Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Our Time at Mayo Clinic

I'm not sure where to begin the story of the events that led up to my daughter being seen at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a third opinion. Jaycee has experienced more health scares and illnesses to properly be summarized in a short paragraph. If you are my friend in real life or follow my blog on Facebook, you have some sort of perspective on her situation. If not, may I suggest you read the following posts for some background:
or for the full story, check out my book Badges of Motherhood. 

The recent frustrations with Jaycee's health began in the fall of last year. Jaycee had a couple of hospital admissions close together. One was for a fairly bad pneumonia. When discharged to home, she didn't bounce back. Her recovery was long, slow, and stressful. In January of this year, she ended up in the hospital back-to-back. By the second admission, they discovered she had RSV and an "atypical" pneumonia. Again, her recovery was long and slow. There were other illnesses besides these that didn't require the hospital, but intense home interventions were needed to keep her breathing stable.

By spring, Jaycee met with a couple of her specialists who were concerned with her respiratory infections. Numerous immunology tests were completed for the third time in her life. Nothing spectacular was found. Again. At the end of the tests and appointments, the best recommendation was for Jaycee to start monthly asthmatic shots though nothing in her blood work indicated it would be helpful.

When my husband and I received the call regarding Jaycee's tests and recommendation, we were exacerbated. There was no answer for the respiratory infections. We were given little hope that things would improve because we were given no rhyme nor reason why she was getting sick repeatedly and recovering so slowly.

"Sometimes, I think we should just take Jaycee to Mayo Clinic," I said to my husband after the call.

My husband asked, "Well, why don't we?"

"I don't know how you get into Mayo Clinic. Is she bad enough to go? We've already had a second opinion. Does she need a third?"

My husband responded, "It's worth checking into. What have we got to lose?"

Thus we began a quick look online to discover that anyone can call Mayo Clinic and request an appointment. The next day that's what I did. There were two paths to receiving appointments. We could pick a specialist to see and discuss Jaycee's problems and concerns. This would be quicker option. Another route would be to see a diagnostic team. We opted to schedule with a Pulmonologist knowing she could be referred to a diagnostic team if deemed appropriate.

Some weeks later, we made the nearly 9 hour drive to Minnesota. When we took our first steps inside Mayo Clinic, we were in awe of the look and feel of the hospital. Mayo Clinic is known for helping the most complex cases, and there seemed to be a dose of hope somehow contained in the building. Our nerves grew as we waited for Jaycee's time with the Pulmonologist and a Respiratory Therapist. We discussed Jaycee's medical issues for 90 minutes. We were relieved to hear they were more than interested in evaluating Jaycee with a team of other doctors at a subsequent appointment.

"We've seen many sick children like your daughter. We will figure this out," the Pulmonologist promised. It was a confident statement, especially when others have tried and failed.

Roughly six weeks later, my mom and I arrived at Mayo with Jaycee for a comprehensive evaluation. Over the next 4 days, we met with several doctors and hospital personnel for clinic appointments or tests. Everyone was interested in helping Jaycee get to a healthier state with her lungs. Most of the team members devoted ample time to her appointments, which is something I rarely encounter anymore. Jaycee had many tests completed, but the team was always considerate of Jaycee's tolerance and stress. Jaycee wasn't the only one they were concerned about.

During one of the appointments, a professional looked at Jaycee's long list of illnesses and surgeries. She stopped and asked me, "How have you coped with all of these hospital admissions?"

Only a couple of people in my daughter's medical team have ever asked me that question. I felt this place saw the complete picture. This wasn't about pneumonias, medications, and hospital admissions. It is really about giving Jaycee a better life. In turn, it would change my life, my husband's life, and my son's life. Her illnesses affect us all in different ways. I felt someone "got" it.

Jaycee drawing some pictures waiting to be called back. 

