Sometimes, Less is More: Less Brain Tissue with Focal Cortical Dysplasia Is More Freedom From Seizures.

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We have been blessed with witnessing a profound new beginning for Savanna after her first resection at 13 months of age. Today, God willing, we are expecting a new child to emerge from the operating room again as she undergoes … Continue reading

Savanna Sitting Up and Then In Her Walker

Hi everyone,

A follow-up to the previous post.  Our friend Lisa from California is visiting and Rebecca and her took the kids to Galveston today.  Admist the help in getting them out the door, I ran across some video taken recently in preparing the cameras for an outing.

Taking a break from the deep cleaning, I wanted post this video.  It shows her sitting up and then later that day in her walker.  She isn’t walking yet, but we use it to help her put weight on her legs to start getting her used to it.  These two segments were both captured on Sunday, February 10th.  The last 30 seconds really summarize what it is like in our house right now when Savanna is happy.  Brandon is in rare form!  I watched it a couple of times and just laughed out loud!  A fun memory worthy of sharing.

-Ken

Every Single Aspect of Savanna’s Life Is Better….

December 22, 2012

All seemed well for a trip with Savanna, so we head off to celebrate Christmas with the majority of our family in Louisville, Kentucky.  The drive goes pretty well, and we even went straight through from Houston.  The first half of the mileage consumed 3/4 of the total time, as it seemed we stopped at least every hour, for at least fifteen minutes.  Someone had a dirty diaper, or a wet diaper, or had to use the restroom, or needed something more to drink – (thus all the bathroom breaks).   My regulation as Dad was overridden by Mommy.  It was all fun looking back.  We arrive at Grandpa and Grandma’s house at around 4 in the morning, and it was really nice to be done driving, after 22 long hours.  Everybody seemed healthy, and we made it without any incident with Savanna.  Our arsenal of controlled substances and medical gear remained packed!  Savanna had already endured a difficult December winning a battle with RSV and a UTI, so we were looking forward to good times.

The next morning we get ready for a short trip across town to visit more family.  We got everyone loaded in the 18 degree weather into our Honda Odyssey.   We back out of the drive, and put it in drive, and nothing happens.  It was similar to when you try to accelerate on ice, only the wheels are not actually spinning.  The van doesn’t move.  Wait it’s in neutral, uh…, no it’s drive?  (Son of a b^%$&! I thought.)  Oh wait, then it starts to go, but it is already crystal clear something is seriously wrong.  Being a mechanical engineer, all the thoughts of probable cause for our lack of ‘going’, run through my mind.  No the car didn’t need some Flomax® (ha ha).  With some feathering of the accelerator pedal, the transmission seemed to function a little and we limped along.  Not far into the little trip to Mama’s house I knew two things: 1) this is about to be a real pain in the butt given its Friday before Christmas, and 2) regardless of how it unfolds, it will be very, very expensive.  After about 5 days, I bathed in the glory of being right, (okay more like drowned in the truth).

We managed to borrow a car from my mother which enabled our journey, but certainly highlighted the value and efficiency of a mini-van such as the Odyssey.  When you have a little army of small children, it’s just so much easier to make any trip.  We go on about our way, cringing at the fact that we just sold a 2011 Odyssey that was on lease to reduce our monthly expenses, and now here we sat with major problems with a 2006 that we thought would carry us along for the next year or so without major investment.  Oh well about that plan, Merry Christmas (and bah humbug!)

December 24th, Christmas Eve

We make it through the really long day of Christmas Eve visiting everyone possible.  We made several visits to family, attended a Church service, the Tristan, Brandon, Austin, & Savanna partied like champs, Savanna was laughing and playing, and then at 11pm, Austin vomited every single thing he ate that day (which was a lot apparently), and then some.  Gastroenteritis (stomach flu) had struck our family.  The next day Austin was a handful, completely uncomfortable as the diarrhea started.  We went through about 15 diapers in 4 hours before he seemed to be ’empty’.  That night, he continued with the vomiting, and then Savanna started exhibiting the same symptoms.   Austin is in the 75-80 percentiles for growth, so we were never worried about him missing some meals.  Savanna on the other hand, while physically healthy, these situations just tend to progress abnormally in terms of the overall effect on her body.  Since the brain surgery though, she seems to respond much more normally than we are expecting.  Despite the unpleasantness of being sick, it has been reassuring to watch her contract, battle and overcome typical sickness with normal response.  Literally, I have seen her start to get sick and almost without thought, I am packing a suitcase, thinking about how much of what medicine to pack, etc.  This process seems to be a thing of the past, and it is truly a blessing in disguise.

We wondered where he got it, as nobody else was sick when we arrived.  Assuming it was Rotavirus, you can think back a day or so before symptoms arrive.  For us, it wasn’t difficult to determine a culprit.  Here is a great ‘visual’ story.  Anyone that has taken a little child into a public restroom (specifically a men’s room) – anywhere – , knows it is such an experience.  Our boys want to touch and pick up everything in sight.  A urinal is like a new toy, and what is the really cool bright colored thing down inside?  Treasure!  Must have!  Yes sir!  A truck stop along a major interstate is the perfect safe harbor for viruses and a great transmission avenue.  I am sure he contracted it in one of these places, despite our best efforts to use the facilities without touching much.  Incubation period fits perfectly, and the first person affected in our family is currently the worst offender in terms of touching everything he shouldn’t.

