A Bucket of Flowers

It’s just a bucket of wild flowers from the pipeline behind our house.  But, it is a bucket Savanna decided on her own to fill with flowers to give to Mommy on Easter Sunday.

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We have done this activity before but, it required routine prompting even when other kids were already engaged in the activity.

This day she decided on her own to pick flowers for Mommy; a super heart-warming development that is new to us!

I gave Mommy the camera to take some pictures.  My heart skipped a beat when I saw Brandon using the camera!!  Yikes!  That was not the plan!  But, I must say, many of them turned out great.

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In January, Savanna’s development accelerated.  Even her SLP noticed she was responding very well to the process she previously fought or protested.  She relishes in positive praise when she acts as we expect or responds to our requests appropriately.  She loves stickers!

We use the token board far less these days, as she complies with most of our requests appropriately.  But I am finding this technique still useful overall.

Her conversation, inflection, tone, loudness, all have taken a developmental leap forward.  Her awareness of her surroundings and ability to change her communication if misunderstood has taken a quantum leap forward.

She recently had a re-evaluation of her language and results indicated her ability was slightly below normal to normal. I was not surprised. She remains in therapy because of her history and our concern about her pace of development.

She still struggles with pragmatic language and verb tense in a social setting.  She still struggles with phonetics.  In a formal setting, it is going well, but in a social setting, it is sometimes challenging to understand everything she says.  It is important for me to remember she is only four too.

Her fine motor skills are vastly improved, but this is an area where she is quite different from most around her.  Here are two recent examples of her ability, left is Savanna’s work and the right is Austin’s work.

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Potty-training is still a work in progress.  She seems to have #1 mastered during the day.  We had coerced a #2 out with intense effort on a couple of weekends.

I prompted her one day in a very simple way to try to make poo-poo on the potty.  This was after school during a quiet time when only she, Austin, and I are usually home. I walked away to do something else.

Then I heard Savanna yelling, “Daddy, I made a ‘fwoater’!!”

[Background: So, Brandon pooped in the lake one day a couple of summers ago, and the turd floated.  We all laughed and said he makes ‘floaters’.  It became household language, and clearly Savanna picked up on it.]

Then it happened again.  Then she went about 3 weeks without an accident.  And since have gone nearly 2 months without a serious accident.

Santa promised a new trampoline whenever Savanna could make #2 in the potty.  We now have a new trampoline!  (The first one did not survive a WWF-style slam into our house from a wind burst during a storm last summer.)  I am not ready to shed the diaper bag containing necessities for an accident, but that day is coming.

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All our kids love the trampoline.  But sometimes Austin and Savanna play by themselves and it is great social interaction.

 

 

Rebecca wanted to give the kids tablets for Christmas – before the start of our trip to VA and KY.  I accepted this with some agony, as any parent knows these days these tablets can be as evil as they are wonderful.  Surprising to us a bit, but Savanna not only loves her tablet, but is very capable on it. She loves the puzzle apps!

 

 

She has recently found the PBS Kids app loves to watch those videos!  This requires internet access and these tablets are wifi only.  About 1 minute into the 15 minute drive to school, the cached video runs out and the video stops.  Savanna proclaims, “This thing is out of wofi!”  It is hilarious.

 

 

Savanna came to Rebecca genuinely excited to tell her a joke.  (Rebecca is into silly jokes, and so are her older brothers, so this is not out of thin air here, but…)  Her exact words:  “Why did the skeleton cross the road?  To get the balloons on the other side!”  Oh okay.  Cue the laugh…

Easter morning when the kids ‘hunt’ for eggs and such… Rebecca loves this.  Me, not so much.  I want it to look like this…

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Rebecca is more this style….

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All kidding aside, this Mommy knows how to make each of our kids feel so special and loved.  She really thinks about Holidays and how to make time with them unique and memorable.

As Easter Sunday came to a close, I found myself staring at that bucket of flowers on my counter that Savanna picked (with Austin and Brandon).  My thoughts drifted back to when life seemed impossible with Savanna.

April 1, marks the 3 year anniversary of Savanna’s second brain surgery, the one that has provided seizure control to this day.  A huge day in Savanna’s life!  We are blessed!  As I stared at the flowers, memories of those days and months immediately following her surgery hit me like bolts of lightning.  Waves of emotion washed over me as I thanked the Lord for His grace, and this bucket of flowers.

2 Timothy 2:1  “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

Badge of Honor

About this time two years ago I thought we had made a huge misstep with Savanna’s care.  The permanent decision was grounded in faith and science, but somehow seemed unforgivably selfish at the same time as her behavior took a right turn, in the wrong direction.  We had put Savanna through another brain surgery for seizure control, but the recovery was a nightmare.

There were not any medical complications per se, but I found myself overwhelmed caring for a generally very unhappy Savanna, and quite depressed thinking this is the new normal.

Rebecca took a new role which required an unexpected amount of travel, and we didn’t have an Au Pair or nanny ‘on staff’ to help.  I thought I knew what to expect in recovery as I have been through this before. Right? Yeah, right.  An error in judgment, that honestly could not have been forecast.