Between our appointments, we had time to explore the hospital. We marveled at some amazing statues and art scattered all over their campus. As we walked hallways and tunnels to get to the parking garage, we passed a series of paintings by Andy Warhol. At times, I didn't know if I was in a hospital or a museum. The waiting areas weren't sterile boring areas with lines of chairs. It was more like a hotel lobby and, therefore, more relaxing.

In the main lobby, a piano was often being played by a skilled musician. Once, there was a beautiful voice belting out a hymnal that drenched the listeners in an overwhelming sense of peace. For a second, I forgot we were in a hospital and would soon be hearing news about my daughter's future health.

The entire town had a special feeling about it. I am guessing that most people visiting Rochester are there for Mayo Clinic. People in wheelchairs, wearing bandages, or carrying Mayo papers around were commonplace outside the hospital. There was an air of understanding in the whole town that many people were here searching for answers or enduring some health battle. You think it would feel depressing, but it was actually the opposite. It reminded me of our time at Give Kids the World Village on Jaycee's Make-A-Wish trip. It was a community of people who understood your journey even if they knew nothing about it.

Then the long awaited moment happened. The team at Mayo explained to me while my daughter suddenly turns blue when she's sick. They described why she gets repeated respiratory infections and why she doesn't recover quickly. I don't want to get into the technicalities of it all here, but there were three new problems identified with her lungs/airways. It was a relief and a disappointment all rolled into one conversation. We have seen multiple specialists over the years, and none of them have provided these exact answers. Before this trip, I had decided we probably wouldn't receive answers again, but, much to my surprise, they came with thorough explanations and pictures. Everything suddenly made sense. There are options available to treat her new diagnoses, but there's no magic fix. The best thing for her is to stay well, which seems like an impossible feat given her history.

As we have settled back into our routine at home, I am left with a mix of emotions. The path to Mayo began with a spur of the moment conversation between my husband and I. It was a discussion that seemed God inspired because it was so random. Because of that, I want to believe that our trip to Mayo Clinic will lead to better things for Jaycee. I am grateful for answers and hopeful they can help my child.

For now, Jaycee will start new treatments, await medical equipment approval from our insurance, and pray those lungs keep breathing well every day.
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Monday, July 15, 2019

Preparing your Child with Special Needs for Medical Procedures

In a few weeks, my daughter will be having a series of tests completed at a hospital. The thought of those procedures gives me anxiety and stress. I know how difficult some of these things will be for Jaycee. I dread them, but they are necessary. One way to manage all that negativity is preparation.

Besides packing for the hospital, I will be trying to help Jaycee understand what will be happening. She has a long history with hospitals, which is sometimes a hindrance and other times a help. Jaycee has an Intellectual Disability and is minimally verbal, so visual aides, repetition, and simple explanations are all important.

Over the years, I have figured out how to best prepare her beforehand and how to best support her during the event. Here are some tools I use:

Videos/Pictures
I love YouTube. Every time I have went to YouTube searching for a video for Jaycee, I have found it. Jaycee connects to videos well, so they are the best way for me to explain procedures we don't do often like CT scans.

The key to using videos as a tool is watch them with your child, narrate what is happening in them, and watch them more than once. Videos are good because they help Jaycee anticipate what will happen and help teach her new vocabulary.

Whenever I can, I try to take a picture of Jaycee in a procedure to use later as a reference. For example, I have pictures of Jaycee during her sleep studies because I know she will have to have it again. I then use that picture to remind her of what will occur the next time she has one. I have similar pictures of her during a CT scan. I can't take pictures of every procedure because it isn't proper or I'm focused on her care, but they are helpful to have as a reminder for her.

Picture Sequence Cards

I have made a few picture sequence cards like this one to help Jaycee with familiar situations that cause her angst. Blood work and IVs are horrible experiences for everyone involved. As soon as Jaycee sees a tourniquet, she starts to panic and reacts defensively. Before she starts to get upset, I try to pull out this sequence card in order to show her what will happen. I have other sequence cards for suctioning and diaper changes, which are things she only deals with while hospitalized. I keep these cards in my purse, so I have them when she needs them. 