(Rebecca) Needless to say, during the third evening in a row that Austin was sick, and the 1st for Savanna, Ken and I were each holding one of them, nearly dressed back in our Christmas outfits because everything else by that point had been puked on and was in the wash, about 3 in the morning, all we could do was look at each other and bust out laughing.  It was a time to either laugh or cry, and at that moment, we chose the high road.  Now there was something special about this stomach bug.  Usually, stomach bugs last for 24-48 hours at the most, but on Christmas Eve, the headline article on the front page of the “Courier Journal”, Louisville’s local paper, was “ER’s flooded with rare strain of 7-10 day viral gastroenteritis!!!”  By this time, we realized that Austin’s stomach bug was in the 72 hour range…  We had 2 more kids + ourselves to go and a 16 hour (more like 23 hour) car ride home.   Grandma, Grandpa, and Rebecca had already been struck by the virus, and fortunately seemed to shake it off in <24 hours, but we feared that the 4 kids would not be so lucky.  We decided that the best thing to do was to plastic wrap the car seats, put garbage bags on the floor, pack towels, and try to push through to drive home praying that we’d arrive without a car full of vomit and 4 miserable kids.(end sidebar)

The most disappointing effect from the illnesses, was that we didn’t feel comfortable trying to schedule more time with more of our family, knowing how this virus is very contagious for some time after symptoms.  We spent several days more or less ‘holed-up’ in Grandma’s house.   While this Christmas was different, as we weren’t living in the hospital, I had earnest plans to spend time more time with our family this year.  Savanna’s situation has changed me personally and this is one area I wanted to work on in terms of personal development for our family.  Never again are we going to be so far away from family during times of celebration.  Life is just too precious and for many, it is taken for granted.   There will always be another Christmas, right?  Yeah, hopefully so…  But there will never be another for us where we are thousands of miles from our extended family, alone, unless medically necessary.

We decided to head home on the 28th, as Savanna is starting to get worse in terms of not eating, and still vomiting.  We are performing basic urinalysis with the chemical strips and are monitoring the specific gravity of urine and watching it rise – meaning she is becoming more dehydrated.  We start inject water into her using the G-tube, and she continues to just vomit it up.  We are genuinely concerned at this point, and feel the need to be closer to her doctors.   We packed the van and while I was really getting nervous about her health (and whether or not the van was going to make it home), we left somewhat nonchalantly.

December 30, 2012, Sunday

An uneventful trip, but a speeding ticket a few hours from home just put the icing on the cake for this trip.  Savanna is really in trouble at this point and we can’t manage to keep any of the Ketogenic formula down, as she vomits is up as soon as we bolus feed it.  (Yuck!)  We spoke with her doctor, and decided we would stop the diet, feed her fluid with electrolytes and glucose which would stop the Keto diet.  So we started the Pedialite® fluid, along with others.  She seemed a little better the next day, so a trip to the EC was avoided.  This was the official end of the Keto diet for Savanna and this was really a good thing.   After a couple of days slowly pushing electrolytic fluids, she regained strength and recovered.

January 4, 2013, Friday

At my direction, the medical supply company came to pick up the infusion pump we had been renting.  A non-moment in terms of task related activity, but a huge mental rainbow as it marked the end of a difficult period.  It meant she could eat on her own, (all P/O – post-oral- feeds) without concern of aspiration.   It also meant, it could be difficult to feed her if something goes sideways with her health.  Yes, we could get another pump quickly.  Yes, we could bolus feed her too but it was still a significant mental moment for Dad.  It was quite emotional and difficult to explain why.  We have learned to appreciate each small victory.

We decided to use some skymiles from our Amex account to fly in Tristan and Brandon’s previous daycare family Mom and daughter (Irma and Paige) from the 4th to the 7th.  Tristan became really close to Irma during our most difficult times in CA with Savanna.  Irma was a second mom to Tristan and Brandon, and in many ways, to Rebecca and me as well.  Tristan made the connection more than Brandon as he was older.  He can often be heard saying he wished he was at Irma’s when things aren’t the best at our house for some reason during the week.  He is convinced the money in his piggy bank is enough to buy him an airline ticket back to CA to visit Irma for his birthday.  Some of these lessons are difficult…  Anyway, it was a great visit and we thank her greatly for giving us some time.  She always said she built walls around her so she would not get too attached to the kids as they are with her until school starts, and then she typically doesn’t see them anymore.  For some reason, Tristan broke through that wall.  We call every now and then and Tristan still has a desire to see her.  Rebecca and I were actually able to go out that Saturday night while Irma watched the kids.  We danced at a studio operated by someone we knew from many moons ago back.  It was a great night.  Hopefully, we can figure out how to make it back again in the future.  We have mentioned “angels” who have helped us through this journey, and Irma, Paige, and Kevin Fisher have truly been that to us.  They haven’t just watched the kids, they have become real family to us too.

January 16, 2013, Saturday

Savanna had an excellent couple of weeks and we learned more about how to help her with her motor development.  She smiles regularly and is very engaged with her surroundings.  We have been working hard on the transition from laying to sitting up.  She sits up well now if you position her, and is getting stronger every day.  On January 16, she was admitted to the hospital for an outpatient 23 hour EEG/LTM.  This was a monitoring session that will help us to see how she has responded to the surgery.  The anticipation of the results was intense.  While we thought we would get a couple of moments with the doctor to just go over what they were seeing, it was an outpatient procedure, and the doctors don’t round on those patients.  It was very deflating for me, but if there was ever a time when the age old adage applies it is now: sometimes no news is good news.

The next two weeks were filled with joy in the house.  It was clear that every single aspect of Savanna’s life is much improved after the surgery.   On January 19, Rebecca was feeding Savanna, and managed to get her to eat one and a half containers of baby food.  Savanna did not fight it that much, and at times seemed to enjoy it.  This was a milestone for her, as it had never happened before, or it had been more than a year since such activity.   Later that weekend, Savanna was eating Cheetos and cookies with aggressiveness.  It was such a great sight to see.  Rebecca was outwardly excited and emotional, while my emotion was a little more inward and guarded though just as strong.  We were at our friend’s house, Eric & McKenzie Montague (more angels), and Rebecca jumped up and down more excited than a little kid at Christmas.