She was not suffering from any kind pain that we could treat (and we tried), or anything at all that we could understand.  She just cried, a lot, and seemed to require 100% attention from me.

Shortly after her surgery, what little language she gained, disappeared.  Two weeks later, she stopped eating when she once fed herself just fine.  Shortly thereafter, she stopped drinking too.  With a G-tube already placed, we avoided another surgery and felt comfortable maintaining her health.  But, that emotional door swung both ways.

You can read all about those days here, here, and here if you are new to the blog.

Dr. V once told us, “…it is supposed to slowly get better…” with regard to the healing process.  Dr. T told us the surgery probably wouldn’t change her personality.  About a month post-op, it didn’t seem that either of these statements were coming to fruition.  But they were, and it was slowly getting better.

savanna blog three years later-34Two years later, we have discontinued all medications and she is not experiencing seizures or potential activity.  And now we are blessed with a wonderful little girl, development in full bloom.

 

This picture to the right was from the PICU about a day after her surgery. Two years ago, that scar on her head just seemed huge.  It was an enormous ‘badge of honor’ earned by so few in this world.  The pictures from those days immediately following surgery were grotesque.  This image is a special memory that is both horribly vivid and thankfully distant.  Time healed her physical wounds, the ones we could see on the outside.

Her ‘badge of honor’ is now barely visible, only showing itself when her hair is wet.  When I do notice, it invariably brings pause to what I am doing or thinking.  Often during this pause, I recall this snapshot captured in that hospital room and sometimes my mind plays a slide show of memories leading to now, 2 years later.

Since the last post, 3 Years Later, we headed out for another trip to see the family in KY and VA.  It was a great trip, as they all are, and here are a few pictures.

Her personality is developing as she is quite mischievous – like her brothers.  They do something, she must do too!

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She responds to her name when called across the room!  There was a time when I didn’t think she ever would.

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Her daily social skills training team, lol!

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Prior to the trip, we had a great bed-time routine, by any family standard!  She slept in a crib, in her room, more or less when we were ready.  Boy, there is nothing like a long road trip to inject a proverbial wrench into a smooth-running operation.  While on the trip, she slept with Tristan mostly (when not with me), but always in the same room with the boys.  She clearly felt more included and proud of herself.  I wondered what would happen when we got back into our routine at home.

I am not a clairvoyant, but guess what?  Back at home, we saw an acute change in the bed-time routine.  Any attempt to put her in her crib was met with staunch protest.  I imagesPACXV9LLcould pick her up while she was asleep on the couch and she would intuitively arouse enough to gather her whereabouts, and appropriately point to the boy’s room and demand “Au-tin” with her head buried in my shoulder.

A few months later, she still sleeps in their room.  She understands “bed-time” now.  She has her pillow and her place in an ever-changing communal bed arrangement.  Respect, she has earned and brotherly rebellion against her presence (and mutiny in general) are in check these days.

What about all the ABA stuff?  How is it going?  (It is pretty unbelievable, that’s how its going!)

She continues her ABA program (“Her school”) and has responded so well that the program changes rapidly.  Now, after multiple evaluations, she only attends 21 hours per week, down from 37.  The progress is amazing to witness and noticeable week to week.  Savanna’s ability to learn has never been better than now (thanks to no epileptic activity and no meds in play), and the functional results are testimony to the program’s effectiveness.  She is “catching up” quickly.  Many ask “What is ABA?” or, “What do they do there?”

They are teaching her complex skills in very small, calculated steps.  Her learning is centered on recognition / matching / sorting of objects, expressive/receptive communication, and reduction of maladaptive behavior.  Social Skills (peer-to-peer interactions) are integrated now as well.  Metrics are in place to quantify progress. For example, here are a few goals from her current program:

  • Savanna will reduce her rate of engagement of flopping to the floor behavior to 1 or less times per hour across 5 days.
  • Savanna will respond by giving eye contact when her name is called from across the room.  (Same goal for directly in front of her and 3 feet away, which she has mastered)
  • Savanna will expressively identify lower case letters. (She has mastered upper case letters.)
  • Savanna will answer 10 social questions.
  • Savanna will take turns when playing a board game.
  • Savanna will receptively identify objects with an intraverbal phrase, (You sit in a _____.)
  • Savanna will contingently comment with a communicative partner for 5 or more phrases.  (I see…., My favorite….)
  • Savanna will identify the noun/verb in various pictures.

She has about 20 goals, some to reduce maladaptive behavior, most for acquisition or increase in skills.  Once she meets  80% success rate for goal, for a specific amount of time, she has generalized the skill (or at least that is thinking).  Every 2-6 months, they formally evaluate her progress through a VBMAPP session (Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program) and determine progress in each goal and make changes as needed to keep her moving forward.

Her day consists of rotating through her goals in different ways with a therapist.  The therapist changes every couple of hours. All of this is overseen by a BCBA, (Board Certified Behavior Analyst).  I was skeptical at first, as Savanna doesn’t do well with change, especially people, in her daily routine.  I have to admit, it appears an effective model for Savanna.  Her comfort level around all people has increased significantly, facilitating easier transition to pre-school/daycare.

