Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Our Boys

    

       Our oldest son Blake suffered from Congestive Heart Failure at 12 days old. Cooper, our middle son, underwent reparative stomach/esophageal surgery at 8 weeks of age and our youngest son Gavin was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Mercy Hospital on the very same day he was born with a collapsed lung (tension pneumo-thorax). The first few moments of each of our children’s lives were filled with uncertain calamities which were accompanied by large creeping black shadows of doubt as to whether or not each of them would survive. Gavin has been cleared by the doctors with a clean bill of health; however, his curiosity has come close to ending this streak on several occasions. Cooper is still attempting to master simple sounds of the English language as a five-year old, repeatedly butchering even his own name when responding to requests for an introduction.

“What’s your name?” A stranger inquires.

An innate innocence and eagerness to share beams from Cooper’s eyes as they grow larger and he smiles; He unashamedly mispronounces his name, “Pooper, my name is Pooper”. 

That Would Be Doctor Pooper To You...

You cannot help but laugh or at least chuckle before trying to correct him. The stranger looked at us as if this was some kind of deviant attempt by our son to engross them. We hustled to correct our speech impaired son, ‘Cooper, his name is Cooper”, I replied to the stranger with a smirk. And then there is our oldest son, Blake…our precious Blake.

          Blake was born on a hot July day in 2002. Twelve days after Blake was born, he was in Congestive Heart Failure, desperately needing a life saving surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Blake was always ahead of the learning curve as a young child. He is extremely smart and inquisitive about most matters pertaining to life and his environment. He mastered walking; OK, maybe not mastered, but he took his first staggering steps at eight months old and quickly progressed on to walking and running soon after that. He was leaps and bounds ahead of most milestones including everything from talking, social skills and identifying concrete objects among a host of other criteria that is frequently used to gauge children’s developmental progress. He was a dreamer at an early age and quickly mastered yet another art, storytelling. He endlessly and darn near effortlessly went on and on and on and on…and on….and on, OK, I think you get my point…and on for countless minutes with imaginative stories that stretched far beyond the realm of reality. He mastered body parts, both the laymen names and their respective medical terminologies as well. He perfected his association with colors, shapes, letters and numerous numbers long before pre-school. Preschool came along and Blake seemed to surf through the curriculum with little effort. He possessed an unexplainable endurance for learning and knowledge.

Classic Blake!!!

  Blake encroached upon his first day of REAL school…Kindergarten. He performed very well at school, but was quickly identified as having issues maintaining his buttocks on the flat surface known otherwise as his seat. His teachers in both Kindergarten and first grade loved him. He was a special kid to them who had a huge personality attached to this likeable little character of his. As Blake progressed on to second and then third grade, he continued to struggle with staying in his seat while most of his fellow students conquered this menial task with relative ease. Our son’s second grade teacher recognized that while Blake was definitely not one to sit or stand still, he was excelling at the curriculum. The teacher suggested that maybe some of Blake’s inattention was possibly related to boredom with his class work. She recommended that we allow Blake to take a test for gifted children. There was an initial period of hesitation for us and several follow-up discussions which took place between Blake, my wife and I as well as members of the school staff. We decided to let Blake take the Wechsler’s Intelligence Test and his overall score was remarkable. The test was similar in nature to what I took in elementary school, but my focus was a little less stellar than what Blake’s was. I unknowingly created contemporary designs and large letters with the bubble-populated score sheet thus ruining any opportunity I had of being in a gifted program. I wanted to make sure that what we were doing and the decision we would ultimately make, had everything to do with Blake and nothing to do with my past desires to be a part of the gifted program. Intelligence is a great characteristic to have, but it is only favorable to the individual if they have the capacity to apply it to their everyday cognitive processes.  

Look At Those Cheeks!

          Sometime during Blake’s second grade year, we began noticing what sounded like a snort, yes a snort, kind of like the noise a pig would make, only reverberated. We questioned Blake repeatedly if he was alright and if his nose or throat was bothering him, to which he nonchalantly replied, “Sure”, “I guess” or “ I’m fine”. These are your typical run of the mill generic responses from the mind of a seven and eight year old child, but these half-hearted lackluster attempts at communicating didn’t provide us with any real insight as to what was going on in that little head of his. I mean, who knows, this unknowingly could have been some mysterious subconscious cry out for attention, but there was definitely more to it than that. My wife and I initially presumed that he had some sort of allergic reaction and wrote the whole thing off for a while. About six months later, we noticed something different, something very unusual to us; Blake began involuntary eye-blinking. At first these eye-blinks consisted of rapid-firing impulses, impulses that began overpowering Blake’s ability to control his own actions. Over the course of time, the eye-blinks slowed down a bit, but these involuntary movements increased with intensity. He would blink…his eyes stayed closed with a great force for several seconds and then released, only to repeat this process for however long that particular episode lasted. These motor tics, by themselves, are sometimes part of the developmental process for many children as their brains are rapidly developing and these types of involuntary movements are often considered transient and temporal, but this was just the beginning for Blake.

