Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Miraculous Appointment

Today was a day that Brent and I knew was necessary, but that we looked to in sheer intimidation and nervousness.  This afternoon we drove to Birmingham for Sam to have his first cardiology appointment in America.  We once had to take Alex to a dermatologist in Birmingham because of a hemangioma birthmark, but a dermatologist is far less nerve wracking than a cardiologist.

Before we journeyed to Colombia, we took the brief amount of information we were given and consulted with a pediatric cardiologist in Montgomery.  He was so kind and explained what he could.  It was also beneficial since the doctor was from South America and could read Sam's files in Spanish.  At this appointment, we were given very bleak news and a poor prognosis for Sam's condition: tricuspid atresia.  This doctor, while impressive and wonderful, also admitted he only had two patients with this condition.  Thus, Brent and I decided we would rather use Dr. Romp in Birmingham.

The appointment consisted of an EKG, chest x-ray, ECHO, and consultation with the cardiologist.  Sam seems incredibly healthy, but I was incredibly anxious we were going to receive bad news.  We were given only good, incredible, news.  We learned while in Colombia that Sam's surgeries were performed at the number one hospital in Colombia, which is a complete and utter miracle since he was a ward of the state.  It would be like the difference in a child in America receiving medical care while under the care of DHR as opposed to care while having super good insurance.  It's an unfortunate truth in many places. 

The ECHO verified that Sam's surgery was done phenomenally, and was on par with the best cardiac surgeries performed in the US.  He doesn't have oxygenated and deoxygenated blood mixing, and his oxygen saturation was at 96%.  He is doing so well and is so healthy that Dr. Romp wants to wean him off his ACE inhibitor and his diuretic.  That means his only medication will be a baby aspirin if he tolerates being off these medications.

He also said Sam has NO activity limitation!  He probably won't be able to play college sports or maybe even high school sports because he does tire a little earlier than other kids, but it isn't necessarily a rule.  If he wants to play soccer, for example, he just may need a quick breather occassionally.  We also asked the doctor what all he should steer clear of while we are in Disney World.  He said his only limitation will be because of height restrictions!  This is huge because what it translates to is his risk of his heart going into a lethal or even dangerous rhythm is negligible.  It always is a risk, but is so minimal at this time that it isn't worth considering.

Good news just kept rolling in, and while the doctor was doing his exam, Sam was being so brave and such a trooper. He was a little antsy, but never fussed or pitched a fit.  He is one incredible little kiddo! 

Before I close, let me do my best to explain how his heart functions now that he has had two surgeries to revamp his cardiac "plumbing."  I am sure I am butchering this some, but I will do my best.  The left side of his heart functions great, and if there is a side of the heart that is most important to function properly, this is the side you want. A normal right side of the heart pumps, but due to his incorrect anatomy and now his corrective surgery, his right side doesn't actually pump his blood.  Instead, blood gets sent through his lungs passively because of negative pressure when he breathes.  This passive circulation is the reason he will always be on some form of anticoagulant because there is a higher risk for clots forming.  A baby aspirin should do the trick for a very long time. 

We asked what symptoms we should look for if something goes awry. Dr. Romp was quick to tell us he doesn't expect anything to go poorly, but if it does it would be predominately respiratory in nature, edema, or passing out if he experienced an arrythmia. 

We are elated at the good news, and we know the Lord orchestrated every bit of his health. A day that we feared became a day to rejoice!  The Lord certainly works in mysterious ways, and He never ceases to amaze! 

Leaving his appointment at UAB

An old picture, but you can see his scar on his chest from his two open heart surgeries. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fun Times

After some difficult days, and a lot of illness, I am thrilled to say the past week or so has been absolutely delightful.  Sam has been able to experience a lot more firsts, and after four weeks it seems like we are getting into the swing of things.  I will try to hit on the highlights of the past several days.

