work presence and was taking care of the big kids at night.  The stress of not being in the hospital with her daughter on top of being the primary breadwinner was immense.  I am not sure I would have handled it as well.  Again, much thanks to Rebecca’s Dad who was here through that week to help at home.

Saturday morning, Savanna was discharged in good health, but still having seizures.  She was on 9mg of ativan per day with orders to allow 18mg per day if needed.  It seemed like after a 1.5mg dose, she would be okay for about 3 hours.  Happy for about 1/2 hour, then have a few seizures, then sleep for about 2 hours.  When she awoke, she typically had seizures right away.  I don’t want to say you get used to the seizures, but there did come a time, where my concern was lessened as long as they ended in the normal time and she returned to baseline quickly.  The doctor felt she was a good candidate for the surgery and we had plans to meet the surgeon and complete the MEG scan too during the next week.  This is what we had been preparing ourselves for, and now it seemed like it was finally here.

Then Brandon…, a fish feeder…, an Emergency Center visit…, and stitches…. As if things couldn’t get worse… I had been basically away from home for about 5 days with Savanna, and when I got home with her Saturday afternoon, the big boys wanted to do something with me.  I decided to take them fishing.  There are two docks on our lake where there are fish feeders installed.  They run twice per day. Inside the olive drab green box, there is an aluminum fan blade that runs while food is dropped into it from above.  The food is then discharged out into the water.  Yes, you can see where this is going…  So, I was helping Tristan unhook a fish and Brandon was behind me, within arm’s length.  The fish feeder starts to run.  It is empty so nothing is coming out.  I then here a ‘clunk’, and I thought to myself, “Hmm, I have never heard it do that before, though I have heard the feeders run numerous times?”  Then the scream, the unmistakable scream, when you don’t have to question the level of hurt.  The kind of scream you know requires medical attention.  Yes, Brandon (then 2 years old), decided to reach into the discharge end the running feeder.  The ‘clunk’ I heard most likely was the unit being stopped abruptly when his finger jammed the impeller.  I whip around and his finger is just squirting blood.  I could not tell how bad the damage was, as he would not hold still.  I pulled off his shirt and tried to soak up the blood so I could see the wound.  Yes, it was pretty bad, and yes back to the ER we went for some stitches – but it wasn’t that bad really.  I would agree with Brandon’s assessment, in that it probably hurt like a son-of-a-bi!@#.  He lost his finger nail and had a pretty good cut across his index finger.  Supposedly, his nail will grow back according to the ER doctor, (and a month or so later, it is).

Tuesday morning was the day for the MEG scan, and we headed out early to the medical center.  We gave her extra medications once there to try to keep her calm, but it didn’t seem to be helping.  The EEG technician installed the montage of EEG electrodes, the MEG electrodes, and registration blocks.  There was almost no room on her little head for anything else.  It was all glue and wires.  She was really upset and these folks were looking at me for a solution.  “Are you kidding me?”, I thought to myself, as I tried to console her.  I couldn’t hold her, or do anything with her, and was expected to hold her down onto the bed, while also holding her head a certain way. After about 45 minutes, I was sweating, the EEG people were sweating, Savanna was enraged.  The technicians were looking to me to administer something to calm her down.  It actually felt like the pressure was ‘the other way around’ this time, like normally we as parents are looking to the doctors for such relief.  Kind of bizarre.  I went through what she had been given today, calculated what was safely available, and went for it.  I administered another .05mg of chlonidine and finally, within about 15 minutes she was sleeping soundly.  After 30 minutes of sleep monitoring, they asked me to try to wake her up.  As soon as she started to wake up, she seized.  We were able to capture a 60 second seizure with great clarity.  It was wonderful news according to the doctors.   After the MEG scan, her doctor came down to see the results first hand.  I mentioned what I had given her this morning in terms of medicine.  We all agreed, Savanna would be really knocked out for another 2 hours.  Quick action to try to squeeze her into the MRI schedule was underway.  We moved swiftly to the imaging lab, and had the scan performed.  This was a repeat scan since the first one seemed somewhat fuzzy.  They actually used the words ‘Free of charge to you’, when describing the procedure.  I almost laughed out loud.  Two hours later, she was done, and I felt a sense of accomplishment that day.  According to our doctor, no other scans should be needed moving forward.