As I mentioned, she now attends regular pre-school with Austin 2 days per week.  This is a big step and one we could not be happier about!  After all, the intent of the therapy: that she could function happily with typical compliance in a mainstream environment.  We love her regardless of her level of happiness and function in mainstream society, but what parent doesn’t want their child happy and functional in the mainstream world?

She has made incredible progress in her fine motor skills.  The difference between her left and right is at times more noticeable, but in a normal way.  What do I mean by that?  If I gave you a pen and asked you to write your name, I am pretty sure most reading this would always prefer to use one hand over another, right?

Then sometimes she surprises us!  For example, she is using scissors now.  “Cutting paper” is one of her new favorite things to do (with Austin).  All this time working with her on how to use scissors, she used her left hand to cut, right hand to hold.  And then I saw this one night….

A few things to note in the video.  There is another badge of honor on her abdomen where the g-tube once resided.  It is a constant reminder of how far she has come.  She knows it is there, and thinks she is special because she “has two belly buttons”.  Yeah, she is pretty special.  And one day, if it bothers her, she can have it altered surgically to make it “disappear” or less noticeable.

She can “color”, but it is like an infant would “color”, and like any activity with an infant, the beginning and ending of that activity are very close together in time.  It is at a time like this I realize how different she is than other kids her age in some respects; and I remember her badge of honor.

The severe expressive/receptive speech disorder has dissipated to mild at worst.  After 6 months of ABA + ST (she was already getting ST…) she gained 14 months in developmental age in her expressive communication.  Just amazing!  She is very vocal and her challenge now is phonetics.  She struggles more with medial and final word sounds.  All kids go through this stage of learning and it is usually a short-lived period of period of humor as they learn to pronounce word sounds correctly.  This is true for Savanna as well, she is humorous.  But the period of development is proving far longer and she still needs formal education/therapy.

What is a medial sound with regard to phonetics? For example, the phrase “apple juice”.  The sound you need to generate to say the word apple is “a-pul”.  The “pul” is the final sound in the word and medial in the phrase ‘apple juice’.  Savanna for the longest time pronounced this “a-juice”.

She recognizes letters and numbers.  She knows “s” is for me!  And, “b” is for “ba-don”, “t” is for “ti-tan”, and “a” is for “au-tin” and can find the appropriate refrigerator letter magnets and say just that.  It is so cute.  As I write this, she is finally getting the medial sounds in those names, and pronouncing them in a more correct manor.

Sometimes, when she is trying hard to pronounce words correctly, I see her eyes deviate up and to the right for a second or so.  This activity has been caught on EEG tracings with no correlation (this is very good!).  It is probably just a neurologic tic according to Dr V.  It comes and goes with time, and may or may not be present long term. Some therapists have commented about, many have not noticed it.

Today, Savanna has skills that yesterday I thought were unreachable for her.  I think all parents have some pre-conceived notions about their children, and these notions are shaped as our children grow and develop.  I expect Tristan, Brandon, and Austin to do well in school.  And they are doing well in school.  I expect success in their spiritual, professional, and social development and endeavors.  I have this seemingly real dream that they will get married; be blessed with children of their own; and one day be in the midst of a heated parenting moment and experience an awakening: “Oh. Mom and Dad were right.”

For some reason, I don’t expect Savanna to do many (or any) of these things.  I don’t know why I feel this way.  It is now clear, my expectations are unnecessarily truncated or modified as a result of the storm cloud epilepsy can bring into your life.  I study other family stories.  I support others newer than me to this world.  I remain humble with Savanna’s development thus far; as some of the family stories I follow, the seizures remain part of the equation with and without surgical treatment.

The reality is epilepsy at such a young age can profoundly affect the developing brain, usually altering ultimate outcome significantly.  The growing brain experiencing epilepsy presents significant challenges and enormous potential as a clinician treats the seizure disorder.  Time is not always your friend in these situations.  And, every affected child responds differently; as does every parent.

Here are a few examples of how much Savanna has improved in her abilities, memory, awareness, and physical endurance.

Not long ago, appropriate responses to demands required intense engagement, almost face-to-face with physical contact (if possible).  Now, she hears you talk; understands what you say for the most part; and can generally produce an age-appropriate response (even if it isn’t the one you are looking for!)

Recently she walked into our bedroom where one of our other kids was sitting on our bed watching TV. Quiet and off to her right side in the doorway to the bathroom, she clearly didn’t see me or know I was there. (If she would have seen me, I believe she most likely would have acknowledged me.)  She climbed on the bed and I retreated into the bathroom where she could not see me. I called out “Savanna,… Savanna!”  I expected no reaction from her, as I have tried this in the past.  Then I heard “What?” …. “What…. Dad?”

I peered around the corner to find a bright-eyed little girl with purple glasses looking directly at me.  I was blown away that she responded. Definitely an inch-stone was reached this day.

