Monday, December 21, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
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
We are reminded how much we are blessed to have family. Every day is a gift.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
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
Friday, September 11, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
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.
Monday, September 7, 2009
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!
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
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.
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
"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.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
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)!!!!
Mark (on behalf of Kristen as well)