Monday, December 21, 2009

To the Beach, the Ball, the Mountains and Back to Work

Our whirlwind fall concluded with a tour of the great state of North Carolina -- and beyond! The day after Thanksgiving the girls and Mommy packed the Suburban and headed east to join Meme, Papa, Christa and her friend Bayleigh at the beach. We had a great and quick get away. Aleah loved watching the sea gulls and Alivia and Avery enjoyed chasing the waves. And boy was Avery thrilled when the waves caught her -- new shoes and all! We left Daddy at home to continue the Christmas decorations. By the end of the weekend all but one tree was up, the stockings were hung and the outside garlands, wreaths and lights were ready to celebrate the season.

The following weekend started off with Avery's birthday on Friday with a full breakfast including all her favorites -- birthday pancakes, bacon, eggs and toast --followed by a party at preschool. Mommy and Aleah then attended Great Aunt Lucille's funeral while Daddy surprised Alivia as the mystery reader at preschool. The day ended with a family dinner at home for everyone who could come. The crowd was smaller than usual since Uncle Allen was in the hospital, Granddaddy Mercer was sick, Papa, Granddaddy and David all had to work unexpectedly and Sue and Scott could only stop by for a few minutes. With all the business of the day poor Avery was almost asleep before the party even started. She did perk up for presents and cake and then it was early to bed.

Saturday we continued the celebration with Avery's "Mickey Mouse" birthday party with her friends. She was thrilled that Layla, Danika, Alex, Savanah, Madison and of course her sisters and Christa were all in attendance. We rounded the evening out with a date at the Teddy Bear Ball!

The following week we spent a glorious six days in the Great Smoky Mountains. We had a blast in the cold, cold weather. The girls enjoyed seeing the mountains again.

Our trip was cut short by the news that Granddaddy Mercer and Uncle Allen were not doing well at all. At the time we did not realize the grim reality we would be facing once back in the "real world. "Granddaddy went to the hospital with a broken back and while there had surgery on his bladder and was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Uncle Allen was in a coma in CCU after a series of major strokes. December turned out to be a month full of hospital visits, juggling of schedules and family priorities and ultimately was defined by the sting of death. Uncle Allen went to be with our Lord on December 23. Christmas was difficult at best.

We tried to keep Christmas day special for the girls, but the entire celebration was just not the same.

And in the midst of all the unsettling events, I went back to work from maternity leave! Life is always full of surprises for us.

Monday, November 16, 2009


What a blessing to have three daughters who adore one another! I can't think of anything sweeter. Alivia's class made Thanksgiving turkeys from their hand prints and listed what they were most thankful for. While many of her friends were thankful for favorite toys, treats or other things, Alivia was thankful for Avery. It brought tears to our eyes to be reminded how much our girls love each other. I commented to Mark recently that my hope is that our girls will always be as close as they are now. They do everything together. Yes, they do have sibling moments of disagreement, but they are always short lived, and sooner than you can blink the girls are back giggling and playing with no cares in the world. You can feel the joys of childhood just looking in their bright eyes. We are so very thankful for our blessings but more than anything we are thankful for our three, happy, healthy little girls!

Fun with Creighton and Finley

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween at Aunt Cari and Uncle David's

Halloween at Dance

Life continues to whiz by. We had a jam-packed October full of family fun and, yes, lots of sweet treats. The girls had much fun celebrating the arrival of Fall: painting pumpkins with Stacey, carving jack-o-lanterns at Aunt Cari's; riding rides, indulging on cotton candy, candy apples, french fries and fudge at the fair; and dressing up as a butterfly, a snow fairy princess and a lil' pumpkin for the annual trick-or-treat trek around the neighborhood. We are enjoying life (all the crazy, sweet and rambunctious moments) with our three girls. Juggling has a new meaning in the Johnson house!

Alivia is doing great in school. She loves her class and teachers. She excelled on her "report card" and teacher conference last week. It brought tears to my eyes to hear the praises sung for our Alivia. She is growing up so quickly. I look at Aleah and remember how it seems like just yesterday that Alivia was our sweet little baby. Alivia's favorite ride at the fair was the swings. She rode alone, since Avery was not tall enough to ride, and smiled as brightly as the lights every time she spotted us waving from below. She is a great big sister and tries to keep everyone on track -- even Mommy and Daddy. She is very helpful, loving and tender-hearted. She loves to color, paint and do crafts of any kind.