We have a bed-time routine that includes some prayers. Up to this point, she really never tried to say anything.  Then she started saying “Prayers!”, signaling it was time to say prayers.  And, when Rebecca or I would say them with her, she started saying the final few words.  Then demand a hug and kiss and say “Austin’s turn!”.  One day recently, she said the entire prayer by herself with minimal prompting.  Just amazing!

She loves to “Ride Bikes!”, as she says in her words.  She has little understanding of pedals or pedaling.  She has a tricycle scooter that she can use her feet to push along and goes around our street/court by herself. A couple of months ag0, she could barely make further than 1 or 2 driveways before giving up.

[A note about the glasses.  Savanna has developed a left strabismic amblyopia (turn in of the eye). She has hyperopia to the tune of prescription of +3.5.  The pediatric neuro-ophthalmologist feels she has a 50% chance at the hyperopia resolving by teenage years. And If we can keep her glasses on, the left eye turn in will straighten out and she won’t have a lazy eye.  This may not initially sound like a big deal compared to what we she has already been through.  But, when you factor her current visual field cut into how a ‘lazy eye’ can affect vision, you realize the magnitude of this potential problem on her long term vision.  And this is a situation that cannot (yet) be reversed later in life.  So, if I have to tape or glue the glasses to her head, I will (well, not really, but you know what I mean!)]

The invisibility of her badge of honor and almost irrelevance of her past on the ‘right now’ in many situations, has somehow created an emotional void in my life.  No one really cares about what she has been through as we push her more and more into mainstream programs at various levels.  And in fairness, I guess it doesn’t really matter to a great extent.

Savanna has been through a tremendous journey of micro and macro trauma as have we as her parents.  The long term affect is not yet well studied in a large cohort of patients or caregivers.  I am not talking about the Engel class of seizure control, but the quality of life which typically is not found in medical studies.  Yes, I know there are generalizations, like no seizures = great life when compared to life with seizures.  But that isn’t necessarily what I am talking about.

Patients like Savanna transfer to an adult neurologist after 18 years of age.  At this point, the ability to acquire outcome data for use in analysis for these patients is quite limited.  Finally quantifying quality of life is very challenging.  Thus, the use of terms such as “worthwhile” and “not worthwhile” are about as far as medical science goes right now with surgical treatment outcome analysis.

This quality of life has a lot to do with her environment moving forward, which is not closely related to the medical science of her case at this stage.  Many patients surgically treated in their childhood for a seizure disorder walk the planet today as adults with varying levels of independence and function.  But few patients/families write in such an intimate, open way as I do about our journey.  There is considerable support for families walking this path with a child similar in age to Savanna, but virtually non-existent support from past generations who have undergone such a treatment for epilepsy.

I intend to keep this blog going as long as I can as a resource for many.

Most recently…

We visited “The Rodeo”…. Notice her walking up the rope bridge – no hands on the rope!

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Took some family photos…

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Celebrated world purple day…

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Attended a neighborhood “playdate” with the mom’s group…(yeah, I was the only Dad there, but it was a Fire Station tour….)

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Celebrated Easter…..

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She even had some things to say for the camera this day.

For those who don’t know, Rebecca is queen of candy and Easter is her Holiday.  Easter eggs must be made, chocolate bunnies and all sorts of other candies must be purchased; all organized in baskets and hidden for the finding Easter morning.  Last year, Savanna participated, but not really.  This year she participated! She found her basket and her chocolate bunny (with some help).  She found an egg, but didn’t understand that there were more ( a lot more, lol).  And the boys buzzed around her like a swarm of bees.  It was pretty cool to see her generally get the idea though, I have to admit.

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While she got the idea generally, she became fixated on getting whatever was inside the egg.  It almost derailed the morning for her, but she got through it.  It is in these little moments that I ponder her future while reflecting on her badge of honor.

Luna’s Story: An Update

The meeting with the neurosurgeon prior to the surgery described the treatment scenarios on a scale of least invasive to most invasive, along with a likelihood of success in Luna’s specific case. The chosen path was not the most invasive, leaving a portion of her left hemisphere connected and functioning with the hopes it is not involved in seizure onset. This decision was based on experience and the best medical science available today. It was not a mathematical formula with a guaranteed outcome, but rather a first step. One that if successful, leaves her the most natural motor function possible. If you didn’t read her initial story, you can find it here.

On November 6, Luna underwent what is called a TPO resection/disconnection in her left hemisphere. A known consequence is significant visual field cut in both eyes on the right side, a dense right sided hemianopsia. The actual procedure went very well and Luna recovered quickly. Here is a picture of good news from the waiting that day (Savanna was not particularly photogenic this day!)

 

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Luna like most in this immediate time following surgery, is quite unhappy often.  She doesn’t understand what happened to her or why. Her head itches, and probably hurts, but she can’t tell us in a way we immediately understand. She cries, and we do what all parents do, we just try to make it better any way possible. Her behavior and demeanor reminds me so much of Savanna during these days. I wish the pertinent doctors could be more aware of what this is like. When you try to speak with them about this, they really just don’t seem to care or have anything to help in the way of guidance, wisdom, or advice. I have come to realize they just don’t really know how hard it can be; how exhausting; how stressful. It is not to a fault in any way, it is just reality. You just can’t know unless you live through it personally.