January 30, 2013

We were in the middle of our morning workout session on the 30th, and Savanna was really happy and engaged.  Then suddenly while I was working with her, it looked like she could sit up on her own.  I stood back, and like letting your 4 or 5 year old go on the bike with no training wheels, I let her go.  She went from her back to her belly, then to sitting up in many, jerky uncoordinated movements – but she made it!  She was so happy with herself, and so was I!  The vast majority of children blow through this milestone with little input from the parents or knowledge with respect to the mechanics involved in the movements.  It was a really rewarding experience and I felt like all the effort and sacrifice in terms of time not spent with the other kids was paying off.  I only wish Rebecca could have been there to see it happen.  She did it again later that day during an afternoon workout session.    This experience has shown me that most major milestones like this are going to take a lot longer to achieve for Savanna.

January 31, 2013, Thursday

Our Au Pair exchange student, Andrea Ramirez, that was helping with childcare had gone home to Columbia on the 23rd, so I was on my own during the week now.  What a change for me personally.  Anyway, I had some apprehension about taking all four kids to the doctor appointments, especially the epileptologist, as they tend to require several hours of waiting before you see the doctor.  I went for it, as I could not find help that day for the kiddos that I felt was affordable.  We arrived early for the epileptologist appointment to get the reading from the EEG.  We waited in the waiting room for about 45 minutes and then we are called back to the room.  I have a double stroller, plus the two older kids.  The exam room became really small, really quick.  The wait in the room was two and half hours before we saw the doctor.  This is typical in this field of practice.  Two hours in, I had run out of all of the food I brought.  There were remainders of cheerios, grapes, blueberries, cheetos, and raisins on the floor….multiple cups of water consumed by each kiddo, because ‘Daddy, I’m thirsty’ – and the resulting numerous trips to the bathroom… (public restroom from above again, yes!)

Then finally, the doctor appears.  The conversation was swift, as it was clear the majority of the family was completely done with being there in that small room.  Savanna had finally given up and fallen asleep in her car seat.  Then I got the official news…

Unfortunately, as we suspected, Savanna is still having seizures.

While not a complete shock, it was definitely disappointing and difficult to hear nonetheless.  Apparently, a single seizure was recorded during the 23 hour monitor, which was much like the previous ones but clinically so subtle I didn’t notice it as the caregiver in the room with her.  The good news is that the onset is right where they thought it might be given the abnormal tissue that was left intact after the first resection.

(Rebecca) While Ken was amazingly managing all 4 kids at the doctor’s office waiting for Savanna’s test results, I was driving home from a 4 day business trip to Louisiana.  We were connecting by phone, as I had hoped to hear the Dr’s comments directly.  The few actual minutes when a doctor walks in to speak with us can be a whirlwind.  So in this instance, I wasn’t able to listen in.  Ken and I only talked briefly after he got the news, as he had to let me go to manage the kids.  After hanging up, my heart just sank.  You try to be realistic despite the emotion involved.  When the doctors came in after Savanna’s surgery, and told us they hadn’t been able to remove all of the dysplastic brain area, I remember somehow knowing that this is the path we would eventually go down.  But, I had always hoped, like every parent of an epileptic child, never to hear about another seizure.  The guilt of being a working parent in this situation, and not being there with Savanna…with Ken…as he received this news is just impossible to describe.  (end sidebar)

So now what?

First, review of the expert side opinion.

We knew that abnormal tissue was still present when they closed the first surgery.  Savanna had blood-gas saturation levels in the 60%’s at the end of the surgery (not good), lost half of her blood supply, and received a couple of transfusions – so it was time to call that procedure done.  We were advised a second surgery is highly probable.  When?  Well, it is difficult to say.  Savanna will tell us when.  If her development is progressing well, and there is good seizure control with medication, the operation is on hold indefinitely.  This is just as simple as it gets.

Second a review of the non-expert opinion (the mom and dad theory)

The abnormal activity was greatly reduced after the first 2 resections (the first procedure) and we are now seeing a rapidly increasing pace of her development, globally.  We could not be happier with her progress and without a doubt every single aspect of her life is better, far better.  Could the second surgery be planned proactively?  Will it be as difficult leading up to the next surgery as it was with her first?  It was hard news to hear that seizures were still present, and there was a moment amidst the craziness that the world seemed silent around me.  I didn’t know what to think, how to act, or how not to act, what questions to ask.  Questions, we had many, answers we had few.  This sounds odd, as one would think I would be comfortable in this situation given the constant exposure.  I couldn’t remember what questions Rebecca and I had for the doctor and all I could do was listen and absorb.  It was a disappointing performance from a parental perspective as I re-live the visit.   Looking back, it was not a good decision to take all the kids with me to the clinic visit.  A ‘do-over’ would result in at least the older kiddos to be dropped off somewhere trusted, regardless of the cost.   At any rate, nothing changes with her care except the change of AED medicine.  (No big deal right?  Wait for the next post.)

The new plan…

Our doctor wanted Savanna to start on another AED, and titrate down the Sabril®.  We had already started decreasing the Sabril® on our own anyway since she was doing so well and initially on a really high dose.  Then it is really a wait, watch and see event as we watch Savanna’s developmental progression.  Like she did in the past, she will let us know when the situation needs to be addressed or when she needs help.  I only pray that process is not as difficult as the first time around.

I called Rebecca on the way home from there to give her the news and I could tell she was going to cry, and I learned later she did.  She had many more questions right away than I did, and I think Savanna would have been better served that day by having Rebecca in the office than me.  It was a sinking feeling not having the answers to Rebecca’s questions, but even more so, knowing that I simply didn’t ask them at the time.  This would be a good time to be able to use a mulligan.  It has resulted in my reflection on my ability as a father and caregiver. Am I really the right one for the job?  She is so strong, intelligent, and beautiful.

I meet Rebecca at home with my car load of craziness, and amidst the reunion of mommy and kids after Rebecca’s 4 day trip, Savanna sat up on her own again.  This time, Rebecca got to see it, but it was really a bittersweet moment to say the least.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Savanna is really having a hard weekend.  We suspect a UTI, and a basic urinalysis indicates high levels of white and red blood cells in the urine.  Classic sign of a UTI (even without presence if high levels of Nitrites), especially since she has been screened for most all other types of abnormalities of the UT.  We start a coarse of antibiotics, as we keep those on hand now just for this occasion.  The rest of the weekend and majority of the next week is really difficult as the pain seems to be high with this type of infection.  Conventional pain medications don’t seem to help, but Uristat® seems to ease some of the pain.