Avery is FULL of life. Her eyes sparkle with anticipation of what she is going to get into next. Her conference with her teacher noted that she knows her letters, numbers and academically is advanced. And socially she is sweet, caring, helpful, can get bossy, likes things her way and is a born leader. That's our Avery! She is starting to write her name, is great at coloring and tracing letters and has learned her phone number (all things that have been homework assignments for Alivia). Avery's favorite ride at the fair was the Merry Go Round she rode with Daddy.

Aleah is so precious (as Avery calls her). She was two months on Sunday, November 1 (Grandma Beverly's Birthday.) She is getting big and loves to smile and "talk" to her sisters. She seems to change every day. We can see characteristics of both Alivia and Avery in her appearance and spirit. She still has blue eyes and her hair has both red and blond highlights -- depending on the light -- and her hair is very curly when wet. Aleah enjoyed a day of attention from Meme and Christa while the 'big girls' were enjoying the fair!

And our niece Christa is growing up, too. I see glimpses of her often when I look at Alivia. She is in the seventh grade and loves to dance. I have watched her dance since she was a tiny little girl and now have the honor of teaching her ballet en pointe. She is a great baby sitter and our girls just love spending time with her.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My, my how time flies! Life is now a whirlwind. Each day seems to pass more quickly than the day before. Aleah and I are getting out in the big wide world on a daily basis. We have been shopping with Meme, to The Growing Place to be a mystery reader in Alivia's class, on a field trip to the corn maze and pumpkin patch with Alivia and Avery, to visit Daddy's co-workers, Mommy's co-workers, our friends at MIX 101.5, and general errands to the doctor's office, grocery store, dance studio and yes, more shopping! The list could go on and on... It seems there is always something to be done. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, for Aleah, Avery and Alivia that will not soon change. There is little chance to get bored around here. The Johnson household is always full speed ahead and busy, busy, busy!

Sunday was a very special day for us. Aleah Kathryn was dedicated to the Lord. What a blessing to be the Mommy and Daddy of a miracle, and thankfully, now a very healthy little girl! She slept through the service, and millions of kisses from her big sisters. It was a glorious day -- and one for which we are eternally grateful. For not by the grace of God it could have easily not ever come to fruition. Meme, Papa, Christa, Granddaddy, Cari and David all joined us for the service. Grandma, unfortunately, was home sick.

Afterward we rushed to Grandma Polly's church for Homecoming at Shiloh. This is the church where my great-grandparents and my grandparents raised their families, my parents were married and where my Granddaddy Earl is buried. We only visit Grandma Polly's church once a year and thus it is a very special time. I visited my Granddaddy's grave and was overcome with the emotion of the day. Granddaddy Earl was a very special man. As we were leaving I was telling the girls about Homecomings long ago. Every time I visited Shiloh as a little girl my Granddaddy was at the door to welcome me. He also was always at the door to welcome us into their home each Sunday when we arrived for lunch. I suddenly remembered how much I miss him...his hugs, his smile and big blue eyes, the prayer he said to bless our food every Sunday and sitting in his lap as he read the Sunday comics to the the three granddaughters and later to the great-grand daugthers. Aleah is the first grandchild who will never know Granddaddy Earl. I do feel a special connection. We found out Aleah was on her way on Granddaddy's birthday, January 10 -- the first one since his death. As I reflected all of these thoughts and the events of the last month, the tears were unstoppable.

We are reminded how much we are blessed to have family. Every day is a gift.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ben and Christy Baxley and the Johnson's

Lori and the Johnson Girls

A Not So Normal Life

We are still searching for normal! People keep asking us how we are transitioning into life with three little ones. The answer is quite simply that we haven't had a "normal" day yet! And here's why...

We enjoyed a wonderful trip to Asheville. I know, it sounds crazy to most--traveling 4+ hours in a car with a newborn, a 4 year old and a 2 year old--but Mark and I did not want to miss the chance to witness our friends Ben and Christy as they started their married life together. Our trip to Asheville was surreal. We did not stop even once! We had thought it would take us most of the day just to drive due to frequent stops for potty breaks, eating and diaper changing. All three of the girls got naps during the trip and otherwise just enjoyed being together in the car. We played "eye spy," watched movies and enjoyed looking for mountains. It was truly a great trip, and we were thankful! Mark and I actually had a chance to catch up and really talk without interruption. We were thrilled. Aleah had passed the Johnson travel test with flying colors!

