California Living.

I realized today that with all the updates I’ve done and blogs I’ve wrote, I haven’t really provided a full update on everything that has been going on out here in California. With that being said, I’ll provide a play-by-play on our Stanford journey up to today. This one is a tad lengthy so bare with me.

Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford – Palo Alto, California

We arrived here on September 12th with the expectation that we would be getting a room in the CVICU, however, the day we left they realized there weren’t enough beds so they accommodated us by placing us in the NICU until a space became available. Luckily we weren’t in the NICU long because it was a complete 180 from the NICU at NCH. Instead of a private room set-up it was “pods”, meaning there were 10 beds in one room and there was literally enough space for one person between each bed. This was completely different than what we had experienced thus far but we dealt with it.

Due to Griffins constant desatting (oxygen levels dropping below their preferred 75% for his condition – normally 100% for healthy people) we were moved to the CVICU quicker than they had planned.

Quick side note to anyone who doesn’t quite understand this; we all live at 100% oxygen levels. But TOF/PA/MAPCAS (Griffins diagnoses) babies live at lower percentages before their full repair because their blood is “mixing” in the heart chambers, meaning their oxygenated and non-oxygenated blood is mixing together because of a VSD (hole in the heart). That same under-oxygenated blood is then being sent out into the body via (in Griffins case, because he wasn’t born with a pulmonary artery) the aorta and MAPCAS. This is also why they are called “blue babies”, because they aren’t getting the proper amount of oxygen so they’re literally turning blue. Scary I know. 

We were in the CVICU for a week before Griffin starting coughing a lot, so they swabbed him and he was diagnosed with Rhinovirus (common cold) which then pushed surgery back 4-6 weeks. (This is because if he had the surgery while his lungs were fighting a cold, it would make his recovery 10x harder) This was a huge blow because we had fully expected to have the surgery within the next week and then be on the road to recovery. We also didn’t plan on being out here for much longer than a month, funny joke as we’re hitting the three month mark in two days…

Since Griffin would have to wait for the surgery but wasn’t stable enough to go “home” with us to the Ronald McDonald House to wait it out, they moved us to the step-down floor unit. It’s the same type of care, only its not an ICU. We were there for two nights before shit hit the fan.

September 30th, 2018

Worst day of our lives. We got a call from the hospital at 7:30am letting us know that Griffin had a started desatting and in turn his heart stopped working. (This is the reason “desats” are so scary. If your organs aren’t getting the proper amount of oxygen they will eventually stop working properly) The nurse informed me that they were currently doing CPR and had been for about 10 minutes. She wanted us to get to the hospital as quickly as we could.

We arrived at the hospital and learned that what they were calling his episode was an “arrest”. We all know what that means, Griffin had a heart attack. His heart stopped working for 30 minutes. The nurses did CPR the entire time and brought him back to life. We will be forever indebted to them for that. Everyone here performed a miracle by getting his heart pumping again and for taking higher measures and placing him on ECMO aka life support.

Seeing him on ECMO was hard, but not as hard as what was to come. And honestly, I think the fact that I knew it saved his life made it easier for me to handle. He was on ECMO for a total of 8 days. He came off on his 6 month birthday, October 8th, 2018.

Just to paint a picture, when a baby is placed on ECMO they are laying completely straight with their head turned to the side, and they aren’t allowed to move so they are heavily sedated and on paralyzing medications. This is because there are two large cannulas placed into the side of their neck. One is pumping blood into the body and the other is pulling blood out. Should a cannula be dislodged, the child would bleed out in minutes. It’s extremely risky but it’s a life saving measure to let the heart and lungs rest so they can heal.

He would have been on ECMO longer if it were up to the doctors but due to all of the blood thinners he was on he starting having blood in his urine. And even though there was so much blood thinners running through the blood, the cannulas had clots in them which could be very dangerous. So their hands were forced and they had to take the chance of taking him off and hoping he did well. Which he did. Proud mom moment. Once he was off the wait was back on for surgery. This time the surgeon didn’t want to take chances. He needed to wait at least a week to let Griffin’s body recover from ECMO but he couldn’t wait too long due to fear of another arrest.

October 19th, 2018

Griffin’s surgery day. They were able to wait eleven days after coming off of ECMO, giving him the best chance they could. They took him down and started the procedure around 8am with the intention of doing a full repair, meaning not only would they pull all of the MAPCAS to a centralized point and create a pulmonary artery, but also close the VSD. However, after a 15 hour surgery we finally got to speak to the man himself, Dr. Frank Hanley. The only surgeon who does the full repair in one swoop and the man who literally paved the way for this type of surgery. He is the TOF/PA/MAPCAS king and he is world renowned. He let us know that unfortunately (and as expected due to Griffin’s condition going into surgery) Griffin was unable to get the full repair in one surgery. This was because during the “flow test”, his pressures in the mapcas/shunt were too high.

This basically means that the blood flowing from his heart would have too much resistance getting to his lungs/body because the MAPCAS were so small and needed time to grow before closing the VSD and causing more pressure. If he were to close something with high pressures it would eventually lead to Pulmonary Hypertension, or heart failure. These are words that no heart parent wants to hear. 

He also let us know that due to inflammation, Griffin came out of surgery with his chest still open. Yes, you read that correctly, his chest was left open as to not put more pressure on the heart and lungs because there was so much swelling. When a chest is left open, it’s not covered with something that you can’t see through. We could literally walk up to him and see his heart and lungs pumping in his chest. It was mortifying but became abnormally normal to us during the coming days. It just became something that was, something that just had to happen to get him to the next step.

After surgery Griffin also developed “heart block”.