Tuesday, February 5, 2012

Savanna is teething something fierce and really having a hard time.  Pain medication is barely affecting her, and then she starts having seizures.  My heart sank.  I was very concerned with what I was watching.  Could teething pain provoke such activity?  We already knew she was having seizures, but didn’t really know if pain would trigger such an episode.  Administration of Ativan® interrupted the seizure activity.  The situation wasn’t emergent, but why let her seize unnecessarily if the trigger was teething pain.  We had the drugs, experience with administration, knowledge of side-effects, and the inclination to use them more quickly than not.  Somehow, I think knowing the history and the fact that she is our child creates bias – (no way!)  Most doctors would probably not have given what I did, but I lost no sleep over my decisions and got reassurance in the decision from the epileptologist later.  Rather, I lost a lot of sleep wondering if this was the next step in her journey and it was now ‘go time’ for the next procedure.   Was this the beginning of the end of her second honeymoon period?  No, not yet…  By the weekend, the situation had calmed considerably and I got much needed support from Savanna’s epileptologist.  We felt much better about Savanna’s situation, and she returned to being very engaged, happy, and moving forward again with life, a scare, but not a setback.

Some additional commentary:  Just when you think it is really bad…

Savanna is under the care of a number of specialists, such as a Pulmonologist, pediatric GI doctor, etc.  They usually have clinic days that typically consist of a very short period of only a day or two per week.  Just when I think our situation is really difficult, I have one of these specialty clinic visits.  The wait times are long, regardless of the type of doctor you are seeing.  On the 28th of January, there we were, waiting around 12:30 for our 1:30 appointment (a little early).  Then the procession of other patients starts to arrive as they fill all the exam rooms at 1:30.  Most have unimaginable disorders and some have traveled hours to be there.  These kids have disorders that render most of them to highly specialized electric wheelchairs or special strollers.  Most of these kids have disorders that will end in death long before their parents.  (Savanna may still may be in that category.)  But, Savanna is so young, that in her car seat, it is difficult to discern the severe nature of her problems just yet.  This world, while great if you are healthy, is very cruel if you are not.  Sometimes I continue think about why God allows such terrible situations to exist and the answers remain mysterious.  The suffering these kids and families endure is amazing when you talk to them first hand and begin to picture what their life is like.  I have realized through these clinic visits, that our life and situation isn’t so bad, especially now.  Every time I think our situation is ‘so difficult’, I remember what I saw in the waiting room during our last ‘specialty clinic’ visit.  Few people I meet in the waiting room of the ‘specialty clinic’ have such an opportunity for relief as Savanna was afforded, and I can say after her first procedure, every single aspect of her life is better.

Happy Valentine’s day,    

-Ken and Rebecca

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December 19, 2011: A Day to Remember Forever for the Liningers

What a year for our family.

December, 19th, 2011 :  The day we got the official news about Savanna.  It was a day filled with anxiety and nervousness.  Savanna had been through a lot in the last few days and we as parents had learned a great deal about her probable condition.  We were just waiting in the hospital on a Sunday afternoon, as we were told the doctor(s) were finally going to talk to us.  Then it happened.  Almost out of the blue, a team of doctors came in mid-afternoon.  Leading the way, and the only one who spoke was Dr. Mary Zupanc.  She said to us, “You have to mourn the loss of your normal child.  She is gone.  You need to start to prepare yourselves for what may be a very long and difficult journey.”  She went further to warn us that “90% of all marriages with a special needs child like Savanna, end in divorce.”  We didn’t know anything about anything at that point, and we later learned she was new to the CHOC family.  Her employment was the beginning of a new direction intended to make CHOC a leader in the pediatric neurology field.  The only cases she handled were refractory or intractable (severe & rare) in nature.  I don’t think we fully realized what that meant at the time.  It wasn’t until much later after the ACTH therapy, after the necrotizing pneumonia, after multiple LTM EEG’s, the installation of a permanent G-Tube, that the denial had worn off and we began to grasp the magnitude of our situation with Savanna.

Looking back, we could not have been more blessed than to be admitted when Dr Zupanc was overseeing the EEG monitoring at CHOC.  The Dr. reading the LTM patients EEG results alternate and Dr Z has the 1st and 4th week of every month.  Had she not been there, we might be in a very different situation.  She taught us just how catastrophic the seizure activity was for a baby of Savanna’s age.  More importantly, awareness of how critical it is to arrest seizures in children under 2 by any and all heroic action available.  Not acting aggressively can mean the difference between very different outcomes in development.  If you have read any of my recent posts, you know that this is not a widely accepted principle in neurology.  God was watching Savanna, and while the situation was bad, we could not have been in a better facility in terms of care for her specific needs.

The EEG report from the VTM ending on December 18th read, “possible lesion on left temporal lobe”.  Here we are about 11 months later recovering from epilepsy surgery where a cortical dysplasia lesion was removed from the temporal-parietal-occipital region of her left hemisphere.  For me personally, it is a day of reflection about what we have been through and how far she has come in such a short time.  I have taken the time in the middle of the night to go back through some of the pictures and the emotions of that day 12 months ago and many memories are still very vivid in my heart.  Some memories have faded.  Some memories I wish I could change by having behaved differently at that time.  However, trying to grasp the realities of the situation was difficult, almost impossible until we had a chance to live through it.  It reminds me a lot of the birth of our first child.  Many of you can relate to this.  You prepare, read the books, etc.  But some things you just can’t learn until the baby is delivered and you have a chance to experience it first-hand.  For many, it changes life dramatically.   Savanna has changed our lives by educating  us about how typical life is such a miracle.  A few statistics surrounding her journey from December 19 2011 thru December 19, 2012.