We arrived at Ridgecrest, just outside of Asheville, in time to see the happy couple before the rehearsal and dinner. We then unloaded the Suburban, got changed and were off for our first family evening out on the town! We had dinner at the cutest bed and breakfast we have ever visited...the Red Rocker Inn at Black Mountain. The girls did great and enjoyed rocking in the red rockers on the front porch. The food was terrific and we all had a great time.

Saturday morning the rain and fog came pouring in and the wedding had to be moved inside. It was perfect, even so. Ben and Christy, we were honored to be a part of your special weekend.

Saturday night we went into Asheville to have dinner with our friends Lori and Trent. It was so much fun to catch up and spend time with them. It had been way too long! The girls were a little restless and tired after such a long day, but we all managed to enjoy our time.

Sunday we headed home to start what we thought would be a normal week. The drive home was a little more of what we had expected. I think the grand total was five stops. I guess it could have been worse!

After all the sleep in the car, Aleah decided she wanted to stay up all night. And thus, Mommy did too. The lack of sleep got the best of me! By Monday night I was in the bed with chills, body aches and a fever of almost 103! Alivia was next, followed a few days later by Avery and Mark. I had a fever until Sunday and Alivia and Avery were out of preschool for a full week. Luckily, Mark's hit on Friday night and only lasted through the weekend. Need less to say, Mark's first week back at work was trying for us all. He felt guilty leaving me at home sick with a newborn and then later in the week, even guiltier, when we added two sick toddlers in the mix. It was a recipe for a very long week for us all. It was certainly not for the faint of heart, but by the grace of God we made it! Looking back, September was a very rough month for us.

This past week was better. We still were getting over all the sickness, but it was manageable. On Thursday the girls returned to preschool and we slowly began settling into a more "normal" routine.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A week has passed and our "normal" routine is developing. Alivia and Avery are in school all morning. They love their new classes and come home with lots of stories about their day. Some days they come straight home after school and other days they spend time with Stacey.

Aleah spends most of her days sleeping and eating. When she is awake she is very alert and responds to faces she knows with smiles, cooing and with her eyes. She is very precious. Her sisters have their own names for her -- Alivia calls her "lee-lee" and Avery calls her "so precious" and "Baby Aleah." Aleah had her second doctor's appointment on Tuesday and had gained 7 oz. since last Thursday. She was 8 lbs, 4 oz; just 1 oz below her birth weight.

We have all enjoyed having Daddy at home with us since the birth. His "vacation" is almost over. He will return to work on Monday. We all wish he could stay home longer. He has helped with lots of things around the house, but most importantly has handled the morning routine of getting the girls ready for school, lunches packed, breakfast and the carpool to school. This has given Mommy some much needed rest in the mornings. On Monday we will really be back to normal with Mommy in charge of all things in the morning, and all day.

This week we have enjoyed dinners from lots of friends and family members, celebrated Meme and Granddaddy's birthdays, had a family dinner out with the Mercer side of the family and all made it to Sunday School and church on Sunday. Mommy even ventured out last Friday with a trip to Lake Benson park with all three Sweet Peas. All went well until Aleah decided she had had enough fun and was ready to go home. The big sisters really enjoyed the slides and playing in the sunshine. Aleah also enjoyed her first photography session this week with Ms. Geri. We can't wait to see her 'Mommy and Me' and 'Daddy and Me' photos.

This weekend we will embark on our first family road trip. Our friends Ben and Christy are getting married in Asheville and we are all attending! We are also going to spend some time with our friends Lori and Trent. It should be a fun, full weekend. Let's hope that Aleah travels as well as her big sisters!

Friday, September 11, 2009

What a Blessing!

What a wonderful treat to have a normal day! Yesterday, the girls went to school, we took Aleah to her first doctor's appointment, introduced her to Grandma Polly, Grandma Mercer, Aunt Etta and Grandma's friends Aldine and Betty -- and Meme was here, too -- enjoyed a delicious dinner prepared by members of our Sunday School class and Aleah took her first bath. Mark took the girls to dance class and Aleah and Kristen took a nice long nap. All in all the day was very normal! What a blessing to be spending our time enjoying one another rather than consumed with medical terms, beeping machines and the hustle and bustle of the intensive care nursery.