[Sidebar: The MEG scan itself is unbelievable.  It is amazing technology that has many applications and more information can be found here regarding MEG technology.  I was able to see the results right after the scan and it was phenomenal what can be accomplished in this day and age.  It identified the locations in the brain that were involved in the seizure with extreme time resolution, and three dimensional spatial resolution of around a millimeter.  That is truly unbelievable to me.]

Wednesday was a good day, but I did notice her seizures were becoming longer.  30-45 second events had become 45-90 second events.  We had increased her ativan to the maximum dose of 18mg per day, and it didn’t seem to be helping any.  This was a troubling development, and one that increased our sense of urgency for the epilepsy surgery.

Thursday, we finally had our appointment to meet the surgeon.  After an hour or so with him, we for the most part understood the major components of the procedure, what to expect during her stay, and what to expect during recovery and at home.  He was recommending a focal resection of her left hemisphere.  She would have a large section of brain tissue removed from the Temporal, Occipital, and Parietal lobes of her left hemisphere of her brain.  The plan was to remove the brain tissue involved in the seizure focus.  The ultimate goal was to stop her seizures, prevent development of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and allow her the capability to develop to her full potential.  The plan would have multiple phases, but all could be accomplished in one procedure if everything went a specific way.  They would first open her up to expose the brain, implant electrodes to measure brain activity right in the OR.  If activity confirmed and correlated with prior diagnostic testing, then the resection would occur right then.  However, if there is any uncertainty, electrocorticography would be put in place.  This is where a grid of electrodes would be implanted into the brain tissue covering the area indicated by diagnostic testing as the seizure focus.  Re-install the cranial section removed, move to the ICU, then to the EMU for monitoring.  This isn’t a bad situation, just another step in the process to make sure the procedure has maximum effectiveness, with minimum removal of ‘good tissue’.  After a period of hours or days, a final determination on where the dotted lines would be placed for tissue removal could be ascertained.  Back to the OR to perform the resection.  After a day or two in recovery, she would be discharged home, with very limited  restrictions.  Then, medication would be removed from the  equation in the order that it was added.  If she has seizures, we know they didn’t get all of the tissue in the focus, or the activity had kindled somewhere else in her brain.  There is some pause here, as she was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms, which is a severe and generalized seizure type .  This means her entire brain was in seizure.  The theory and hope now is that she was having a complex partial seizure onset, that quickly changed to a generalized seizure when she was so young.

Our building enthusiasm was deflated when he stated that October 29th would be the surgery date.  It was like a 2 year old accidently popping a balloon at their birthday party.  The child would be not happy for a moment, but the larger situation would soon be realized and happiness returns.  He stated that he would be able to fit her in the 15th if his schedule was changed.  This wasn’t as daunting, but being 4 to 6 weeks away was really disappointing in a way.  We maintained the faith, as four more weeks of waiting was all that stood between Savanna and a hopefully life-changing event.   After lunch, we had another consultation with the epileptologist.  She decided to add onfi, another AED from the benzodiazepine family of drugs.

During the next week, we saw no real change in her seizure pattern, but she seemed overly sedated.  We started backing down the ativan.  Nothing changed in her seizure pattern, but the length of the events was increasing which had started even when on really high amounts of ativan.  We were charting all of her seizures, and we typically measured them in seconds for relative frame of reference.  Now we began measuring in minutes.  2-3 minute seizures were now the norm.  We were becoming desperate and anxiety of the surgery was increasing.  We purchased an apnea monitor so we would be alerted if she stopped breathing.