Pain Cards

I made these cards for Jaycee, because there was a time when she panicked over every procedure. X-rays, for example, are pain free, but Jaycee couldn't be convinced otherwise for a time. She fought everything due to her anxiety of the unknown, and it was exhausting for both of us. I used these pain cards in different situations so that she could begin to understand that not everything in the hospital is painful. After a few years, Jaycee responded better, and I only pull these cards out now in extreme circumstances.

Doll Demonstrations
Occasionally, we have used dolls to help Jaycee understand what is going to happen. We purchased a hospital gown for her American Girl doll, and I created a hospital wristband for her doll. We have changed her doll into these items prior to Jaycee's planned hospital admissions. Jaycee understands the connection. Jaycee is often reluctant to wear a hospital gown because it means she won't be going home immediately. Therefore, we try to convince her to put one on to be like her doll.

Sometimes, hospital staff have used teddy bears to demonstrate wearing oxygen or IV insertions. This technique has not been helpful for Jaycee, especially when they attempt them on her own dolls. Jaycee has gotten upset during these demonstrations. I do believe part of her reactions are because she understands what they are telling her and isn't happy about it.


These are the ways I have helped Jaycee prepare for hospital procedures. With medical testing coming up, I will be going over some of these things again. Let's pray they work, and things go smoothly!
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Monday, July 8, 2019

3 Keys for Public Outings: Special Needs Edition

The thought of a public outing can create all sorts of thoughts and feelings for moms of children with special needs. Even though it may be challenging, leaving the house is a necessity in life. Moms take their kids to the grocery store, doctor's appointments, playgrounds, and restaurants. These outings may take extra planning when your child has special needs.

I have parented a child with special and medical needs for 13 years. We have learned many lessons together in that time. I'm still learning on how to support my child in public outings even now.

Last week, I took my daughter, Jaycee, to a water park. She wanted to go there; it was her idea. A hot July day wasn't the best choice, but it was the only day my husband was off work. Before we left for the water park, I had a picture of how things would go. I didn't envision a perfect day, but I did expect to be there for 3 or 4 hours.

The first hour we were at the water park, things went well. We swam in the pool. The kids and I went down a water slide a couple of times. We floated around the lazy river. Jaycee splashed and laughed. My son, Elijah, was busy running from one area to another. Then, all of the fun suddenly stopped.

Jaycee walked from the lazy river to her next adventure at a snail's pace. Sensing something was wrong, I encouraged her to sit down and take a break. I offered her a cold drink, and she guzzled it. My husband and I took turns sitting with her for the next half hour. Seeing no progress was being made, we asked Jaycee if she wanted to go home. To which she responded with, "Yes!"

I wasn't ready to leave yet. We were only there for 1 1/2 hours, but 30 minutes of that was sitting with Jaycee in a chair.

As we left the water park, I was hit with a twinge of disappointment. I wish Jaycee didn't tire so easily. I wish the day could have been a little longer. I started to get worked up about the abrupt ending, and then I had to calm myself down. We did what we could. I had to be thankful that we had an hour of fun.

It got me thinking about how far we've come over the years. Jaycee has grown in her ability to handle different public situations. I have matured with my emotions and responses to my daughter. For that reason, I'm offering three keys to managing your child with special needs in public outings.

1. Lower your expectations. 
Lowering your expectations may sound like you are preparing for only bad outcomes. That's not the case. If you have a glowing idea of what may happen when you take your child with special needs somewhere for the first time, you may be disappointed and miss some positives that occurred.

When Jaycee was 5 years old, we decided to take her to the movie theater to watch "Winnie the Pooh." She loved Pooh bear and movies in general, so I thought it would go well. I pictured her sitting in the seat and being elated when her lovable, yellow bear appeared on the big screen. When the lights went down, Jaycee got scared and dropped to the floor. She sat there for the duration of the hour long movie. She never saw any of it. My son, who was only 2 at the time, laughed and watched in delight.