Aleah is doing great. She loves her big sisters, being snuggled and loves attention. Yes, she is a Johnson girl! She hates having her diaper changed and did not like her first bath at all. She is doing well sleeping in her bassinet, although she much prefers the naps on Mommy and Daddy's bed. It amazes me how little ones can tell the difference. (Alivia and Avery were the same way.) Aleah will sleep longer and more soundly when she is placed in the middle of our comfy bed or her snugly baby papazan chair rather than in her bassinet or her crib.

Alivia and Avery are transitioning well. They both love to help with the baby and hold her. Alivia is enjoying her new pre-K class. It is hard to believe that she is in her last year at The Growing Place. The girls started their new school year on August 31, the same day Kristen went into labor and Aleah's journey began. They both have done very well with so many changes, crazy schedules, hospital visits, Mommy and Daddy being focused on other things and in general our world being turned upside down. They are great little girls. Today is Avery's special day at school. She gets to be the helper, took one of her babies to school for show-and-tell and she chose cupcakes with sprinkles for her special snack.

Now that life is getting back to normal our posts will most likely be less frequent -- our goal is to update at least once a week -- and will change focus to highlight the lives of all three of the Johnson Sweet Peas!
What a blessing!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

And Baby Makes Five!

We are home at last! Our house is full of love, laughter and little feet...finally! Alivia, Avery and Aleah spent the evening getting to know each other with lots of snuggles and kisses. The big sisters love Aleah so much! They were so excited to meet their little sister. Aleah is very content being held by both of her big sisters. Avery's first comment was, "She is so tiny!" and Alivia was full of smiles and wonder. It is finally real. We feel complete and so very grateful for the gift of our family.

For nine days, 11 hours and 1 minute we longed for grace and a full recovery for Aleah. It seems like a year has past and nothing else has mattered. Walking out of the hospital with our little miracle was an incredible feeling. We've prayed, cried and been touched by the outpouring of support from our family and friends.

We have been through a lot of medical scares in our almost 8 years of marriage and nothing comes close to comparing to this experience. It has been humbling and amazing for us to watch the events unfold and be able to look back and realize that, although we don't understand why, we know that this was part of God's plan for us. We have been able to see how He has been preparing us for this battle and how He has carried us through.

As we have mentioned before, the doctors and nursing staff too realize that Aleah's journey was not typical, nor was her quick recovery. One of her nurses told us yesterday that she has never seen a baby as sick as Aleah make such a quick turn around and that it was certainly a testament to the power of prayer. (Did I mention that she has been a nurse practitioner in the NICU for more than 30 years?) Yes, we acknowledge that Aleah received a very high level of wonderful medical care, but medical science can only go so far. We believe faith and trust in the Lord has healed our little girl.

We were also told yesterday that the chances of an infection such as this developing in Aleah's lungs prior to birth were less than 0.1%, meaning that there was a 99.9% chance that this would never happen. Aleah is our miracle. We count ourselves blessed to have seen a glimpse of God's glory through this trial. We know that God has a mighty plan for Aleah's life and we can't wait to see that unfold. To God Be the Glory for Great Things He Hath Done!

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Busy Day, Indeed!

Mark went to sleep pretty early Monday night while Kristen was still at the hospital, so at 3am this morning he was awake and feeling the tug at his heart to go to the hospital. He got to the hospital around 4am and spent the next two hours rocking Aleah. To his surprise, Aleah's nurse had removed the nasal cannula around 3am, and she was now breathing on her own for the first time since birth! It was a moment that he will never forget!!!

Kristen was back soon after 8am and spent the day with Aleah. Dr. Dunn returned from her labor day vacation to find Aleah a different little girl. She and others who have watched the progression were amazed. Just as there is no clear reason why or how Aleah got sick, there is also no logical reason why she was able to completely turn around in mere days. Everyone who has met Aleah has been touched by her story and her quick recovery.

One by one all the remaining wires and tubes, pumps, IVs, central lines, the feeding tube and monitors were removed. Aleah is finally free of all medical interventions! After having dinner together, we returned to the hospital to find Aleah in a regular baby bassinet with no monitors, no medications and waiting for Kristen to dress her in baby clothes for the first time. Up until now, she simply has had too many wires and tubes attached to allow clothing. What a great feeling -- and something most take for granted -- to see your newborn looking like a newborn in tiny little clothes.