Another clinic visit the following Thursday resulted in doubling the onfi dose to 30mg per day, from 15mg.  This is high for such a small child, by anyone’s standard, but the doctor felt comfortable, and therefore, so did we.  The schedule was a one week titration up to the 30mg dose.  We had stopped the ativan completely by this point.  By mid next week, something changed.  Savanna was not having as many seizures, and seemed to be much more happy.  We had weaned her off the ativan completely.  By Friday the 28th, I sent an email to the doctor a with video attached with amazing results.  Savanna was laughing and engaged, and had stopped seizing – as far as we could tell.  Rebecca and I were beside ourselves.  It was a huge relief for us, as watching the seizures progress to 4-5 minutes was really difficult to experience.  Savanna was still experiencing seizure activity, but it was dramatically reduced.  It took some time for us to really hone in on the seizures now, as they were only lasting a matter of seconds, if you noticed them at all.

After the 28th, life became much more manageable in general.  While still tense, we were really looking forward to the 16th of October, which was the official surgery date.  While we still have a lot of mixed feelings and questions about “Why?”, there remains a strong resolve and faith that guides us during this journey.

[Sidebar: Why did this happen to her?  The ultimate question remains: why did her brain form incorrectly?  It’s impossible to be in this situation and not wonder if there was something that could have happened while Savanna was an embryo that might have been within our control.  While all doctors have said many tests have been done, and that is not the case, Rebecca will always wonder, did she work too much while she was pregnant?  Did she drink too much caffeine?  Did she eat lunch meat or hot dogs? Did the one glass of wine she had the entire time she was pregnant cause this?  I’ll wonder if the boys were too rough with Rebecca.  Did they hit her or kick her in the stomach while she was holding them?  Is this something that will only effect our girls?  She had 2 miscarriages before Tristan was born.  Maybe they were girls?  Maybe the only reason we have Savanna is because she was a twin and Austin was able to somehow keep the environment in the womb stable enough for Savanna.  Not sure we will have an answer for that in our lifetimes, but what we will most likely find is the etiology of her disorder.  As of now, she has an idiopathic diagnosis which means they don’t know why she is having seizures, or why more specifically she has a cortical dysplasia lesion in the part of her brain with a current seizure focus.  Genetic and metabolic testing has been performed, but it has been what they call ‘targeted’.  Meaning, they were only looking for known causes of the disorders that cause seizures, very specific mutations.  In today’s times, targeted testing is still the standard.  Tomorrow’s testing will be much more comprehensive.  They will most likely start sequencing the entire exome (or genome of the family) of a child like Savanna.  Here is a link to an article that caught my attention.  The article basically gives the history of a family with no known seizure disorders in the family, and a daughter who develops epilepsy.  Her seizures proved intractable, were generalized, and eventually took her life at the age of 15 as a SUDEP case.  The article describes the whole genome sequencing process and how they discovered, (and confirmed) a new de novo mutation that caused the child’s epilepsy.  They do this by analyzing the DNA of the mother, father,  sibling, and affected child.  After contacting the authors, I learned the deceased child was that of the geneticist.  I spoke with him in person, and we intend to send our DNA to the Hammer Lab at the University of Arizona for whole genome sequencing in the search of the mutation(s) that is responsible for Savanna’s epilepsy.  We will do this after the surgery, as we feel Savanna needs all of her blood volume in preparation for the surgery. ]

Amid all of this craziness, Tristan our 4-year-old, started T-Ball for the first time.  For parents who don’t take the ‘sport’ so seriously, t-ball with 4-year-old kids provides great comic relief.  For me, there is some emotional release when my child makes a good play, and I think this will probably be the case for some time.

Savanna and Austin celebrated their 1st birthday on the 20th of September.

Brandon celebrated his 3rd birthday on October 7th.

It has been very busy around our house.  I included a few pictures of those moments too in group.

Savanna’s surgery date is October 16th.  We could not be more anxious about this day.  We made plans for family to be here to not only help with the other kids, but to experience some of the hospital time with their granddaughter.  It is a very emotional time right now, and the more family that can be here to help the better.  We really feel fortunate to have family that can walk beside Savanna and with us during her journey.  Savanna is a strong little girl, and she has a lot of fight in her.  We don’t see any signs of her giving up.  She truly is an angel.  Savanna’s Journey now has turn that includes epilepsy surgery.