On subsequent visits to the theater, my goal for Jaycee was to sit in the seat for any amount of time. We didn't see movies often, so it took her 4 years to watch a movie from beginning to end. "Cinderella" was the first movie she watched, but she spent the previews sitting on the floor. Now, Jaycee sits in her seat the entire time holding her popcorn and soda like a champ. It didn't happen overnight. I had to have patience and not take her reactions personally, since I was the one planning our outings.

2. Respect your child's limitations.
When deciding on what public outings to attend with your child, you always want to consider your child's limitations. There are some things that I know will be hard for Jaycee. Any outdoor activity with heat means Jaycee's endurance will be short even now at age 13. When she was younger, I had to learn what bothered her, which was frequently discovered through trial and error.

When Jaycee was 3 years old, I took her to a Wiggles concert. She loved the Wiggles, and I was looking forward to a fun outing with my little girl. I purchased seats in the back, because I was unsure of how she would react. I fully expected her to be happy. When the lights went dark, Jaycee started crying. It was unusual for her to cry, and I couldn't calm her down. I tried pointing out Wags the dog and Greg Wiggle to help her recognize what was happening. I eventually had to leave and walk the hall with her. When she calmed down, she immediately fell asleep. My mom and I sat through a Wiggles concert; Jaycee woke up for the final few minutes.

The concert didn't go as planned, and I didn't try to go to another one for a long time. Dark, loud, and unfamiliar places confused Jaycee. For the most part, I tried to avoid these, because entertainment situations weren't that important. It wasn't worth her tears and confusion. She needed time to mature, and I respected her limitations.

Jaycee currently gets very stressed on days we have doctor's appointments. I know it's not a good idea to add anything fun before or after those appointments or she will understandably have behaviors. I respect those limits when possible.

Sometimes, you can't respect limitations because real life requires your child to cope. When Jaycee was growing up, I planned outings to restaurants and stores. Restaurants weren't too bad for Jaycee unless something inside was different, changing her routine. Stores were a real struggle. She wanted to run off and didn't understand dangers in parking lots. It took much mental effort for me to keep Jaycee safe. I couldn't avoid these situations because they were a regular part of life. While I understood that Jaycee struggled in these situations, I needed to push her to learn how to behave properly. On weekends when my husband was home, we intentionally went places to practice walking in a store, staying with a parent, and safely entering/exiting a vehicle. It took years (literally) of practice and patience for stores to be an enjoyable experience for both of us.

3. Celebrate the small victories. 
In all of the unexpected difficulties with your child, it's important to recognize and celebrate any victories. Your victories will probably be small steps in the right direction instead of huge accomplishments. It's important to reflect on how far your child has come and maintain your patience for what is still ahead.


I hope these three keys will help you gain a healthy perspective when taking your child in public outings. As a parent, we can't control our child's responses to different environments and situations. We can only help them through it, teach them when appropriate, and respect what they can't do right now.
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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Incontinence Products for Older Children

Incontinence can be an issue for many children for a number of reasons. Developmental delays or intellectual disabilities may result in a child being potty trained later than expected. Medical problems such as constipation, food allergies, obstructive sleep apnea, or other digestive issues could further complicate bladder and bowel control.

There are many products available to help with incontinence. Several items are available through the Home Delivery Incontinent Supplies website, including the ones discussed below.

First, let's talk diapers.
Everyone mother knows the diapering options for babies and toddlers. After the size 6 diapers or pull ups available in most chain stores get snug, the next option may be lesser known. Welcome to the world of "adult" diapers. The hip size or the person's weight determines sizing for these diapers. There are "extra small" options, so you can most likely find the size you need. You can find these in the adult diapering section of stores or look online for a wider variety of options. Depending on your health insurance coverage, you may be able to get diapers covered for your child if they meet certain requirements.