·         57 typical RX scripts filled, total insurance billing, around $25,000

·         14 Specialty Drug RX scripts totaling $164,000

·         Total processed health claims for Savanna, $798,000

·         Total processed health claims for the rest of family was an additional $85,000

·         90+ days in the hospital with Savanna, 14 days with Tristan

·         60+ hours on the phone during the second half of the year with the insurance company and service providers when Anthem’s system began filing Savanna’s claims under Austin when we went onto Cobra.  This resulted in many denied claims, and a waves of collections against us as the bills began accumulating quickly.

·         Gratitude that we have been financially fortunate and were both able to work and save for a “rainy day” prior to this experience.

·         Empathy for the 1000’s of families facing similar situations who cannot possibly be as fortunate as we are.

Savanna is not free of epilepsy, but seems to be free from the very disruptive seizures the were halting her development and assuring entrance into the contingent of Lennox-Gastaut sufferers.    Dr. Nitin Tandon performed the surgery and his office billed our insurance company $9999.00 for his services – of which his office collected a payment of $3292 from our insurance company.  It is an unbelievably small amount of money for such a far-reaching, life-altering procedure.   Compared to other types of surgeries, the cost versus benefit is off the chart and that is really an unfortunate reality.  That translates long term to surgical talent that is less likely to choose a path of epilepsy surgery expertise when they can make 5 or 10x as much money performing elective spinal fusions for example.  The vast majority of patients like Savanna are misdiagnosed and do not have the opportunity for such a procedure so early in life.

The changes in our lives as a result of Savanna’s birth have been significant.  We relocated our family.  I resigned from the workforce temporarily to manage and guide her care.  Rebecca took a new position in GE, and is dealing with a frustrating work environment that won’t allow success.  We contracted as a family earlier in the year, as we began to face fiscal challenges once foreign to us.  We are contracting again at the end of 2012 in light of the increased tax burden undoubtedly being put on our shoulders.  This situation has altered our financial planning which we once thought was sound.  Action has been  required to stay solvent, and these lessons will be passed on to our children.  Direct medical expenses related to Savanna’s care were a fraction of the total listed above, but the soft costs not directly attributed to Savanna’s condition were and are enormous and never seem to stop.  I have arrived at an understanding of why families earning far less would simply give up and let their neighbors pay for it through a vehicle called Medicaid.  We will never in our lifetime pay in Medicare taxes equivalent to what Savanna’s care cost during her first year of life.  To simply entitle ourselves to this presumed benefit is morally and ethically wrong in our opinion.  Regardless of the schooling, we will without fail teach our children that there are better ways to help those in need than government programs.

Watching our daughter suffer, tested our resolve.  It was so difficult, that I honestly believe death would have been easier to deal with during her most difficult periods.  Experiencing her seizures was like anticipation of imminent death for me.  There was a bit of numbness that developed as at some level you can only handle so much before your body just simply starts to shut down emotionally.  Writing this blog in many ways is one of my few outlets as I work through my personal emotions with words.

December has been a little tough as we had a confirmed case of RSV in the house in early December, and guess who it was, of course, Savanna.  While we were worried about complications, she managed to pull through it well.  Austin and Brandon probably had it too, as they were really sick for about 10 days.  Tristan managed to head it off, but did have a few sickly days.  Rebecca and I both got it too, eventually, but it turned out to be pretty light in terms of effect on us.  Savanna had a swallow function study on the 11th, which is where they determine how well she transfers thick and thin fluid from her mouth to her esophagus.  She did great with no signs of aspiration.  We started to push the post-oral feeds and she is doing well.  Then she developed a UTI, and that was really unpleasant for all of us.  Through this, I undoubtedly witnessed seizures with Savanna.  At some level, it was to be expected.  I increased some of her medication, which slowed the downward titration, but managed to keep the seizures at bay.  As of the 19th, everyone is healthy.

Moving forward, Savanna is doing good with her physical therapy and we will be adding speech and occupational therapy in the coming weeks.  We will undergo another LTM/VEEG January 16th so see if she is experiencing any abnormal brain activity or seizures in a 24 hour period.  Once off the Keto diet, which will be early January, she will have an overnight sleep study to make sure she is maintaining oxygen saturation levels.  We will switch from Sabril to a conventional AED (anti-epileptic drug), which she will be on for at least 1 year post operative as a standard protocol.

So here we are, on the cusp of another trip, contemplating the feasibility of traveling with Savanna.  We have enough drugs to manage almost any seizure related situation.  I have called ahead and know where the diagnostic equipment and expertise resides in Louisville.  All indications are that we are headed back to Louisville for Christmas for a few days.

Our heartfelt thanks go out to all of you who express interest enough to read this and follow her journey.  Your thoughts and prayers have not gone unheard, and God is speaking through Savanna.  From our family to yours, we would like to wish you a Merry Christmas.

Best wishes

-dad

(Ken Lininger)

Rebecca’s comments and commentary –

As we look back on the words Dr Zupanc chose, and the candid and the direct manner in which she delivered them, we now realize how fortunate we were to have her deliver these messages to us as directly as she did.  We’ve recounted this story a number of times, and those who love us most have had the immediate reaction to have wanted to protect us from the perceived lack of bedside manner.  It was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to hear.  But, truth was necessary.  It was necessary to prepare us for what lay ahead.  It was necessary and the kindest, gentlest decision that Dr. Z made to let us know that we would face a very tough road, and that if we didn’t cling to and look out for each other and our marriage, that we too could easily be one of the 90%.   Over the number of times Ken & I have looked back on this experience as we have gone through the trials of parenting under these circumstances, I believe we found extra patience, kindness, and support for each other, and I am grateful for her wisdom & candor.