This is when the top chamber of the heart and bottom chamber of the heart don’t communicate. To better explain, when the top chamber pumps in a normal heart, the bottom chamber pumps at a specific time right afterwards. However, in Griffins case, his bottom chamber was taking longer to pump than it should.

So, in comes the pacemaker. On the day they finally closed his chest (October 29th, 2018) they also placed a pacemaker. Due to this he will need surgeries intermittently throughout his life to change the batteries. This was another blow but again, just something else that we have to deal with so he can be healthy.

Once surgery and chest closure were over we were on the road to recovery. It has just been a lot slower and more stressful than we anticipated. Since chest closure we have dealt with extremely high fevers, morphine withdrawals (these are awful), ventilator fluctuations, and infections. Due to all of this, and the length of time it was taking him to come off the ventilator, they decided that giving him a trach would be the fastest and easiest way to get him home and get him stronger. Jarryl and I talked about the trach for a week before we both agreed that they were right and it was just another something that he needed, but this was a hard decision. They decided to do a cath beforehand just to make sure the vent problems weren’t stemming from another heart problem, which it wasn’t. So they set a date and he was supposed to have surgery for the trach on November, 30th 2018. But that didn’t go as planned either.

The week of surgery his belly started becoming really distended so they got an x-ray and it showed fluid around the stomach. They did an in-room procedure and placed a tube in his belly to drain it. They were expecting abdominal fluid, but instead it was blood. They had no explanation on why his belly would be filling with blood. Luckily it started clearing up on its own that same day and continued to do so over the next two days. The surgery was set for Friday and on Thursday they “clamped” the tube in his stomach because it wasn’t draining much and there was no sign of blood. However, throughout the day Thursday, after clamping, it was clear that his belly was getting bigger and he was uncomfortable. When he started desatting they decided it was time to open the clamp to drain a little but they really wanted him to pee off the excess fluid. But when the doctor started pulling back the syringe to get fluid out, it wasn’t abdominal fluid. It was blood, again. And this time, they drained 800ml of it.

To put that into perspective, almost 1 liter of blood and fluid drained out. Adults can’t even handle that much fluid sitting in their abdomen, let alone an 8 month old baby. 

Everyone was in his room trying to figure out what was going on. They decided to start a blood transfusion because he had lost so much fluid and they were worried it would affect his blood pressure. It was then that Jarryl figured out the problem. Jarryl, not the doctors, not the nurses, but Griffins amazing father. He stood up to check on him and realized that the draining tube was turning more bloody again after the transfusion had started. We had already had previous issues with the PICC line so when he realized the blood was being sent via the PICC line it all made sense. After a few tests it was verified that the PICC line had caused a small tear in the vein during the heart cath a week before, which was causing everything that was being pushed through the PICC to end up in his abdomen instead of his blood like it’s suppose to. We were able to piece together on why it had been taking more medication that usual to get him sedated, they had literally gave him THREE doses of a paralytic just days before to place the tube because it wasn’t affecting him. Now we knew why.

Our poor baby wasn’t getting any of his needed medications like he was suppose to because of this tear. And thankfully, he handled it like a champ. Another proud mom moment. Luckily the tear was small enough to just heal on it’s own once they pulled the PICC line out and he wouldn’t need surgery.

December 4th, 2018

Trach surgery day. This day was harder on me than any other day. I’ve chalked that up to this being more permanent than anything else. ECMO was 8 days. Chest open was 10 days. PICC line problem was corrected immediately.

But the amount of time he will need the trach is unknown. It won’t be permanent, we know that, but he will probably have it for a couple years. And it’s so hard because the only reason he needs the trach is due to a narrowing in his throat caused by scar tissue caused by trauma from the ventilation tube. It just seems so unfair and it has hit me hard. It also makes me feel robbed. I had dreamed and dreamed of the day after he recovered from surgery to just pick him up without being attached to anything but a pulse ox (measures oxygenation in the body). But we won’t get that, we’ll have to deal with the trach tubes, and have to haul around a ventilator at home…I clearly have some of my own healing to do in order to be ok with all of this. But I’ll get there, I always do.

So here we are now, recovering from the trach and he has been doing amazing. Which makes him having the trach a little easier on this tired mama. He smiles everyday all day and he’s just so amazing to be so happy after being through so much. He makes me so incredibly proud. He is going through withdrawals again from being put back on morphine & dex for the procedure but the drips are off and he’s taking it day by day. Smiling at me even after he just vomited a little from the withdrawal. 

We still have a few weeks to go, our doctors think it won’t be until after Christmas before we come home. But with his history they want to be safe and make sure he’s ready, and we appreciate that even if it’s hard for us to accept. And in another six to nine months we’ll be back out here for his full repair. Hopefully the next surgery won’t affect him so hard and he will have a smooth recovery. Our family needs that. 

“Magic happens when you do not give up, even though you want to. The universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart”

3 thoughts on “California Living.

  1. Thank you for sharing this journey. My little great nephew and his entire life is an amazing example of what happens when we have faith. Kudos to you and Jarryl for all the sacrifices and wisdom you have gained to make sure that Griffin has what he needs every day. Griffin has the energies and prayers of a huge community of blood and love behind him! I can’t wait until you guys are back in Ohio!

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  2. Well kiss that sweet boy for John and I ! Being so strong you have been , both of you have ! Praying for Griffin and the family! Love you Abby

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  3. Thank you Abby for this update. I can hardly believe how much you guys have been through. God surely has his hand on you. Robert and I will continue to pray for your strength and our little great grandson’s healing. Love you Grandma Carolyn

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