Today we celebrate probably the biggest milestone of Rebekah's life... her FIRST birthday!! Praise the Lord!
I tried to submit a birthday announcement to our local newspaper a few weeks ago, but they no longer do birthday ads. So I submitted a birthday celebration announcement to their online website as a community event. I was called a few days later by a reporter that wanted to do a special interest story on Rebekah! That story will, I believe, run in todays The Greenville News paper! I have no idea what the final story will say/include...but hopefully it will be a story of inspiration, God's grace, faith and miracles!
So, on Saturday, 4/17, we celebrated with over 200 people and with 3 other trisomy 18 friends!! What an incredible day! And Michael, during his speech, reminded everyone of several important things that have happened along the way. When Rebekah's condition at 19 weeks gestational age was confirmed with trisomy 18 through amniocentesis, the first thing we did was pray and give the situation over to God, come what may. On the day of Rebekah's birth, when she had to be bagged several times for failure to breathe and we were being gently pushed to make decisions, our 'decision' on 4/21/09 was that we would keep her alive through the night so that her brothers could meet her in the morning.
But God had a different plan for Rebekah, and instead of carrying out completed funeral plans, Rebekah stabilized and fought for life! She went home from the hospital after one week, and she was really only there for the whole week to establish her feeding (by mouth!) and to get her over some jaundice. We went home and, although she had many episodes of apnea, she continued to eat well and grow.
When she was one month old though, her apnea episodes were getting so frequent, that she had hundreds of 'episodes' in one 24 hour period and maxed out her apnea monitor memory at the same time! (By this time, she had also earned the nickname 'Blue Belle' because she was constantly turning blue during these events when she would stop breathing.) We made the decision to check her into the hospital and run whatever tests needed to be run so that we could definitively know the reason for her life-threatening apnea. This began a month-long process of tests, juggling our schedules and four boys at home, and relying on friends for childcare, meals, help, and praying earnestly that her life would serve a greater purpose.
Before the tests even began, we were lectured to by doctors... "You need to sit down and discuss this situation together and come to an agreement on what you are going to do. Your child is going to need to be trached and on a ventilator. Many parents have been down the path you are going down and, knowing now what they didn't know then, would have made different choices..." The gist of the conversations? Your daughter is incompatible with life. Don't make her suffer by putting her through all kinds of tests and procedures, only to put her on a ventilator for the remainder of her short life.
But after one important test, her sleep apnea test, attitudes changed. Her major issue was obstructive apnea, most likely caused by micrognathia (small lower jaw) but a normal size tongue - something that could be addressed with a tracheostomy until her jaw caught up to her body in growth. And because the problem seemed to be all upper-airway related, ventilation should not be needed. And it wasn't! And while it took a good three months for her body to completely adjust to the tracheostomy, we have never filled-up her apnea monitor memory again!
Yes, Rebekah does have some other health issues and physical anomalies, and we see many specialists. But for the most part, there is nothing that stands out as a life-threatening condition and she has grown from her original 4 pounds, six ounces and 19 inches long to her current size of 16 pounds, 10 ounces and 25 inches long! She is happy and stable. Despite her trach, she is learning to vocalize. Despite severe developmental delays, she is learning to roll and prop sit, reach out and grab toys, hold objects, recognize and appropriately react people and familiar surroundings. She watches us attentively, and follows objects with curiosity and interest. She is, as I like to say, redefining 'incompatibility with life'!
And now, she has beaten those horrid statistics of trisomy 18 children - she has made it to her first birthday!
Although Rebekah's care has been decent, my birthday prayer for her is that doctors and medical professionals will now start agressively treating her as a child full of life, not as a child doomed to die at any minute! It was only this week that we finally got her into a local pediatric ENT to evaluate her trach and ears. Previously, her trach was being managed by pediatric surgery, despite our request time and time again for an ENT that would manage infant tracheostomies. We were told there was no one that would manage it (locally) and no reason to go elsewhere. We were pretty much left to rely on the medical equipment provider's Respiratory Therapist for information on how to manage her trach, and told to come back in a year for the trach evaluation.
Do you know what the ENT said to us when we went in for Rebekah's evaluation with him? "I have never heard of Rebekah's case until now. We handle pediatric trachs all the time, and get referrals from pediatric surgery constantly, for much less complicated issues. With Rebekah's medical history/condition, I do not understand why she was never referred to us. She should've been followed up by an ENT since her tracheostomy." Well, I do not understand either!! And it makes me so angry that Rebekah does not always get treatment that is appropriately aggressive and proactive. And I am so happy to have found this doctor because I know he will do his best to help her and not to hold her back. We asked him point-blank - 'are you willing to manage Rebekah's trach?' His ending comment to us was that he is "very happy to manage Rebekah's care." He has scheduled us to come back for a complete ABR next week, and we will be scheduling an OR visit soon to have her sedated for a complete look at her ears and airway system. This is exactly the kind of proactive care that Rebekah deserves!
So, after a year of ups and downs, hospitals visits, undefined illnesses and lots of drama, I am seeing milestones that I never thought would come!!
- Rebekah's First Birthday;
- Media coverage that will hopefully open the door so that we can educate more people (especially the medical community) about trisomy 18/13;
- A medical specialist happy to take on Rebekah's 'complicated' care in a proactive manner!