-mom and dad

(Ken and Rebecca Lininger)

Seizures, Seizures, and more Seizures

Savanna was discharged from the EMU at TMC on August 22nd after a bizarre EEG report indicated seizures with an onset in the right hemisphere.  This is not what we had seen to this point, and it was truly devastating news.  If confirmed, this would mean that the issue with her brain was not confined to the left hemisphere, and the surgical option may be off the table.

Savanna was not on phenobarbital, but now on Keppra, and still on Sabril.  She was still having complex partial seizures, but no cluster episodes or events that required intervention.   We were in a wait, watch, and see period again.  We were given a script for the diazepam rescue medication, to be used when she won’t stop seizing.  This in and of itself was a bit scary.  Her doctor was on her way out of the country to France for about 2 weeks.  We were told of her limited availability and the reins were handed over to her Fellows with oversight coming in the form of overnight email communication.  No back-up partner or pediatric epileptologist on staff meant few people available to make the difficult decisions to help her in crisis.  We had no idea how much of a headache this would be for Rebecca and I over the next 2 weeks.

On Thursday, August 23, the situation seemed manageable.  She was very sleepy from all the activity and this was normal presentation after EEG equipment is removed.  We witnessed a few seizures, and at that time it was of great concern to us but we couldn’t do much about it.  Rebecca and I were already contemplating the future, second guessing our decision to be in Houston, trying to re-engage her doctor in Orange County, CA.  I was the lead on choosing this particular doctor, and I was feeling like I made the wrong choice.  Internally, it was really starting to bother me.

Friday the 24th, Savanna had a really great day.  Her demeanor was wonderful.  She smiled, laughed, and was engaged at times.  Then she would have a seizure and our hearts sank as it took our breath away.  We were very concerned, and wondered if this may really be the new normal.  We were not ready to accept this paradigm shift.  We noticed as the afternoon progressed, she became increasingly agitated.  That night, this agitation grew to inconsolability and we were up with her the most of the second half of the night.

Saturday the 25th, she just would not stop crying and screaming.  It was exhausting for everyone involved.  We clinically could not determine if she was even having seizures due to her extreme fussiness.  When she would finally tire out and sleep, the big kids wanted to play or do something that Rebecca and I had little energy for meaningful participation.  We noticed Tristan’s level of comprehension had increased as we tried to explain Savanna’s condition.

Sunday the 26th, was a really difficult day.  Savanna would just not stop crying.  She was rigid with her body, would not take feeds anymore, and was completely non-responsive to Tylenol or Ibuprofen.   We were not even able to hold her she was so upset.  She had to stay in her crib, in a bouncing seat, or on the floor.   We contemplated the next direction with respect to her care as we did not feel it was going well.  For a moment, we were lost.  Our natural instinct was to take her to an emergency room at a hospital.

[Sidebar:  It was Sunday, and we knew we could not to go to any emergency room as they were unable to help her due to the complexity of her case.  Emergency departments exist to stabilize a patients with immediate life-threatening situations.  Despite the catastrophic damage happening to her brain in terms of development, Savanna was not in an immediate life-threatening situation (as long as she wasn’t in status).  As parents, we felt her future capabilities were being threatened by her continued uncontrolled seizures.  This is how it was explained to us in the beginning of this journey.  Her condition and presentation was changing rapidly.  Without the presence of our doctor who could directly admit her to an EMU, the only way to permeate the membrane surrounding in-patient services is through the Emergency Department.  But, many people use the ER as their primary care, and thus it can be a concentration point for a wide variety viruses.  Illness can greatly reduce the seizure threshold for someone like Savanna.  This is a subject I have thought a great deal about, and there should be another ‘way in’ for someone like Savanna.  Recognizing these factors, we decided to manage the situation at home with the medications we had on hand – right or wrong.]

Monday, August 27, we consulted with the Fellows on her team, and the conversation resulted in re-starting the phenobarbital as they felt she may be experiencing symptoms of withdrawal.  We administered the medication, watched, and waited.  Monday night seemed to go better, but by Tuesday midday, we felt confident that phenobarbital withdrawal was not the problem.   Under their advisement we, took her into the ER on Tuesday afternoon.  I was told she would be a direct admit (meaning we would check in to ER and then move immediately to the EMU). Tuesday afternoon, I packed our suitcase and headed for the hospital feeling anxious but relieved that we were going to get help managing her situation.