Maria is returning to Norway completely emotionally drained, mentally exhausted, and physically hurting from holding and carrying Luna far more than you would ever carry or hold a normal 19 month-old.

The thought of being on a couple of airplanes for nearly 18 hours is just daunting to me, but she is determined.

So how is Luna?

 

luna after surgery

 

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The incision site looks great. She healing physically very well. She is not experiencing any complications.

Luna is much more calm overall. She is more focused and engaged with her environment.

She is changing rapidly during this time of recovery.

Some noticeable suspect activity has been seen. Luna needs more time to heal before officially ruling on this suspect activity, and a chance still exists that this activity will dissipate on its own.

She has some sensory processing issues she needs to work through, a process very difficult with the constant disturbance in her brain. Now she has a real chance to overcome these challenges, and in the short two weeks post-op we are already seeing these changes.

Luna has to tell us what she needs, metaphorically speaking.

 

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Prior to the surgery, I worked and worked with Luna to stand and take steps. The hypotonia in her feet and legs is significant. She stands but with locked legs, and muscle grading is poor – much like our Savanna experienced. After surgery, she is so much more focused and able to “think” about something such as walking. Here is a short video that is just amazing. I could not have done this with her a couple of weeks ago, without more or less carrying her through the process. She would have tried to turn left circles the entire time and cried while doing it, or as Maria calls it ‘protesting’. Now, she is very motivated.

 

 

What do you feel as a parent in this situation? What do you do next?

Well, first, you have to learn to wait. This is harder than it sounds, because the academic body of evidence is growing to act sooner rather than later with pediatric cases.

As a parent, your world hinges on the surgical success, something that can take some time to appropriately cast judgement.

You research others’ stories with an obsessive compulsion that can render you insane. With red eyes, you seek out that other child who looks just like yours; has seizures just like yours. What was their treatment path and outcome? How can I interpolate and extrapolate their path into mine? You fixate on their story, for better or for worse. But this is what we do as a parent of a child with intractable epilepsy in this ‘Google-centric’ world.

While not entirely healthy, you come up for air once in a while and find scholarly articles to educate yourself in an objective manner. Then you remember discussions with the pertinent doctors, the ones you put so much trust into already, and let their guidance help show the way. You go back and re-read diagnostic findings, again to help educate yourself.

You second guess every decision made in your child’s care. You realize that you cannot go back and relive anything, try anything differently, act differently or more quickly. This time has passed and all you have is the future, on a new path post-op.

To use a very American analogy… At this juncture, as a parent, you have left the college sports ranks and joined the professional athletes. When you run through the tunnel onto the pro playing field/court, the same game is very different. And as a pro, success means embracing this change. You have to expand your mind. You must adapt to a larger set of variables, more potential consequences, and then re-calibrate your mind with regard to what “success” really means. Going back to the college days, is no longer an option.

On top of all this brow-beating and compulsive ‘googling’, Maria has secured a work position here in Houston for the next couple of years and sold her beloved house in Norway. She returns to Norway today to finalize her move to the USA for employment and spend much needed time with her other daughter. We will get to see her again in the future and look forward to seeing Luna’s progress.

Dare to Dream

1 year, 4 months and 7 days since the completion of Savanna’s TPO resection for seizure control.

Savanna recently had an MRI to examine the surgical site in her brain and a 23 hour VEEG to observe and characterize events and behaviors for a 12-month post-surgical follow-up meeting with her neurologist.

Happy! Happy Happy!!

Happy! Happy!! Happy!!!

The MRI impression is that the surgical site appears unchanged from the imaging results at 6 months post-op. No signs of problems related to the surgery or anything additional elsewhere in her brain. The EEG revealed that concerning behaviors were not related to epileptic activity.

Just playing around during my EEG.

Just playing around during my EEG.

Yeah, I have done this before. The suitcase was filled with favorite toys and foods.

Yeah, I have done this before…

MRI day. Not happy camper.

MRI day. Not a happy camper.

This means she is what we call seizure free (SF in the internet world).  In the medical community, Savanna’s outcome is still Class 1a on the Engel scale. This is as good as it gets in terms of seizure control.  Awesome!

The Shape Sorter. Again. Again. And, again.

The Shape Sorter. Again. Again. And, again.

The Shape Sorter. A must for a toddler during a 23 hour EEG.

The Shape Sorter. A must for a toddler during a 23 hour EEG.

Well, what does this mean in her everyday life?

It means the power of prayer is real. I believe God works through us all. While He allowed Savanna’s suffering, He answered collective prayer through actions of her doctors inspired to empower their God-given intelligence and ability.

It means we are witnessing development which we might not have otherwise.

I moved the stool myself, and turned on the light!

I moved the stool myself, and turned on the light!