As proud patriots and active fiscal conservatives, it has been interesting to face the challenges of health care costs first hand.  Ken is adamant that he would sell everything we owned before we asked a neighbor or stranger to pay a single cent for our health care.  We are fortunate enough not to require assistance at this time.  Commentary:  It’s not the very poor, or the very wealthy that are crushed by medical expenses in our society, it’s those in the middle, making $50K – $300K / year.  The poor receive better medical care than those of us with the best insurance money can buy.  Those in the middle can truly be crushed.  We have stayed on top of every bill and every insurance submission.  We have been adamant that we pay to the doctors what is contractually fair.  Even with this vigilance from 2 masters degree engineers who have held executive positions with top companies, we have seen a number of threatening letters regarding delinquent account status, as the collection companies & the insurance companies figure it out between each other.  Ultimately, it is straightening itself out, but we wonder what the impact on our credit rating of all these mistakes and poor coordination between the insurance companies and the service providers.  We were able to prepare for this, and we made strategic purchases in advance of this step into financial quicksand, but there should be some way to help the average family who faces this experience.

In our liberal government’s infinite wisdom, President Obama has taken away one of the true benefits to special needs families, by far one of the cruelest tax hikes hidden in Obamacare.  He has reduced the amount of money one can save by using a flexible spending account from $5K to $2500 effective in 2013.  This may not seem like much to many of you, but at a 25% federal tax bracket, that’s the cash equivalent of a $625/year tax increase.  To us now, and many of the families we’ve met through this experience, it means the difference between being able to pay for therapy for their child or respite care for themselves or not.  To reiterate the point, the very poor and well-off won’t be affected by this change, only those in the middle who actually implement the shelter.  This is one of many egregious hikes hidden in Obamacare known by many, talked about by few.  Simply put, President Obama intends to pay for his single largest entitlement plan in the history of entitlements in the history of the world on the backs of the very people he claims to be helping or targeting for this entitlement.  It is without doubt the greatest fleecing of America in her history, and very sad to watch it unfold.

We trust that you will continue to place your votes based on your own personal beliefs, but we’ll make a modest request to you to ask that you please look deeper than the marketing hype when casting your future ballots.  Please challenge our politicians regardless of party to address the root cause of expense, waste, & ineffectiveness in our government, whether the issue is health care, social security, Medicare,  Medicaid, education, immigration or other.  We are the greatest nation on earth, and there are Christian solutions to the problems we must solve together as a nation, if we will only hold our leaders truly accountable for being problem solvers and choosing to advocate & implement real solutions vs. just their marketing, lies, & hatred of the opposite party.

When we addressed the meager amount that our neurosurgeon’s office had settled for, we learned more about the healthcare situation in our country.  He indicated that less than 5% of the children who are candidates for radical life-changing epilepsy surgery like Savanna’s ever even find out that they are candidates.  There are only a hand full of pediatric epileptologists in the country who could have diagnosed a case like Savanna’s properly.  The reason for this is that the real money in medicine goes to other specialties like orthopedics and procedures such as spinal fusion.  The insurance companies base their reimbursement rates on Medicare.  Medicare bases its reimbursement rates on lobbying.  Medical device companies & pharmaceutical companies have much stronger lobbies than the epilepsy foundation.  A surprising statistic that he shared  with us is that 80% of back surgeries are unnecessary, and 60% require a 2nd surgery within 10 years after the 1st.  Yet these surgeons are paid 10X for each back surgery than neurosurgeons are paid for truly life changing surgeries.  That is not to say that no back surgeries offer positive, life-altering results.  But, reimbursement rates should be based on successful outcomes, not lobbying.  The most cost-effective healthcare programs in the world work on this basis.

I don’t share this with you to make you hate or judge big pharma, medical device companies, or Orthopedic surgeons.  We passionately advocate capitalism, and we are so grateful to big pharma that they had the money to invest in the many drugs Savanna has needed and will continue to need.  They will never recover their investment in many of these medicines, yet they continue to develop them at a loss, based on their guiding principles.  I share it with you, because it is facts like this that cause our best & brightest not to choose to go into neurosurgery unless they have a driving personal passion to do so.

I’ll leave you with one final thought.  My prayer during this journey has been simply to our Lord to “carry me” and to carry Ken.  This comes from the depth of my soul as I recount a poem that I read frequently as a little girl.  Many of you are probably familiar with the poem / prayer “footprints”, if not, I’ll recount if for you here:

“One night, a man had a dream.  He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord.  Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.  For each scene, he looked back at the footprints in the sand.  He noticed two sets of footprints, one belonging to him, and the other to the Lord.  When the last scene of his life had flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand.  He noticed that during the saddest and most challenging times in his life, he saw only one set of footprints.  This really bothered the man, and he questioned the Lord about it.  “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you would walk with me all the way.  I have noticed that during the saddest times of my life, there is only one set of footprints.  I don’t understand why when I needed you most, you would leave me.”  The Lord answered, “My son, my precious child, I love you, and I would never leave you.  During the hardest times of your life when you see only one set of footprints in the sand, it was then that I carried you.”

There have been so many times throughout this journey that I haven’t even known what to pray for.  I have simply prayed, “please carry me God”, and He has.  May He carry you, when you need it.  May He send angels to you to guide you and share your path.  May we not question His purpose, yet continue on this journey supporting each other.

Last year, when Savanna was first diagnosed, my sister in law, Kenia, and my parents gave up their Christmas to come be with us.   Dad went to church, and the priest said something that will always stick with me.  He didn’t say, have a Merry Christmas, he said, have a Blessed Christmas.  That is what we wish for you, a very Blessed Christmas.

To leave this post on a lighter note, Mom, Dad, & Kenia joined me for Christmas Eve service with the boys last year.  As we were leaving, Dad pointed up to the sky and asked Tristan if he thought the bright red light up there was Rudolf’s red nose.  I’ll never forget Tristan studying the sky, then looking back at my Dad, Grandpa Squiz, and candidly saying, “That’s an airplane, you idiot”:)  It was rude, but admittedly hysterical.  Ken broke Savanna out of the hospital on Christmas day and we were together.  My friend Thuy visited us shortly thereafter.  If you don’t know Thuy, she’s not the warm, fuzzy, emotional type, but she’s a true friend.  It’s hard to know what to say to someone like us who had just experienced what we had, but she said, “No matter what, Savanna will be loved.”  It was truly comforting, and she was right.  Savanna will always be loved and she’ll be loved more fiercely, and in a way I never could have imagined before this experience.