Our precious Sunday school class has been supplying us with meals twice weekly, which has been hugely beneficial!  We have had delicious meals, and not having to prepare supper has kept me sane.  Although I look forward to prepping and cooking, at this time that task seems daunting. 

We also had a sweet friend in our class, Brandy, invite us to the Save-a-Life banquet, where we had the opportunity to share a table with some fun friends.  Brent's parents babysat the kids, while we had our first evening away from the kids since we came back to America.  The kids obviously were in heaven spending time with Nana and Papa, and Brent and I thoroughly enjoyed each other's company.  The banquet was great, and it made us so thankful that Samuel's mother chose life, despite the circumstances she found herself in. 

The following night, Brent and I had another date!  My parents kept the kiddos, while we ate dinner at our favorite restaurant: Garrett's.  After nearly three months of almost no alone time, we were given two date nights in a row thanks to our parents!  We had a fabulous time.  Our meals put most things on Food Network to shame, and we got to have actual conversations.  It was a much needed evening, and every detail was splendid. 

Sam has made huge and magnificent academic improvements.  He can write his name in upper and lower case, and recognize over half of the alphabet.  His penmanship is just as good as any other four year old's now, and he even knows what sounds some letters make.  This is truly an answer to prayer!  He is such a smart boy, and though he is currently still behind his peers, we believe he will excel academically if he will keep trying.  Additionally, his English is coming along really well.  He has already lost a lot of his Spanish, so he is sometimes unable to express himself in either language.  It frustrates him, but his frustrations are forcing him to pick up on more English.

Tuesday we had the opportunity to vote.  Isn't it remarkable to have that right?  Brent and I always try to make a big deal about it, and we go as a family so that the children understand what a blessing it is to have such an opportunity.  The kids always love the "I Voted" stickers.  It was neat bringing Sam along and trying to explain to him what it meant... I was pretty unsuccessful in this venture, but I tried.  That evening, the kids and I headed to Brent's office to watch some of the poll results roll in.  We joined Brent, Brett, and Brant, and Ben for a bit (it is impossible to say that fast), but obviously had to head home before all the results came in.  Almost all of Brent's clients did fantastically, and nearly all of his polls were spot on as well.  Clearly, he does a great job at whatever he sets his mind to.

On Wednesday, the children and I got to play with the Cowden girls.  Elizabeth, Mary Louise, and Catherine entertained my three, while Julie and I got to kick back and watch them play.  Not only are the Cowdens precious, but I must admit it was nice for someone else to entertain my munchkins for a while.  We then headed to church, where Sam and Lilly Grace had a choir performance during the prayer service.  Lilly Grace smiled the entire time, and Sam danced along with the music right on beat.  You also wouldn't know by watching him that English wasn't his primary language.  They were absolutely adorable!

One morning, Sam and I headed to LAMP High School to visit MaMere, and for Sam to meet some of the folks that have been praying for him. He of course had a wonderful time as he was given three bags of cookies, a sucker, and tons of high fives.  I intended on staying for about 45 minutes, but MaMere is just so fun and that quickly became 2 hours.  While we were there, we visited Mrs. Chambliss's art class and saw her students decorating tons of circles.  As soon as we got back in my mom's office, Sam got a piece of paper and some markers and tried to emulate what he had seen the big kids do.  His work was pretty impressive, and it now is adorning our fridge door. 

Sam and I also had the fun opportunity to meet up with Tanya and Lena Birchfield for an early lunch one day.  The kids had a great time together, and it was such an awesome experience watching children born in two different worlds come together to play.  Tanya is such a wealth of knowledge, and made me feel like our issues were not out of the realm of normal for an adopted child at all.  That was such a relief, and every since our lunch date I feel like I can relax a lot more.  Her Lena was so cute and sweet, and I look forward to watching her and Sam grow up together.  One from Moldova, the other from Colombia, and now precious little Americans growing up at First Baptist Church. 