It means we are witnessing His divine power as Savanna climbs out of the valley of global sensory reintegration created from forced normalization of her brain activity and subsequent reorganization of the neural network. Savanna thankfully exhibits a persistence and perseverance that you cannot teach. At times, she wants to learn; she wants to show us things; she wants to exist in our world. This is when the camera comes out, because we knew it was in there and we are so happy to see it come out. And then at other times, it is just difficult. She disconnects, and seems to wonder aimlessly through her own world on a path I just cannot see or understand.

For the first time…

For the first time, she is eating and drinking on her own in a manner that is adequate to allow her to thrive.  Six weeks ago we removed the feeding tube. Savanna is now 100% orally fed. She is able to try food in larger quantities and react to the textures, smells, and tastes. For the first time, I have been able to really hone in on how her diet affects her mood and behavior.

For the first time, we are observing fine and gross motor skills that are close to the low-end of normal. If you were to see her on a playground, you would not immediately see a difference between her and other children her age. But, it is there, lurking just beneath the surface of awareness for not only the casual observer, but also for her. It is significant, and it is serious. Sometimes these complex deficits rear their ugly head with an unusually awkward fall, or sudden, invisible playtime-ending problem. In general, I am highly in-tune with Savanna and plan accordingly. But recently, for the first time, she is often perceived equal in ability to her twin brother.

For the first time, we are witnessing dramatic acceleration in her receptive communication. (This is where she understands simple instructions or auditory communication.) Her cognition is improving daily, which allows learning new sign language at a quicker pace. At this point, the communication is her biggest barrier to a happy life (for us too!).

For the first time, we are seeing times of appropriate social interaction with her siblings. She exhibits persistence worthy of saying she is ambitious in catching up developmentally. She has moments of appropriate empathetic reactions to others. At times she is even deliberately mischievous, just like a normal 2 year-old! I see her interacting with her twin brother like I have not in the past. They sneak out together after breakfast to get on the trampoline, or play crazy games of laughing out loud and running from wall to wall in the house. It is so awesome to see knowing what I know, and something I was beginning not to expect at all.

A short video clip of Austin and Savanna on the trampoline… Austin can open the door, so they conspired, snuck out unseen. Savanna’s compulsion with closing doors meant, I didn’t immediately notice they had left! Then, I saw them. I saw playing. I heard laughter. I felt the need to start the camera.

 

We recently went on our summer pilgrimage to the homeland (KY and VA). This has normally been quite a trip for us, slathered with worry (from me anyway) and hampered with impediments related to Savanna’s condition.

For the first time, I did not pack a suitcase full of DME (durable medical equipment),  or supplies related to tube feeding. I did not pack a duffel bag full of medication, most for “What if?” scenarios.

Extra Goldfish, Pringles, and apple juice replaced cases of enteral formula (not exactly a nutritional even trade, but I will take it!) I did not pack back-up stuff for back-up stuff.  I took 2 oral syringes, a bottle of prescribed medication, and some rescue medication for good measure. For the first time, I did not install the roof box to carry all the extra stuff. It actually seemed kind of easy and normal travelling on an insanely long 3400 mile road trip.

Savanna had many great periods and days on the above mentioned “vacation”. She did have a few bad days too. While most want to see her as ‘normal’, this is something I just would never mention about our other kids knowing what I know now. No, she didn’t seize, but once we lose the happy place, it sometimes is difficult to get it back in the same day. On those days, all the best laid plans start to boil down to “Who is going to hold Savanna?” I know it sounds simple, callus even to the reader/parent who might think it is not a big deal – holding a child. And to those readers, you are right – I am whining.  But, I think the analysis and commentary are relative.

Rebecca and I are both still somehow in ok  shape after this journey. We are experiencing the physical woes all too familiar to parents of special needs children. Holding Savanna is not difficult per se`.  Holding Savanna for extended periods standing up, moving around, trying to complete the normal tasks of life, all while cantilevering away to balance her (as she naturally leans away instead of into us) is a different ball game altogether. Our backs are paying the price, and we are more conscious now, giving each other time to workout regularly. We find the workout routine is less about vanity or leisure, but more about necessity to build muscle to heal and mitigate current problems and perhaps delay further injury.

Here is a very short clip of her on the tube on the lake.

 

 

Do we dare let ourselves dream about what might be for Savanna? Before we drift off into never-never land, I would like to share some other “firsts” during this last few months.

For the first time, I can see the emotional derailment and predict the ensuing behavioral train wreck with good precision and fair accuracy. More clear now are the signs of disengagement from her environment. She loses all interest in things right in front of her. She shows no interest in many items that typically soothe her, except a very specific blanket that has a magical calming effect. She will not just want to be held, she will demand to be held. And if you can’t (or won’t), the path to the train wreck begins.

The path has stages and factors that affect how quickly you arrive at your destination, which is the behavioral train wreck or urban term “meltdown”. She will whine first, that kind of “I’m not happy whine…”  The whine becomes a cry. This process can take while, but we are learning it can also happen quite quickly.

The train has derailed at this point. I have learned it possible to avoid the worst outcome if I intervene appropriately.