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Seizure Freedom? Maybe So!

Savanna has been home now since Friday night, and we have enjoyed some normal parts of life with the bigger kids.  We carved pumpkins, we decorated the house (a little), and made gingerbread Halloween houses one afternoon.  Trick-or-treating with the big kids was a blast, as Rebecca really gets into Halloween.  We decided to keep Savanna in, as it can be difficult to watch her closely while out.  She has a way of reminding us of the vigilance that must be taken with planning an outing.  Just when we think it is okay to make impromptu plans, she reminds us of why it isn’t a good idea.  We really weren’t that worried about her getting sick, but when you look down and see her in the middle of a big seizure episode, panic sets in quickly.  How long has she been seizing?  Maybe you don’t know – not good.  Okay, start the clock…  at what point do you intervene?  Did I bring rescue medicine?  Where is the car?  Oh yeah, I walked…  How fast can I run home if needed?  This was not a frequent sequence of events, because after the first time, it changes your entire viewpoint and planning for ‘outings’.   Her care really wasn’t that complicated at this point, but it was really stressful trying to make sure someone was watching all the time. 

I can say today, that her change from that state is simply miraculous.  After a follow-up clinic visit with the neuro-surgeon today, we feel like we have a new child.  We still see some abnormal activity now and then, but we have been told repeatedly that that is to be expected while her brain ‘reorganizes’.  Savanna now has a new outlook on life, and she needs to be exposed to as much as possible to accelerate her development.  The neuro-surgeon thinks the primary deficit she will have will be loss of attention to her right side.  Meaning, she simply won’t notice or care about something presented on her right side.  So, for time being, we will approach her from the left and then move to center or right.  He felt confident this would dissipate over time as she learns to compensate.  Visually, she will have some peripheral deficit that is permanent, but the amount is still unknown.

His comments today were very reassuring with respect to being able to travel now and just live life in a more normal way.  He did admit she had a lot of trouble with respiration during surgery, and they did not convey that fully in post-op as not to cause undue concern.  Had she handled the surgery better, they would have gone further with the resection.  Once you have experienced one of her choking fits, where the only effective relief is with a medical grade suction machine to clear her throat, one would not be surprised by such news.  Also, the anesthesiologist stayed in post-op for about an hour watching her, and looked like he had seen a ghost.  He didn’t say anything alarming, but his concern was genuine and I think he knew, that we knew, that Savanna gave them a hard time and maybe a scare during surgery.

Savanna’s progress has simply been amazing.  Each day is better than the one before.  The days are accented by someone saying “Hey come look at what Savanna is doing”.  The tone is one of elation, relief, and happiness.  Not the somber, ‘here-we-go-again’, tone of the past.  She is smiling, laughing, and rolling around.  She is pushing up on her hands and making lots of noises.  Most notably, she doesn’t appear to be having seizures like she was before.  She is calm.  If you pick her up, you can hold her, and she likes it.  It is nothing short of a miracle as far as we are concerned.   Not always, but in general, she was always trying to get away from you, and would never hold on to you or appear comforted by someone holding her.

A couple of times I sat on the floor and worked with her on some gross motor skills.  I remember seeing and hearing several people in the background talking on phones about Savanna.  They were giving out updates, and the conversations were  just overflowing with excitement and joy.  I felt like I had a staff onsite  sending out messages routinely.   It was kind of bizarre really, as my phone was pretty quiet.  However, normal life is resuming.  The grandparents have returned to their lives and we are getting back to our normal routine.   We will begin the slow, step-by-step process of weaning her off the AED’s and Keto diet.  This process will take a few months.

From this point, it almost feels like life begins again with Savanna, like she has another chance, a better chance.  Some would ask, “Is she free from seizures?”,  maybe so!

Seizure freedom, 7 days and counting….

-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

Complex Partial Seizures – The New Normal

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August 16th, 2012.  As I walked into CHOC (Children’s Hospital of Orange county) carrying Savanna, there was a calming familiarity.  Recognized by the admissions staff and 5th floor staff, it felt like a homecoming of sorts.  This was supposed to be a periodic monitoring with expectations of nothing new.  Once you mention she is probably having seizures of some kind the tone of the conversation changes quickly.  Most of the nurses and tech’s we knew didn’t realize we had made the move to Texas already, so conversation about the move helped lightened the tone.

Once the EEG equipment was in place, it was a waiting game.  With infrequent seizures, this time can really pass slowly as her aggravation with the head-wrap grows.  There is little I can do, and I have to stay sharp to catch her seizure when they occur.   My indication of abnormal activity helps queue the technicians monitoring her EEG output more closely during those episodes.   She had a couple of events throughout the afternoon, but then at 1:15 am Friday morning, she had a cluster episode.  Consultation with doctor later that day confirmed our fears.  The EEG indicated the seizure originated from the left posterior temporal lobe, which is where she has always had abnormal activity.  This was a new seizure type though, so the first step was to try to control the seizures with medications.  She needed to be stable before traveling back to Texas, and I was planning to drive back with her and the family in two days.  What came next was significant period of learning as a caregiver and parent.

Savanna was ‘loaded’ with Phenobarbital around 4pm Friday as a first attempt to arrest the seizures.  Not sure why they use the term ‘load’, as the loading dose is no different than the next dose which is called maintenance, even if on a titration schedule.  Anyway, she slept almost immediately with initial load via iv.  She slept for nearly 7 hours and then awoke completely altered.  Her hysteria and rage was something I had never seen before in person.  As a parent you see pain from emergency procedures (broken bones, sutchers, etc.), you see the ‘breakdowns’ of toddlers, colic of infants, but this was different.  The next four hours I had to manage a possessed child.  Finally, she gave up the fight and went to sleep.  I was exhausted and emotionally distraught.  I didn’t know what to think.  Was this the new normal?