The checklist to go home has almost been completed. Our friend Shawn, who is the pediatric audiologist at WakeMed, completed Aleah's hearing test and she passed with flying colors. (We have been amazed how many people who we know and trust have been a part of the great care Aleah has received.) Aleah's final milestone will be to successfully be off extra oxygen for 24 hours. That should be accomplished at 3am on Wednesday.

Aleah enjoyed being rocked today by Meme, Grandma and Granddaddy. It was rare for her not to be in some one's arms today. She is sure to be spoiled by the time she finally gets home! We are excited that the rest of our family and friends will soon be able to meet Aleah, too.

Today has required us to divide and conquer, not something we do well. We prefer to do everything together as a family. We are hopeful to have all the Johnson Sweet Peas at home tucked snugly in our arms very soon.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Step Closer to Home

Our hearts are heavy as we write tonight. Our church family lost a three month old baby boy last night. Please pray for the Farmer family as they grieve this incredible loss. We would also like to ask for prayer for Marshall and his family. He is in the NICU right beside Aleah! His extended family goes to church with us. His Daddy is fighting for us all in Iraq. I can't imagine how hard that must be for his Mommy.

Aleah Kathryn is doing great. She continues to make strides toward a full recovery--such a different story than what we were experiencing last week. In just a few hours she will be one week old. It is hard to believe that it has only been a week, for so much has happened in the past seven days. Thank you for those following our story and for the continued prayers. We firmly believe that you all have been a part of making her first week possible.

Today Aleah began nursing, decreased her need for oxygen and spent most of the day in Mommy or Daddy's arms. She is becoming quite accustomed to being held. We are trying to make up for the lost time from her first few days of life when we were not able to hold her. Meme and Papa also got to hold her today.

She is showing her "spirit" more and more. She reminds us so much of Avery (well, and her Mommy, too.) She is fiesty and determined to have things her way. While nursing, she decided she no longer needed her feeding tube and she pulled it out and then proceeded to try hard to get rid of the oxygen cannula. She must have tried 25 times to pull that out, too. When her nurse tried to replace the feeding tube, Aleah pulled it out at least 4 more times while the nurse tried to get it taped in place, until finally Daddy had to hold her hands down. After many trys and through her crys of protest, they successfully got all her tubes back in place! Did we mention it is great to hear her cry! Today was the first time we have heard her cry since just after she was born.

Thank you Dory for helping Alivia and Avery have a great day. We heard stories of playing hide and seek, making cards for Aleah, playing babies and dress up, and on and on.

After dinner tonight, Kristen and her Dad went back to the hospital and were thrilled to find that Aleah had been moved to the intermediate stepdown unit. This is still technically the ICN, but is one step closer to home. And, since Aleah spent some of the day without her extra oxygen (while she was trying to pull it off her face), her nurse tonight was going to try an "air" test to see if she would tolerate breathing without any extra oxygen! (Determination ultimately gets you where you want to be.)

Thank you Christa for helping out tonight. Alivia had fun having big girl time with you painting finger nails and doing "girl stuff."

We finished the night with a trip to Krispy Kreme for hot doughnuts to celebrate. Papa was the hero when he walked in with hot doughnuts and of course a couple of chocolate covered sprinkle covered versions for Alivia and Avery. This was a middle of the night tradition that my Daddy started when I was little. Anytime he was out late at night after a rescue call or other trip to Raleigh, he would return with hot doughnuts. I carried this tradition with me through my college days introducing it to many close friends and now Mark helps the cause on occasion when we need a sweet treat late at night. Our girls love it, too! It was another full day and we are all exhausted. Happy Labor Day!

Another Great Day!

Our family went to church this morning - Kristen is doing so well that she even felt like going! It was nice to see people who have been praying for us. We have had so many offers from our church family to help. Our Sunday School class is organizing meals for us as soon as Aleah comes home, and other offers of support and help have included such things as grocery shopping, cutting our grass, babysitting Alivia and Avery while we go to the hospital - the offers are plenty. For now, we are okay, but certainly appreciate the generosity that our family and friends have shown.

After church, we went to Kristen's Grandma's for lunch (a Sunday tradition), and enjoyed a delicious lasagna made by Kristen's Aunt Patty. We are trying desperately to keep some level of normalcy for Alivia and Avery. You will notice in the pictures above that Avery is insisting that "her baby" be in pictures until "our baby" comes home. Avery's baby even rides in Aleah's car seat in the car! (It certainly warrants a double take when walking beside the parked car--it looks like we left a real baby in the car.) Our hearts sank this afternoon when while playing with her baby Avery asked Alivia, "Livi, is your baby sick. Does she need to go to the hospital?" She then continued, "Mine is." It was precious, but filled us with sadness that our little girls, too, are going through so much.