Now, let's talk wipes. Baby wipes are useful no matter how old your child is. Sometimes, you may need something a bit bigger though.
Reassure makes personal cleansing washcloths that require no rinsing. They are about twice the size of a regular wipe. They are durable for situations that require extensive cleaning. Personally, I keep some of these in my purse for when my daughter is in the hospital, which often results in different toiletry needs than at home.

Finally, let's discuss underpads. Underpads are a must if night wetting is an issue. A disposable underpad is a great option for a few reasons. If there's a mess, you can simply throw it away and be done with it. If you are traveling, the disposable pads are perfect because they are thin, lightweight, and disposable.

Disposable pads are often secured with a sticky strip or sticky area underneath. The cheaper ones tend to provide less of a sticky strip, which means they don't stay put if there's a lot of movement. If your child tosses and turns all night, then the disposable pads may end up in a wadded mess. If this has been a problem for you, you may want to consider washable underpads.


Washable underpads have the opposite pros and cons of the disposable ones. If there's a real mess, you have to clean the mess to reuse the pad. If you need them all the time, you will be lugging these on trips and possibly washing them when traveling. On the contrary, these will stay put and provide great protection. They are thick, durable, and won't slide around in a bed or chair. They are very absorbent and protect sheets and mattresses well. 

These are just three different products you may need if your child with a disability or medical issue has incontinence. There are many more products to meet your family's needs; you just have to know where to look. Hopefully, I have pointed you in the right direction. 
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Monday, June 10, 2019

The Aftermath of an Illness

My house has hints of what's transpired over the past few weeks littered about in various rooms. The kitchen has more syringes in the drying rack than usual. The thermometer and small pulse oximeter have taken residence on the kitchen counter. Four extra medications sit beside them. Next to that, a notebook filled with pages of documentation regarding medication administrations, heart rates, and oxygen saturation numbers lays open-ready for more notes to be added.

In the living room, discharge instructions from the hospital lay on my side table. Two sets of nebulizer masks and tubing sit beside family photos.

In Jaycee's bedroom, the familiar bi-pap takes its usual place next to the bed. Added to the mix of equipment is the bigger hospital grade pulse oximeter to monitor Jaycee while she sleeps. It's pointed directly at the video baby monitor, which feeds into my bedroom at night. Tape, to secure the probe, is within an arm's reach.

The last few weeks have revolved around my daughter's respiratory illnesses. Her combination of Down syndrome (narrow airways), asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, and a poor cough response means that a small change in her respiratory status can bring about serious breathing problems. Daily, we do inhalers, hypertonic saline nebulizer treatments, and vest airway clearance to keep her lungs in "best" state. Her interventions increase with the onset of the slightest symptom.

At the beginning of May, Jaycee had a respiratory flare up after flying on an airplane. By the time we flew home from our short trip to Vegas, we were attacking the illness (or whatever you want to call it) with albuterol treatments, steroids, and frequent monitoring. Just as she was starting to improve she caught a cold that my husband and I both had. Her breathing was audible at times as the cold brought on coughing and snot. We made more trips to the doctor, calls to pulmonary, started another round of steroids, and kept on treating her at home. By the end of week three, I was ready for her to be well.

As we came home from grocery shopping, I told my husband, "I think Jaycee is finally getting better. Maybe my stress level will start to decrease." Earlier in the day, she had energy to play with her cousins. She laughed at jokes during a family celebration. She ate the delicious fish and cupcakes.

Ten minutes after I made that statement, everything changed. As I drove home, I said, "Jaycee's breathing sounds weird." I couldn't see her, but my ear is finely tuned to hear the slightest change in her breathing. My husband reported she was fine- simply trying to sleep.

"That's probably a bad sign," I said.

It was. The emergency inhaler and small pulse oximeter we had carried around all day came in handy as we started giving medications and checking her numbers. I pulled off the highway to see that her fingers and lips were blue. I knew the number would be low; it was.

My son sat next to her in the van saying, "I don't understand what's happening."

The day was so ordinary just hours before this occurred. A smile had been on my face where a worried look appeared most days prior. Things were going well until they weren't. My family was shocked as I told them the news. No one could believe the change in her respiratory status, except they could because it's happened in the past.