After her first maintenance dose of phenobarbital, her anger subsided to extreme fussiness (yes, extreme fussiness was better than before), and then she just seemed to become absent to me.  I had a final discussion with the doctor about her disposition, and took away from the conversation that her extreme fussiness may or may not be the drugs.  The reality set in that this could be the progression of her disorder in her brain.  As she grows, the situation can change quickly with regard to her brain.  Her doctor felt she was safe to travel, so she was discharged just in time to attend Rebecca’s brothers wedding reception.

It was very refreshing being around family, but 50 hours straight in the epilepsy unit as a lone parent of a sick child requires some decompression before re-entering society.  Not having that, I felt somewhat out of touch with what was going on around me.  There can be a general lack of concern for rules.  Disciplining my kids for bad behavior is more difficult during these first few hours outside the hospital environment.   I felt detached from the situation and the one focus of my last 50 hours was now taken from me and being passed around.  I watched my daughter go from person to person, and I could see how far away she was her in disposition.  All I wanted do was hold her and I didn’t need anyone else to do it, but I didn’t want to take that time away from the other family that was there either  as they don’t get to see her often.  We were warned that her seizures could start again, which really put me on the edge.  As a parent, you try to be positive and behave maturely about the situation,  but when she was out of my sight for more than a few minutes that night, I found myself nervous. 

We finished up that night early, and were able to get her settled back at the rented house in Long Beach.  We spent some time in the hot tub, and I remember familiar thoughts from months past.  I remember being almost comatose mentally after the time in the hospital and then being ‘on’ for the other kids for several hours.  It just takes time process the information after you leave the hospital.  I awoke the next morning to the first ‘daddy, can I have…’  Rebecca had already boarded a plane to get home early to prepare for work.  I packed the van and tried to get going quickly.  After a few hours, I had to laugh.  El Paso by nightfall was out of the question given our late start, so Phoenix was the new way point.

That evening in Phoenix,  Savanna seizures returned.  Still inexperienced at dealing with this, my heart just sinks and then a sense of urgency overcame me.  I didn’t know what to do.  It was like I got hit with a sucker punch.  I called Rebecca, and I could hear her concern as she felt a million miles away and helpless.  We were both calling the on-call neurologists in CA and TX trying to get someone to help us.  Finally, I worked though my options with the on-call neurologist with the new team in Texas.  We decided to increase the Phenobarbital, then monitor her condition.  Savanna was really cranky that night and neither of us slept well.  We got on the road the next morning to El Paso and the seizures started again.  More consultation that evening in with the neurologists left me in a real predicament.  The phenobarbital  dose was maximized, even for in-patient care.  Savanna was heavily sedated, but still having seizures.  With no diastat on-hand, it was risky making the trip from El Paso to Houston.  I decided to try to make to Houston as my options in El Paso were very limited with the family in tow.  I investigated pharmacies on the way that had diastat in stock and made note of their phone numbers and locations.  The next morning was nerve racking.  Quickly through a continental breakfast and on the road, right?  Right.  Has anyone tried to get a 2 or 4 year old to eat a good breakfast quickly?  After a big mess and multiple times to the bathroom to make ‘pooh-pooh in the potty’, I packed in the van and we finally started to haul a$$.  Through the city stretches were painstakingly slow, and we had to stop at least a few times totally almost 2 hours.  Once on the open road in Texas, it was a different story.  The manual for the Yakima roof box indicated not to exceed 70mph, but I can say with confidence, it is qualified for a much higher amount.  750 miles and less than 10 hours of driving later we met Rebecca near our house to transition Savanna and I to another car as we planned to continue straight downtown to Memorial Herman EC.

[Sidebar:  Yes, she was having seizures.  But, we had not yet seen out of control, dangerous seizures.  And, administering Diastat for the first time in the middle of the desert in Texas was not a good idea.  In the end, I am glad no one gave me the script.  I was not ready to use it, and if she had gone into respiratory distress in the middle of nowhere, I would never have forgiven myself.  Unfortunately, during the coming weeks Savanna would educate me about when Diastat is needed.]

Once at Memorial Herman EC at the Texas Medical Center, she had several seizures in the waiting room of the EC.  It was not until then did they feel this may be important.  I remember being furious, listening them talk about what they had for lunch while my child was having seizures.   I finally was able to get the attention of the staff.  I was very aggressive in my demeanor, and end up apologizing more than once for being  a bit too rude.  However, I have learned, no one will advocate for your child but you.  Few people know your child as well as you.  A neurologist on call was able to see Savanna and within 10 seconds of holding her she seized.  He agreed with my assessment that she was having seizures, big surprise, and should be treated.   She was admitted, she was ‘loaded’ with Keppra, right away to try to control the situation.  It was not the drug of choice, but without the results of the POLG 1 gene mutation test, it was one of our few safe choices.   She had rough night, but now seemed as though she was getting help.  We moved to the EMU (Epilepsy Monitoring Unit) at Memorial Herman in the early morning hours where she was hooked to an EEG monitoring unit.  After 24 hours, we were told that she was having seizures originating from the right and left side of her brain.  We were devastated.  Up until now, we had this hope that the right side of her brain was more healthy, and maybe she could still thrive if a hemispherectomy was the procedure of choice (this is where the entire left or right half of the brain is removed).  She is still so young that the plasticity of the brain would compensate and she could still develop with relative normalcy.

So she was released from the EMU, off the Phenobarbital and Keppra and her seizures were somewhat improved.  The day of the release, I spoke with the doctor, and there were statements like “You may need to accept that your child will have a normal pattern of seizures.”  We were absolutely crushed, as we could already see her milestones dissolving, again.  We honestly felt like the situation was hopeless.  I called our epileptologist just before she was to board a plane for France for 10 days, and had another short conversation that provided some relief about that subject. But still, I could hear the general concern in her voice about Savanna’s future.  It was a very helpless feeling, as Savanna’s new normal was now complex partial seizures.

-Dad