Once there, a fiasco ensued.

I thought we were headed to the EMU, but the ER personnel didn’t get the memo and started a complete work up for infection and injury.  They had plans for a lumbar puncture and CT scans with contrast of her head and neck.  Complete blood panels were drawn, despite the fact that this was just done a few days ago.  I thought we would be admitted to the EMU, and she would get help right away.  Wrong.  Once again, nothing I said mattered.  Patients like Savanna are few and far between.  I could hear the conversation out of the room simply dismissing my assessment and presentation of her history and physical condition.  They were actually going down a path that Savanna was having febrile seizures, which meant provoked seizures brought on by high fever – not epilepsy.  She didn’t have a fever.  She hadn’t had a fever in months.  There was one particular attending physician, who recognized us from the visit during the prior week.  He was the only one who knew even a little bit of the magnitude of the situation and finally stepped in to change the course of care.  After two attempts, one of the nurses was successful at installing an IV.  But, Savanna was clearly altered and in state of wild hysteria.  I simply could not hold her or control her at this point.  She managed to get the end of the port in her mouth, and with only 2 teeth on the bottom jaw pulled the IV out, tape and all.  Yes, blood was everywhere.  She was having seizures all the while during this activity.  Finally, they decided to install ambulatory EEG equipment, and they observed complex partial seizures, but she was not in status.

While they attempted a 3rd IV start, she started a cluster of seizures that lead to one seizure where she simply did not come out of it.  She laid there limp, almost like she was dead.  After 4 minutes, I told the nurses we had to stop for a moment – they agreed-, and I administered my first dose of diazepam.  I was sweating at this point.  She remained in a state of seizure for a solid 2-3 more minutes.  A nasal injection of versed was administered.  Finally she came out of it.   By now it was around 8 pm and the on-call neurologist made his way to our area.  I felt like he understood the situation better than most as he had a lot of experience with babies even though his focus was on older children now.  After a consult with her previous neurologist in CA, the plan was to optimize the Sabril dose, and sedate her in a controlled and scheduled manner.   It finally felt like she was being helped.  Then, like releasing a fish back into the water, he vanished.  I was never able to talk to him again that night.  She was finally admitted to the in-patient ward at around 12am.  The plan was to administer scheduled Ativan for sedation.  Initially, they were going to give her .5mg every 8 hours.

We went up to the ninth floor of Memorial Herman Hospital in downtown Houston in the middle of the night.  This is not where you want to be as a parent of a patient like Savanna.  We might as well have gone to another hospital.  After an hour of presenting her life story, again, to the attending pediatrician on the floor, they attempted to start another IV.  They failed.  Then I was told that without the IV, they would not administer the Ativan.  I found that really inconsiderate with regard to Savanna’s care given what we had been through and her condition.  The Valium (diazepam) was wearing off, and she was really inconsolable now.  Padding had to be added to the inside of the crib to keep her from hurting herself.  After another hour or so, I could sense another large seizure episode and when it started, I did not wait to use the diazepam this time.  I administered it quickly so she didn’t have another 10 minute seizure.  I also provided relief from the seizures for about 4 hours.  After being berated by the attending pediatrician for administering it myself 5 hours after the previous dose, I knew it was time to go.  Help just seemed far away until the pediatric epileptologist was back on the case.  The attending pediatrician was intent on letting her seize for at least 10 minutes before helping.  They didn’t even have diazepam prepared on the floor.  It was completely negligent in my opinion.  This was simply not acceptable to us after what we had learned that past few weeks.  Her presentation during her complex partial seizures was a-tonic and for a baby that simply looks like she is sleeping.  I actually had heated exchanges with that attending about the seizures and she simply didn’t want to listen.  Savanna had seizures while I was talking with that doctor, and she simply did not agree.  I knew we had to get out in order to get help which seems completely counter-intuitive.  But, we had more ability to get medication outside the hospital in this case.  Our plan was to get her home, get the Ativan, and administer it at home and deal with consequences.