The cry leads to stumbling or stammering like a drunk all while dragging her blanket. She will either 1) run into to something like a cabinet corner, wall corner, or door jamb on her right side (where the dense hemianopsia affects her) or 2) fall down hard by tripping on the blanket or something in the sea of ‘things’ on our floor that seems omnipresent. This leads to the scream of “Hold me now!“ and that of “Damn that hurt!”

By this point, I have modified my plans for the day somewhat, and am holding her (sitting if possible).

It is difficult to recover from this series of events. I try to push through some days and it ends up generally alright. But, sometimes it doesn’t go so well.  Sometimes this process takes 5 minutes. And, other times 5 hours. It really depends on things I am not knowledgeable about yet – or I would have addressed them intelligently.

At times I witness her eye deviate to the right (opposite what was observed before the resection) and this tempers my elation about her future. Diagnostics (mentioned in the beginning) have indicated nothing abnormal about these behaviors, but it is troubling as a parent given the history.

I joined the support group that our epilepsy program sponsors and attended meetings for the last few months. If you want a dose of reality as a parent in my shoes, this is the prescription. This group has been a great find though, as I learn more each time I attend.

For the first time, Savanna was evaluated independently (without me present) for ABA therapy, ST, and OT through an ABA provider locally here in Houston. ABA is Applied Behavior Analysis, and a method of intervention and therapy for those suffering the symptoms of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). It sounds weird, but I liked it and I disliked it all at the same time. I knew she would struggle with new people and new activities. But, I also knew it would be a very good judge of where she is functioning with respect to interacting with the public.

The Preschool Language Scale (#5) and Functional Communication (Revised)  Profile toolkits measured Savanna’s communication abilites, and resulted in a mixed scores (all pretty low) higher/lower for receptive/expressive communication respectively.  This agreed with the evaluation results done by ECI at 32 months. The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program toolkit showed the way for an ABA therapy plan, recommending 35 hours per week of this type of therapy. OT skills measured using the The Peabody Developmental Motor Scales where she qualified for applying the Beery-Buktenica Visual Motor Integration subset revealed a score just a tick below normal in one category but, quite low in another. A calculated quotient score result was “poor”.

I received the reports in the mail and was not surprised at their conclusions, I was disappointed though, I have to admit. I interpret their conclusions with caution though, as none of the therapists were familiar with Savanna. But, this was a first: Savanna on her own for about 3 hours with people she had never met, doing things perhaps she may not have done in “just that way”, and no train wrecks. It was a good experience overall. (Thankfully, they were all familiar with dealing with kids with such challenges.)

Overall, this news about seizure freedom along with critical thought about our faith precipitates a giant sigh of relief. It allows moments where we take a deep breath and absorb the joys of life. Her experiences, our experiences, so early in Savanna’s life make witnessing her achievements that much sweeter.

Finally, we said goodbye to Ruth, our Au Pair from Australia. She was a big help with the kids. Maybe one day we will go down under for vacation and pay her a visit. May God Bless you, Ruth.

Ruth, our Au Pair from down under, has returned to the outback. She was so much fun, and we miss her a lot.

Ruth, our Au Pair from down under, has returned to the outback. She was so much fun, and we miss her a lot.

-dad

 

2 Years Ago, It Was Christmas 2011, and…

2 Years ago today, I was in a hospital with Savanna on Christmas Eve, a few days out from the life-altering news Infantile Spasms diagnoses bring.  Like nearly all parents blindsided with this situation we followed doctors recommendations for a treatment plan without question.  In reality, we were just trying to survive.

2 years ago, we didn’t know our baby had focal cortical dysplasia type I and IIa resulting in a lesion spanning the temporal, occipital, and part of the parietal lobes in the left hemisphere of her brain.

2 years ago, we didn’t know our baby would experience refractory complex partial seizures that would leave her severely developmentally delayed.  The seizure activity was so frequent, her potential development was largely unknown.

2 years ago, we initiated advanced genetic testing for which we are still waiting on results today.  Off-the-record phone conversations have revealed no definitive genetic cause, for reasons outlined in this post.

2 years ago, we had no idea our baby would (or even could) undergo radical surgery to rescue her developing brain from the intense seizures.

2 years ago, I had no idea that Savanna was in a small sorority of patients  eligible for surgical treatment and how it is such a blessing.

2 years ago, I thought I was good father.  I thought I was a good husband.  I thought I was pretty smart.  During these last two years, Savanna’s condition has cleansed me of many of these misconceptions.   I am now better at all three.  Absolutely nothing can prepare you for this situation as a parent.

2 years ago, I never dreamed I would stay at home and raise children, lead the care of a special needs child, attempt to manage refractory seizures; learn about epilepsy.

2 years ago it was Christmas 2011.  I brought our baby home from a 9 day hospital stay that included her first big ‘diagnosis day’.  You can read about the emotions of that day here (not well written, sorry!)  I thought it was ‘over’; meaning, finish the ACTH and then she is okay right?  For some yes, not for Savanna.

Today, I marvel at the progress modern medicine has allowed her to experience.  Faith in God, following his guidance, and trust in his leadership has proved righteous.