After our visit at Grandma Polly's, it was back to the hospital. We stayed with Aleah for a few hours. When we got there we were amazed at her progress since last night. Her nurse had removed the ventilator completely and replaced it with a nasal cannula - a definite step in the right direction. Her IV in her hand and one IV in her naval had been removed as well. She had been completely weaned off of her medication that has been keeping her sedated, so she was a bit more alert than any other day thus far. We were able to hold Aleah for the very first time - what an emotional experience for us - it was simply great!!!

Aleah's nurse explained to us that Kristen can start nursing Aleah tomorrow (Monday). Her nurse is not scheduled to work again until Thursday, so she actually said her goodbyes to us since she felt that we will be able to go home before Thursday. Again, it was a great afternoon at the hospital.

We came home, had dinner and took naps. Mark got up around 10pm and decided to go back to WakeMed to visit Aleah again. Kristen wanted to go so badly, but realizing that her energy was all gone for the day (and considering that we had two sleeping girls at home), she decided to stay home so that she could get more rest.

We'll be back at the hospital Monday morning. Dory Johnson, a precious teenage in our church, is going to keep the girls for us on Monday so that we can go to the hospital and visit with Aleah. We will update everyone after that visit.

Thanks again for your prayers.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Day of Firsts

Today was a day of firsts for Aleah. After packing up our things, we wanted to visit Aleah once more before leaving the hospital. To our surprise, she had continued to drastically improve during the short time since our earlier visit. Kristen had the chance to change Aleah's first diaper, watch as she was given milk for the first time through her feeding tube and, the highlight of the day, Kristen got to hold Aleah while her bed linens were changed! What an exciting moment to see our little girl in her Mommy's arms for the first time. It was priceless and made leaving the hospital without her much easier.

Alivia and Avery were so very excited to have Mommy and Daddy home. Meme brought us lunch from McDonald's -- an extra special treat for the girls! We then began the process to transition back into our normal world. After lots of snuggling, naps and unpacking we were soon back on our way to visit Aleah.

Tonight Aleah had continued to make progress. Her ventilator oxygen level was down to 25%. Yes, for those keeping up, that means she only has to come down 4 % before being taken off the ventilator and breathing on her own. We are hopeful that will happen tomorrow! The level of her sedation was also lowered today and our little girl was much more alert tonight. We are thrilled with her progress!

Thank you Lord for giving us such a wonderful gift today. We are getting glimpses of our Aleah being able to come home, happy and healthy.

2nd Major Hurdle Achieved

We just visited Aleah, and to our surprise, she was no longer was on the oscillating ventilator. She had just been transitioned to the regular ventilator, which is providing her with about 40 breaths per minute at 48% oxygen. The amount of oxygen on this type of ventilator is higher, but this is okay and to be expected. Aleah was a bit more alert and was following the sound of our voice. She even tried to open her mouth as if she wanted to cry; however, she obviously can't at this point since the breathing tube is still in her mouth.

Additionally, Aleah's urinary catheter was removed this morning - the extra fluid in and around her lungs is gone, and her bladder is now functioning again. The doctor said that Aleah is exactly on the right path and that we can be assured that she will be fine! Praise God!!!

Kristen is being discharged this morning. We're planning to be home by around 1pm today. We're experiencing the feeling of being torn in two different directions at this point - home and the hospital - but we know that Alivia and Avery need to get back on a more regular routine at home. Because of them, going home is a bit easier since we know that they need us, too. Alivia and Avery are also excited to be coming home. But, they have had such a good time staying with MeMe and PaPa (Kristen's parents) and Christa, and we thank them dearly for taking such good care of our precious girls this week. Mark's parents have also helped tremendously this week - they raided the grocery store and brought lots of snacks for us to have, which Kristen then shared early this morning with some friends of ours from our Sunday School class. One of their family members was in labor just down the hall, and they were here all night waiting for their family's new arrival. Congratulations!!!

We are continually amazed with how far away people are reading the blog and praying for us. We read a comment this morning that one reader wrote earlier in the week. She lives just outside of Los Angeles, CA - Staci is a friend of Kristen's from way back when Kristen lived in Valencia, CA. Staci has been following our story and sharing it with her friends and family in California. And to think that only a month ago, I had never visited a blog site, much less posted entries to one.