Last week at school, Lilly Grace had an Indian Pow Wow.  It seems like all of a sudden she is so grown up and mature.  She is being far more obedient, and generally speaking is such a joy to be around.  She was stoked beyond belief for her Pow Wow.  She requested braids, and showed me how to sit properly like an Indian. After the school day was over, she told Alex, Sam, and me in great detail all about her Pow Wow.  It is so fun listening to children talk excitedly to each other. 

Saturday was a majorly fun day for the kiddos. Brett Cowden, along with his three girls, accompanied Brent and our two big ones to tailgate in Auburn.  Sam has been excited to go to "Go Auburn" since he learned about Auburn, and Lilly Grace has enjoyed anything football related with her Daddy since before she could talk - not a trait she inherited from me.  Not only were Sam and LG with their favorite "big girls" but they ran into and were able to spend tons of time with their Aunt Lindsey and Uncle Michael while there.   Alex and I hung back and had some fun on our own.  We went to the mall and had a lunch date followed by gobs of ice cream.  Then, we rode the carousel (AKA Spinny Thing) and several of the cars and such that you put a quarter in.  She can be tough when around the other kids, and she is not afraid to let her two-year-old-ness show, but when she is alone she is totally different. She is silly, funny, loving, and an absolute blast. 

Sunday, the whole family went to Wynlakes to celebrate my dad's birthday.  With six kids, it is hard to slow down much, so we didn't get any family photos, but we had a wonderful time.  In true Sunday form, we then all went home for much needed naps - Brent and me included.

Now, it is Monday evening.  The kids are in bed. Tomorrow is going to be a marathon kind of day.  I have a doctor's appointment here in Montgomery, then Brent, Sam and I head to Birmingham to see the pediatric cardiologist.  I am very antsy about it, although he seems to be in such great health.  Pray that all goes well and we are given good news, and I will update on what the doctor says.

Sweetest Republicans

After a fun play date, Alex refused to be photographed

Chik-Fil-A Play Date with Lena

Tiger Lilly getting ready for her Pow Wow at school

Driving the cars at the mall

Tiger Walk with Lindsey and Michael
Precious four year old choir members

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Highs and the Lows

Life in general has it's ups and downs.  Parenting is no different in that respect, and some days there can be an abundance of both.  Don't get me wrong, having a large growing family is incredible, but sometimes it is simply just hard.  On the flip side, there are tons of times that it is awesome and seemingly perfect.  My struggle is to be patient and forgiving during the tough times, and to stop comparing the kids to each other and to other children. 

The girls enjoyed being back at school with their friends and their teachers.  After some blood, sweat, and tears, I turned to the advice of Shan Stallings in dealing with homeschooling Sam.  In addition to her fantastic advice and great ideas, she reminded me of two important things.  Samuel isn't just having to learn academics right now, he is having to learn how to be a part of a family, how to be in America and all of the new tastes, sounds and smells, how to speak and understand English, and countless other new things we take for granted.  Additionally, she encouraged me not to judge his achievements based on when and how other kids learn.  Each child is different, and we are learning to celebrate his achievements instead of stressing over what else he needs to master.  He has achieved a significant amount lately though!  He can now buckle himself in his booster seat, write his name, write a handful of letters, and recognize several letters and numbers.  We have also been practicing strength exercises, as his upper body strength is a little behind. 

We were fortunate to experience one of the big family highs in the Highlands last weekend.  Packing was no big deal after having packed and unpacked eight weeks of clothes and such, and we all five headed out mid-morning last Friday for North Carolina to celebrate Brent's cousin's wedding.  Brent had calls almost the entire five hours, the kids watched movies and behaved fantastically, and we stopped at Taco Bell for lunch which made this mama happy!  All went really well until the very end when Alex started crying that her back hurt, and we had to pull over on a windy road for her to potty on some leaves.  A two year old with a small bladder and no public buildings calls for a very rustic bathroom situation.