That led to 48 hours in the hospital over Memorial Day weekend.



It was a short admission for Jaycee. Like usual though, Jaycee needed intense around-the-clock interventions and monitoring once home. Her recovery was slow. At the time of writing this, she's yet to get back to her normal baseline, but she's inching closer.

I see the illness in different parts of my house. I feel the effects of the illness in my own body and mood. I hear the difference in my daughter's breathing. I listen to my son talk about his concerns after witnessing his sister turn blue. This is the aftermath.

If you have read this post and can't relate to any of this, you are blessed. If you have never been through a medical emergency with your child, you are blessed.

Do you want to know something? I'm blessed too. Blessed is a perspective. Yes, in the middle of her respiratory distress, I didn't feel blessed. However, I knew I was, even if I didn't feel it. Stress, fear, worry, and exhaustion are all strongly felt during Jaycee's illnesses. However, I also know that we are in this together as a family. We're looking out for one another. We're carrying each other's burdens and thinking about the needs of someone besides ourselves, which was a bit challenging when this illness was happening during my birthday. Still, I know what's important in the long run.

An illness brings an aftermath. God meets me there helping me through all the cares of this world to more effectively love my children.
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Monday, June 3, 2019

A Special Hope

On Saturday, an interview I did with Sarah from a Special Hope Podcast went live. We had a great conversation about my life, parenting children with special needs, caring for a child who is medically complex, faith, and things that go wrong when shopping at Kroger. There were serious moments and funny ones.


You can listen to the podcast by clicking this link.

You can also do what I do and listen to it on your Apple iphone's podcast app. Search for "A Special Hope" and look for episode 9.



All of the show notes and additional podcast information are here.


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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

What I Learned from a Fall Down the Stairs

It was a typical Saturday morning. I was attacking the laundry pile, planning for the upcoming week, and completing housework. I recruited my children to help with the polishing in the bathroom. Jaycee dusted the doors. Elijah wiped down the baseboards. I worked on the wooden vanity. When we were done, the children were released to do whatever they wanted. They both ran to their electronic devices. Elijah started watching videos in his room. Jaycee sat in her spot on the couch to start a marathon of YouTube videos.

I gathered up a few more items I needed to take down to the washing machine located in the basement. Unbeknownst to me, my socks had collected the furniture polish that had settled on the bathroom linoleum floor. As soon as my foot hit the first wooden step, I was doomed.

I bounced and fell down the entire flight of stairs. My feet, left arm, and hips took hit after hit as I descended rapidly. I yelled, "Ow," several times on the way down. In an instant, it was over. I remained at the bottom where I landed trying to check my body and recover from the shock.

Stock photo-not the actual stairs that injured me

Within 30 seconds, my daughter made her way to the top of the stairs. She was still holding her beloved iPad as she asked in her broken speech, "Mom, you ok?" 

"No," I replied trying not to cry. My arm was throbbing. 

Jaycee dashed away from the steps out of my sight, but I could hear what she did next. She ran to her brother's room and cried, "Bubba, Momma!" She repeated herself a few times on the verge of tears. 

Elijah finally yelled out, "Mom, what's Jaycee saying?"

I couldn't respond to him. Yelling from the basement wasn't possible with my pounding head. Soon, he asked Jaycee to show him, and Jaycee led him to the stairs where my laundry was scattered about just above where I was. 

Thankfully, I was merely sore for a few days and acquired some large bruises, but there was no major injury. I rarely find myself in a situation where I am in need of rescuing, but I did need help that ordinary day. 

I was so proud of my daughter. She heard the fall. She checked on me. She got help. She did everything correctly. Despite having Down syndrome, an Intellectual Disability, and limited verbal speech, my daughter was able to assist me. Even though I wished my slick socks hadn't led to a terrible fall, I'm glad I discovered what my daughter could do. 

On that day, she was my hero! 

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