Today Savanna continues to impress us with her abilities that advance daily.  Delays are still present, but far less noticeable.

Today, Savanna still has challenges, but not seizures.  That is nearly 210 days!

Today Savanna is not cured but, her epilepsy is in remission.

Today, we as a family thank the Lord for his guidance and support.  I thank myself for listening.

Today, I help others blindsided with this situation.  Savanna’s outcome thus far is not the same for all, and this knowledge is humbling.

We are in the middle of a trip to Kentucky and Virginia.  The usual sicknesses have afflicted our family somewhat.  It happens when you transplant an entire family to a new location.  Overall, we are healthy and thankful for the journey.  Being around family is great at Christmastime.

Have a Blessed Christmas everyone and safe travels!

-ken

Guest Post – Happy Being Trevy

A thunderstorm of emotion washed over my heart as I read her recent essay entitled “4 years ago today…”  I can relate with everything Danielle describes about their day in the waiting room as Trevor underwent a complete hemispherectomy to control the spasms.  Our day with Savanna and her second surgery was strikingly similar.  Their blog, Happy Being Trevy, has information about Infantile Spasms and how it affected their son Trevor and their family.

cutie pie

She has taken the time to construct a video of Trevor’s journey, their journey.  The video is incredible and a great way to tell the story.

The link to the video is below.   But first…

4 years ago today…

4 years ago today…we’d already hugged and kissed him goodbye by now. I’d run my fingers through his curls one last time. God, I miss those curls. And kissed every inch of his sweet face. Inside my heart was screaming “NOOOOOOO!”. There was an intense soul battle raging. One part of me desperate to snatch him off that stupid gurney and run away to the furthest reaches on the earth. The other part knowing we were here to rescue him. Knowing we HAD to be here. My love for him was the gravity force that held me down that day.

4 years ago today…we survived the longest, the most emotionally draining 13 hours of our lives. No day before could compare and no day since has yet to. We spent that day in a waiting room at Detroit Childrens. Feeling so very alone. So far from home. We wanted to wrap our arms around Toby and Bristel but were thankful we had left them behind. Because this was too much for us. It would certainly be too much for them. We watched party after party called to collect their loved ones from the recovery room. Until most of the lights were turned off in preparation for closing down for the night. Until the secretary had long gone home. And security had begun making rounds. And we, who were the first in the waiting room that morning, were also the last to remain. Until I thought if one more minute went by I was going to explode into a million pieces and float away. Because the emotional intensity was that strong.

4 years ago today…I sobbed when the doctors took us to a private room and told us they had successfully removed most of his left hemisphere. Those poor fellows. Asian men are known to be stoic and it was clear they felt awkward with my unrestrained mourning. But one of them had tears glistening his eyes too. My heart knit with his in that moment.

4 years ago today…over 14 hours after we’d kissed him goodbye…we finally saw him again. And he was breathing. Puffy from the fluids. Pale from the blood loss that two transfusions couldn’t hide. Wrapped like a mummy. But he was breathing. And in that moment…that was all that mattered.

4 years ago today…our son survived the Nightmare Miracle surgery that would not only save his life but would give it back to him!

4 years ago today…I had never heard my son’s voice make any intentional speech. This morning he called “Moooooommy” from his bed when he was ready to wake up. This morning he hugged my neck and said “love you”. This morning he told me “No call me Brick” because his new haircut makes him look an awful lot like the youngest child from the Middle. This morning he said “Wednesday. Tuesday yesterday…today Wednesday”. This morning he adamantly demanded chicken nuggets for breakfast. And drove me a little crazy with his cheek. Until he returned my “I love you” sign when he was leaving for school. Which melted me from the inside out.

Not every day these past four years has been easy or fun or miracle filled. But when I stop and remember 4 years ago today…how can I be anything other than joy saturated and thankful?

baseballtrevyblogbling

I confess that it was harder than I thought going back in time like that. Difficult…but also healing. It’s easy to get caught up in the sadness of the now and overlook the joy of how far you’ve come.

If someone had asked me to write the wildest script I could imagine for our family six and half years ago…it would not have come close to the path that has unfolded. Even though this journey with Trevy is very heavy and extraordinarily exhausting, we are SO thankful for where he is today. How far he’s come. For the people who have come beside us to advocate for him and support and believe along side us.

trevys MRI

The Emotional Roller Coaster

First, some housekeeping notes:

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month.

The Infantile Spasms Community on Facebook, is recognizing November 3-9 as Infantile Spasms Awareness Week.  The professional community is recognizing December 6-10 as Infantile Spasms Awareness Week.  This is sponsored by  the Child Neurology Foundation.

I intend to share stories from people affected directly or indirectly from epilepsy.  If you would like to share your story of how epilepsy touched you or your family, please contact me at ken lininger @ gmail com. (no spaces in the name)

Many of you know, we did battle IS in the beginning.  Savanna exhibited classic signs of Focal Cortical Dysplasia.  That is, intractable simple/complex partial seizures even though successfully controlling the IS.

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