We didn't make as good time as we expected, so we all five got ready for the rehearsal dinner in the back of the car in the middle of downtown Highlands.  It was fun seeing all of the family and meeting Richard's (Brent's cousin) bride's family and friends. The evening started in a courtyard with appetizers being served and corn hole to be played.  Our three used their pent up energy to run a few miles around the courtyard, and then played some corn hole.  Sam has a good arm and surprisingly good aim.  He struggles with things like opening doors and hand strength, but he does not struggle at all with throwing or catching!

Soon, it was time for supper and man-oh-man it was delicious!  Fancified southern comfort food was the cuisine du jour.  The kids devoured their meals.  My favorite part was the collard greens, and I am salivated thinking about their scrumptiousness.  After the meal, the toasts and roasts were adorable.  We got to see some of their precious video, but it sadly malfunctioned before we could see it all.  Because of bedtimes, we left before the party was over.  We assumed the wedding party would assume we leave while attitudes were still good, instead of staying and everybody having to celebrate and talk over sleepy grouchy children.

The drive to the house that we rented rivaled the drives in Medellin with all of the windy roads, except the roads here were not only windy, but a slip up means you tumble down a gorge to sure death.  Nausea from the windy roads, and terror from the treacherous cliffs made for an interesting drive, but we finally arrived at the awesome house we were sharing with Brent's sister and her husband, Lindsey and Michael.  We quickly unpacked and put the kids to bed.  Later in the evening, Lindsey and Michael, as well as Brent's brother, Travis, arrived.  We all got to visit and hang out for a while before all of us big people turned in for bed as well.  

The following day was fantastic.  The kids were ecstatic to wake up to a house-full of family, and we had a leisurely breakfast and morning before heading out for some Highland adventures.  We visited most of the "must-see sights" of the area including a breath taking waterfall.  The foliage was gorgeous, and we were in awe of the God-made beauty surrounding us everywhere we journeyed.  Brent's parents tried to meet up with us, but thanks to some confusing directions and really poor cell service, we never ended up at the same location.

After some short power naps for the kids, we headed out to the wedding.  Travis, Lindsey, and Michael left much earlier than us to be part of family photos.  We felt horrible about it, but we just couldn't let the kids fore go their naps, and so we missed out on the pictures.  The wedding was really sweet.  Now that we have been married for almost six years, it seems each wedding is more and more precious as it reminds us of our incredible adventure of marriage.  We were nervous about having three kids sit through a wedding, but they did pretty well all-in-all.  Alex had a few extremely loud things to say, and she received a dirty look from a high school girl, but I don't think it interfered with the actual ceremony.

The reception was held at a gorgeous location, and was the nicest reception Brent and I have ever attended.  It was a multi-coursed sit down meal with a menu was designed by a Dutch chef.  It was fancy and delicious.  Every table had perfectly gorgeous flower arrangements, and the service staff was very professional.  Clearly the day was about the bride and groom, but we felt like royalty to be invited!   The newly weds, Richard and Lindsay, looked absolutely perfect.  Their first dance was sweet, and the dances with the father of the bride and mother of the groom were fantastic. 

Once the meal was over, the band took the stage.  Most of the guests were about our age, but without children.  Some of them took to the dance floor and were doing a good job of cutting a rug, but then the real dancers appeared.  Sam, Lilly Grace, and Alex were hysterical, energetic, and phenomenal dancers.  I know I am biased, but they were the best two and four year old dancers I have ever seen. I hope some of it is on video.  The wild and fun band even had them talk into the microphone and dance on stage.  Aside from water breaks, they danced for at least an hour and a half nonstop.  We ended up driving back to the mountain house with three tired, sweaty children. 

The rest of the trip went extremely well, and our family of five stayed a day extra than Brent's siblings.  Before we drove home on Monday, we ate breakfast at a delicious restaurant at a quaint and very fancy inn in downtown Highlands.  It was our first southern breakfast since arriving back in the states, and it was phenomenal.  As life always seems though, when things are going so well, something bad usually swings our way to bring us back to reality. The girls suddenly were burning up with fever, complaining of sore throats, body aches, and belly pain.  Alex was coughing constantly, and becoming hoarse.