Wednesday August 29th, Savanna was discharged and had a significant seizure event that required intervention.  I did see the Fellow on her case, and he indicated they were going to give us a script for Ativan that we would administer at home.  He also agreed the situation was less than ideal.  We received a seven day supply of .5mg pills (one pill per day).  Friday night we got the script filled and used it for the first time.  We were nervous about using them at first.  They did seem to provide Savanna some relief to the agitation and anxiety she was experiencing.   [Over the next 2 weeks, when her epileptologist was back on the case, we would give her 9mg per day and some days 18mg in an attempt to manage the seizures.]

Thursday into Friday September 1st, were all about the same.  Savanna was not happy, and having at least 75 seizures per day.  We started charting each event, looking for a pattern.  I was spending at least 30 minutes out of every hour sitting and watching her.  It was overwhelming.  I felt like I couldn’t do anything unless she was right there in visible sight.  Andrea’s capability was reduced to simply just sitting and watching her for about 6 out of her 8 working hours.  Frequently, we would see a cluster pattern, and have to administer diazepam.  It became a very intense situation.

Saturday September 2nd, she was the same, but Rebecca really got a chance to witness big events.  It was devastating to her.  The situation seemed completely out of control to us.  We decided to take her to the ER, against all out loud conversation about what we thought would happen.  We were banking on our doctor being reachable by phone now, as she was supposed to be back in the country.  It turned out to be a bad bet.  Anyway, once at the ER, another idiotic waste of time began.  I actually had a conversation face to face with a young neurologist, whom I asked this question, “If your child was having five to ten uncontrolled seizures per hour with the history of my child, would you sedate your child heavily?”  He responded, “Yes, but I won’t sedate your child. It is not in our protocol.”  At that moment he walked away, and I knew again we had to leave if we couldn’t get into the EMU.  It was a waste of time to be there.  I was communicating with Rebecca during this, and we could not have felt more lost as parents at that moment in time.  Out daughter was having 5-10 seizures per hour, and we could not access services that would be helpful.  It wasn’t just perplexing, it was unbelievable.  Meanwhile, Rebecca’s Dad was on an airplane coming to help us.  After further consultation with Rebecca, we decided as a last resort to try Texas Children’s ER and see if we could get some traction.  I got Savanna out of the Memorial Herman ER and drove the 1/2 mile down the street to the Texas Children’s hospital. (Yes, they are all in one place in Houston.) After 4 long hours, it became clear that they were not going to help either.  They didn’t even have a neurologist attending, only on-call.  That went nowhere.  Rebecca and her Dad arrived in the ER around 1am, and a near argument takes place between Rebecca and I about Savanna’s care.  These are really difficult times and we each have our moments where we think we know what is best.  Once we heard the on-call neurologist recommend no changes to her care and to come see him in a month or so, I knew we were definitely in the wrong place.  Waiting overnight to see a neurologist that was only going to say the same thing in person the next day, wasn’t going to help either.

At this point, what do you do as a parent in this case?  I invite all of you in the medical field to chime in and tell me where we went wrong.  Tell me how to getting help for our daughter would have been easier.  We are on our knees begging for help, yet no one is listening.  We seriously contemplated catching the next flight back to CA to have her original epileptologist take her care back over.  We called CHOC and they said they would admit her immediately, but strongly advised against flying, as she could die if she went into status, and emergency care was not immediately available mid-flight.  We asked if it was possible for our former epileptologist to direct her care from CA at a hospital here, but that’s just not the way these things work (due to the potential for liability).

We were exhausted and desperate.

Admission to the EMU on Tuesday September 5th, could not come soon enough.  Savanna’s doctor is back in country and on the job and we could be more relieved. I knew we just had to gut it out until then.  These are really difficult learning moments in life.  I commend Rebecca’s Dad for stepping in to help, but it takes time to absorb seeing a baby in such a condition.  While we know it was overwhelming at times, he was very helpful and we thank him for his sacrifice.