Our week is coming to a close - it seems like an eternity since we came to the hospital initially on Monday night. We've loved a lot, cried even more, but most importantly have realized that God knew that all this was going to happen. He prepared us all along without us even being aware of what was happening. We will continue to keep everyone posted over the next week as we start the countdown for Aleah's arrival at home. As we say each time we post, thank you all for everything. We do appreciate your support.

Mark and Kristen
(2 of the most fortunate and blessed parents in the world)

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Mother's Reflection

Aleah's name means "God's being; exalted." And, in just a few short days that is exactly what her life has represented: Giving glory to God in the Highest. Aleah is a miracle. She was sent to us at just the right time. After reviewing at the events that have transpired in the past few days, her care team believes that Aleah's lungs were fully developed. They had struggled with the "why" factor:
"Why did labor start at 37 weeks and 5 days, if her lungs were not ready?" At this stage and size her lungs should have been fully developed.
"Why did a baby that appeared to merely be having a hard time transitioning from the womb to the world, suddenly after 24 hours make a drastic turn downward?"

Her blood tests from Tuesday revealed that Aleah had infection in her tiny body. A normal level would be .1 and her level was 3. Putting all the pieces together, they now believe that Aleah was developing a serious bacterial infection in her lungs before birth. If Aleah had not been born at the moment she arrived, it is very likely that the infection would have fully developed in utero and taken her life before she was born.

You look at a tiny newborn and wonder why God would allow her to struggle...and then you realize that a struggle is a gift, a chance at life, and supremely better than the alternative.

For much of my pregnancy, I had a strange feeling that something was not right. I did not talk about it often, but pondered the origin for months. In the weeks leading up to her birth I commonly used September 1st as a deadline. My plan was to have everything in place and ready for the baby by that time. Why September 1st? I didn't really have a reason, just thought that would be a good buffer "in case" Aleah would make an early arrival and it would give me a few extra weeks to finish up any last minute items. Little did I know that September 1st would be Aleah's birthday!

As the beginning of September approached I was getting very anxious about the birth and the baby's health -- often common in pregnancy, but to a much greater extent than I experienced with Alivia and Avery. I was nervous about everything from our joint family histories of birth defects and stillborns to the severe pain I was experiencing nightly for weeks, the swine flu outbreaks at Duke, and on and on. (Poor Mark...emotionally I needed lots of support.) I had shared my feelings of uneasiness with one of my doctors at my last OB visit. I just really felt like the baby needed to be born...and soon. I felt so strongly about this that I left the visit in tears, since ultimately she did not agree. I didn't know why, but I knew I needed to meet my baby and the sooner the better. Today I ran into the doctor who I had shared these feelings with. After updating her on the events of this week, she mentioned that often when things are not right a mother knows best. I knew. I just didn't realize that I knew. Looking back I believe God has been preparing me and strengthening me for the events that have taken place this week and the hard weeks to come. Even little things like starting this blog, were very important on my to-do list. And for those of you who know me well know that normally I would like to get to such things, but other items would take precedence. I never imagined that we would use this site to update friends and family on the health and milestones of our little one's struggle. Again, to God be the glory, for great things he hath done.

Mark and I are humbled at the extreme outpouring of well wishes, prayers and support we are continuing to receive from lands near and far. We know that Aleah is a gift from heaven and that great things she will accomplish. Her struggle for life is a testament to the grace of God. We hope that all who hear her story receive a blessing and a new outlook.

Please continue to keep our family lifted in prayer. Tomorrow I will be going home, without Aleah. It is hard to imagine and I know it will be a personal struggle for me. But I know who is in control and who holds the plans for my future and the future of my little Aleah.

Aleah Has Passed the First Major Hurdle!

Kristen and I went in to see Aleah about 2pm this afternoon. Nick DeJesus, one of the hospital chaplains and a close friend as well, went with us. We were greeted by the Neonatologist - she could barely get the words out of her mouth because she was so excited. "Aleah has been completely weaned off of the nitrous oxide," she said. We were so excited - those words were the words that we have been waiting for!!! Aleah has now passed the first major hurdle in her recovery. Now the focus will shift to weaning Aleah off of the supplemental oxygen - that is hurdle #2.