This is where the low comes in.  The girls were sick for an entire week.  They couldn't go to school, and the illness wouldn't seem to let off at all.  They both missed their fall parties, and it was nearly impossible to homeschool Sam when dealing with two sick irritable girls.  I am hesitant to take them to the doctor, because most childhood illnesses are viral.  However, after five days of awful symptoms and fevers that wouldn't break below 101, I caved and we ended up at the pediatrician.  Despite a really rough week on so many levels, the kids were actually pretty good at the doctor.  Three kids and a mom crammed into a tiny room isn't much fun, but we managed and they did well.  The girls were diagnosed with coxsackie virus, which can have a huge range of symptoms.  The girls experienced almost every single symptom throughout the week, and were clearly miserable. 

As if that wasn't enough, our cute miniature dachshund had an awful allergic reaction one night that wound us up at the emergency vet.  My sweet mother came along, as Lucy was looking awful.  Her throat started swelling, and I was terrified her airway was going to close.  As I was gathering my things to head to the vet, I was wondering in my head how to do CPR on a snout, and how to trache a six pound dog.  Lucy ended up being fine, and her swelling went down after a couple of days, a steroid, and gobs of Benadryl.

Friday finally rolled around, and Friday meant Halloween!  My parents were joining us for a thematic Halloween supper (I love themed meals), so I was busy cooking when I decided it was time to dress the kids in their adorable outfits.  Sam was dressed as Jake from the Netherland Pirates, and Lilly Grace was sporting her Izzy outfit from the same show. I stripped Alex's clothes off of her to put her in her Scully the Parrot costume to find her trunk, belly, back, and arms covered with coarse bright red dots.  Another symptom of this heinous virus.  All the kids were finally dressed, and then family came over to see them in their costumes.   Marge came first and brought play-doh, which the kids loved playing with.  She left just as Linda and Tim were coming, and they also brought some fun treats for the kids buckets.  My parents then arrived, and Brent got home around the same time as well. 

We enjoyed our supper, and my parents manned the house while we took the kids trick-or-treating.  They had so much fun, and it truly is so much fun watching kids being excited.  We tried not to let Alex or Lilly Grace touch any other children, so I don't think we spread any of their yucky cooties. 

The next morning, we met one of my friends, Laurie for a post-adoption photo shoot.  Alex's rash had spread to her neck, chin, and mouth, and the spots on her upper chest blistered.  Not a one of us was in a good mood.  The kids at least had an excuse - they didn't feel well.  Brent and I were just sick of the rotten attitudes that come with illness.  Sam is making great strides at acting like a big boy, instead of a 2 or 3 year old, but he regressed and was acting like a young toddler the morning of pictures.  The combination was not lovely whatsoever, but Laurie is talented and ended up getting some wonderful photos!  By looking at the pictures, you would think we were all in stellar moods.  I am just relieved she takes pictures and not videos. 

After a day of lack of patience, rough attitudes, and disobedience, we decided we needed something fun to go on for the kids.  We met Brent's parents at Miyako, a Hibachi restaurant.  It was just what the munchkins needed.  They enjoyed the entertainment of watching the man prepare our meals, and they really enjoyed their meals.  Lilly Grace has hardly had more than a couple of bites per meal this week, but she ate two bowls of the soup.  Sam basically inhaled his soup and enjoyed his chicken.  Alex asked for steak instead of chicken and ate an adult-sized portion.  It was a great cure for a stressed out family, and we were thankful the week ended on a good note. 

Kiddos Posing at the Rehearsal Dinner

Buchanan and Whisonant Families at the Reception

The Beginning of  Lucy's Facial Swelling

Scully, Jake, and Izzy: All from Jake and the Neverland Pirates

Oatmeal Bath for Miss Polka Dots