Sunday September 3rd, was more difficult.  We got a much needed refill of diazepam at the local CVS and felt like we could make it to Tuesday.  We had a conversation with our doctor and she was prepared to admit her to the EMU over the weekend, but also said she would not be there to manage her care.  Tuesday September 5th, was now the scheduled admittance, as Monday was a holiday.  We have come to dread the holidays, as these seem to be the times when Savanna needs the most help, and yet the resources to help her are least available.  Savanna was to start the Keto-genic diet that week as a last resort to control her seizures.  Rebecca and I were contemplating our choices and what would be best for Savanna.

[Looking back, I made a mistake.  Not having all of her official records in one place, and ready for review wherever we went, was a mistake.  A person at the Hospital in CA recommended we do that, and while I had many discharge notes from hospital stays and pediatrician notes, they really did not tell the entire story.  Since then, I have acquired all of the official neuro output notes, lab results, test results, EEG reports, MRI reports etc.  I have parsed them into separate PDF files and make sure they go with us everywhere.  While this may or may not have altered the course of history, it could not have made it worse, that is for sure.]

She was not stable and traveling was against all doctor’s recommendations.  Her doctor was still away in France and just not reachable in a reliable fashion.  We mulled the decision on ‘what to do’.  Starting over with another group was more or less out the window after a lot of discussion.  Diagnostically, they would accept the records, but would without doubt want to run their own sets of tests.  Rebecca and I started to realize that Savanna may need surgical action sooner than that schedule would allow.  We spread out our medicine on hand, even if just mentally, and I told Rebecca I felt like I could make it back to CA with what we had in terms of rescue medicines (assuming I could get her on the plane).  Savanna was having 5-10 seizures per hour now, and we felt completely helpless.  This was when we really realized how special her doctors were, and how few of them were spread amongst the population.   We decided to gut it out, watch the seizures, and go with the advice of our doctor here in Houston.  Formal second opinions would have to wait until she was stable.

We did our best to stretch the medications, but Tuesday around 1am, we administered our last dose of diazepam.  We were out of Ativan too.  We had exhausted our medication cache, and we were out of options.  The only responsible place to could go was to the EC at MH.  I packed her up and we took off for the emergency center downtown.

Once there, even though we were on the list for admittance, I still had to go through the EC.  The poor nurse taking triage information had no idea what was coming.  I was so infuriated after 30 seconds of answering her check box questions that we got into an argument.  After I told her that I just gave her 1mg of Ativan and 5mg diazepam to stop her seizures 2 hours ago, she proceeded to ask me if Savanna had ever had seizures.  Steam was coming out of ears, and thank goodness a doctor intervened, and moved us to a room, because I was about to unload on that poor person.  It was such a pointless act of futility but one that must take place during each EC visit.  You are at their mercy and they know it.  The doctor understood, and once we had a 1 minute conversation with him about what we had been through, the amounts and types of medicines she had been given (at home), that was the end of our hassle in the EC.  No other person bothered us with the exception to make sure we didn’t need more medicine, until it was time to move to the EMU.  I thanked that doctor for simply listening to me and taking me seriously.  Even though he himself was not a parent, I think there was genuine empathy for Savanna’s situation.  His professional common courtesy and respect for my knowledge of Savanna’s needs was refreshing.  I am certainly not a doctor, but I have become an expert in her general daily care and management.  At 3 in the morning about 2 weeks after the start of this ordeal, I finally felt like we were on a path to getting some help.  It had been a really long and difficult period in which our respect for pediatric epileptologists grew immensely.

We really just didn’t take a lot pictures during this period.  But, I do have a couple of iphone videos that are interesting.  One shows our oldest boys, Tristan and Brandon, as Daddy is at the house in the morning getting ready to head down to the hospital and take over for Rebecca.  We were sending Mommy a video text to let her (and Savanna) know we are coming.  The second is a rare moment during this time period when suddenly she seems ‘okay’ or at least a little happy.  We are in the EMU, 2 days into the Keto diet and on 9mg of ativan per day (that is a lot for a little baby) in this video.  It doesn’t entirely fit with this post, as I have not written about this stay just yet, but I have to put up something 🙂

-Mom and Dad

Ken and Rebecca Lininger