Meanwhile, Aleah has developed Jaundice, but we're not too concerned about that. If her bilirubin levels are still high on Saturday morning, Aleah will be placed under the bilirubin lights until her bili levels return to normal. This is not a big issue though - we can certainly handle this.

Thanks again for all the prayers - keep them coming!!!

I'll try to update later tonight.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Day of Miracles!!!

It is now 1:25am on Friday, September 4th. I've gotten a late start tonight on adding this post, but it's the first time today that I have had a free minute to start writing. Kristen is sleeping comfortably, and the only sounds that I hear right now in the hospital room are the occasional cries from a newborn sleeping in his mommy's room next door. How I would love to hear those same cries from Aleah right now!!! But, we may hear those cries sooner than we thought.

Aleah has made a complete turnaround from just 24 hours ago. It is simply amazing to see the difference in our little girl's health. It started about 3am Thursday morning. Kristen and I had tried to sleep, but we both were still full of adrenaline from the series of events of the day on Wednesday. So, we decided to visit Aleah once more before going to sleep. When we arrived in the ICN, Aleah's nurse immediately started talking to us about her progress. Her nurse was so excited!!! Kristen and I started singing to Aleah, and as soon as we opened our mouths, her eyes opened, and she focused her attention on us. Let me remind you that Aleah was still medically paralyzed at this point. I feel like the Lord helped Aleah open her eyes and look at us to simply say through her gaze - Hi Mommy and Daddy...I know that you're here...I can hear you singing...and most importantly, I'm going to be just fine!!!

Kristen and I both felt the peace of the Lord come over us immediately. We were very encouraged by this milestone. Most people think of a milestone as finishing a major goal in life such as graduating high school or college, landing that first job, getting married, etc. For Aleah, though, her milestones are measured in minutes (not years) and by accomplishments that many of us take for granted each day. Each minute that Aleah continues to improve is one step closer to a full recovery.

And speaking of a full recovery - that's exactly what the nurse taking care of Aleah on the day shift told us today - she said that Aleah WILL make a full recovery. In fact, if Aleah continues improving over the next few days at the rate she has been improving over the last 24 hours, then she may have her breathing tube removed by Monday and be home by the following weekend. And to think that some people say there is no God????

Our day continued to get better as visitors began arriving around 10am - some brought snacks for us to eat, others brought infectious laughter, but the most special visitors were our two oldest daughters, Alivia and Avery, and they brought lots of hugs and kisses (and some snuggling, too). Kristen and I started to have the conversation with our girls that we knew would be both hard, but necessary. You see, Alivia is very perceptive, and she had already started wondering why she had not been allowed to see her new baby sister. We bascially told our girls that their baby sister had a "bad cold" and that she needed help breathing right now, but that once Aleah got well, they could see and hold her. It seems that Alivia and Avery were both satisfied with this explanation, and they resumed coloring pictures in coloring books that one of my co-workers brought for them.

The afternoon continued without incident, and I actually left the hospital around 9pm to go get food from The Cheesecake Factory at Crabtree Valley Mall. By now, hospital food is no longer that appetizing, so I left to get dinner for Kristen and me. When I returned, I surprised Kristen with her favorite entree from Cheesecake, and we had a "date" sitting on the side of the hospital bed and eating our food. It is moments like these that I will cherish forever - even in the midst of chaos this week, we made time for each other to talk, share some grilled porkchops, and just relax a bit.

My night ended with a final visit with Aleah this evening. Her nurse informed me that they were again lowering the amount of supplemental oxygen running through Aleah's ventilator based on some very good results from blood gas checks. Again, very comforting news!!!

So that brings me back to my blogging session. Kristen and I have heard from many people today who have read the blog posting from last night - we have even had emails from good friends in Tennessee and Florida letting us know that they are praying for us. Wow!!! Knowing that many people are following this blog now, I want to take the opportunity to say thank you to everyone for your prayers, calls, gift cards to restaurants, and acts of kindness. I have even heard that our house has been cleaned by a very special friend (now member of our family) in anticipation of our arrival back home - you know who you are! All I can say is "thank you" and that we will gladly return the favors in the future.

In closing, I have one last thing to say tonight - God still performs mighty miracles. Believe in him and accept him as your savior (if you have not already), and you will never have to worry about being alone, scared, in a helpless situation, etc. Aleah is proof that God is present and that He has not run out of miracles yet (nor will he ever)!!!!

Thanks again,
Mark (on behalf of Kristen as well)