          Blake wasn’t personally struggling with his tics at this point in time, but we were starting to grow concerned. I honestly believe that for the most part, Blake had no idea these tics were even happening or if he did, there was no reason for him to believe this was considered abnormal. We weren’t exactly sure how Blake’s peers would respond or if his teachers would give him a fair shake in class with the presence of these involuntary movements and sounds, especially if they weren’t aware of his situation. Our minds steadily progressed like a freight train moving onto future scenarios and situations while we attempted to sift through this emotional chaos. I mean…Really? After everything else we had been through? One of our biggest challenges, among many we set on our shoulders, was how we were going to react to people in everyday life situations. You know…the kind that point and stare, make subtle comments under their breath or give you “the look” as if you need to control your child, all without saying a single word. We were guilty as charged for jumping the gun here, but then again, Can you blame us?

          Blake’s next tic secured his diagnosis. He was experiencing several motor tics, but for Tourette’s Syndrome to be diagnosed, the motor tics had to be accompanied with at least one verbal tic. Sure enough, this outward vocal expression forced him to meet the listed criteria for diagnosis and also led him down a path toward more aggressive tics. This verbal tic came in the form of throat clearing. We mistakenly thought at first that this was one of Blake’s cute attempts at getting attention, but the tic persisted and even more so when he tried to control it. These tics were followed by numerous other tics which came and went. Some of these involuntary movements include(d), but were/are not limited to; Lip biting, putting things in his mouth, head jerks, shoulder shrugs, nose twitches, throat clearing, snorting, eye blinks (rapid fire and intense) among several others.

PLEASE WATCH THE FOLLOWING VIDEO:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjWdnQZGScs&feature=player_detailpage

          Heather and I were growing very concerned about Blake’s present and future ability to adapt as the condition and his symptoms steadily progressed. We contemplated having a meeting with his teachers and fellow students to explain what was going on in Blake’s brain, but for the time being, we only communicated this with his teachers and other youth leaders.  Blake was taking this whole thing rather well. He even pretended to acquire some new, far-fetched tics to his mother and I, and then the punch line followed, “HAHA! I gotcha”. His ability to adapt in many different circumstances has been amazing, but he would experience the effects of Tourette’s Syndrome so severe that not even Blake would be able to adapt this time.

     We decided to go out for a quick dinner, something to try and appease the kids, but quick and easy at the same time. So there we were, on our way to something quick, something fast and something fun and that meant PIZZA!!! We decided to make our way to the local pizza buffet for an all-you-can-eat episode with the Harris Family. Blake’s tics were flaring with great frequency, coupled with a hand-in-hand intensity like we had never seen before. We drew nearer and nearer to our destination, hoping that a fun family outing would ease this onslaught of involuntary motions. Boy, were we wrong. Blake’s tics began shooting off in a rapid-fire format, almost extending beyond the capabilities of his physiological processes. He experienced physical pain due to not being able to control his own body. His eyes were dry and itchy, his throat hurt and I’m sure his nose was on the brink of bringing a bloody mess, but the more he tried to stop, the more the tics intensified. This isn’t a correlation that’s easy for a seven-year old to put together, especially when your body has a mind of its own.

I Got It Dad!!!

          Blake was growing weary, but he was still moderately excited to scarf down some pizza; however, this excitement was hi-jacked somewhere along the seven-mile drive from our house to the pizza joint. There was a brief moment when the tics subsided, but this momentary lapse in the electrical misfiring of his synapses allowed Blake to ask us an unprecedented question;

“Can we just go home?”, as tears welled up in his eyes.

I responded, “We can Blake, but can we at least try to eat something”.

We should have listened to him, because we hadn’t seen the likes of what was yet to come. Blake agreed to try and muster through it as we pulled into the parking lot and made our way through the front door. We paid for our meal and in the midst of other pizza patrons, we stacked our favorite pizza slices onto our plates. With a plateful of pizza and growling stomachs, we sat down and began eating our first of who knows how many slices from the buffet line. And then it started. Blake’s tics started back up with a couple of nasal clearings and then a head jerk.

Head jerk…nasal clearing (x3)…head jerk…eye blinks…nasal clearing (x3)…head jerk…head jerk…

He couldn’t even lift the pizza to his mouth, much less eat it. He placed both hands up to his face as he tried to physically overpower these movements, but with more resistance, the movements increased in frequency and intensity. He contorted his face in multiple directions using the force of his hands, but no matter how valiantly he tried, he failed each and every time. He threw his pizza onto the plate which lay motionless before him and started crying. In an effort to make Blake feel more comfortable and respected, we decided to leave without finishing our meal.

How's My Cheese?

We took our frustrations to the internet and began a feverish search, looking for journal studies that might touch on and/or provide insight into Blake’s condition. Several studies alluded to a possible deficiency of certain organic elements within the brain so we began a quest to try and treat this syndrome with supplements. This method of treatment proved to be fruitless as his tics did not improve or worsen while he was on the supplements. As parents, we do not like to medicate our children, but at some point, quality of life becomes an issue. You have to do something to see that your child will have a fair shot at the simple things in life. We turned our efforts towards the medical field and made an appointment with neurology. Due to the complex nature of Tourette’s Syndrome and the still mysterious pathology that may or may not cause it, the only known treatments available are medicinal in nature. This was not our first choice of treatment, but by this point, we felt it was our only one…it was Blake’s only one. These frustrations brought us to the realization that we could not be a part of Blake’s negative attention. He had to feel safe at home. He had to feel welcome and wanted at the one place where he is supposed to feel unconditionally loved…and this is the one place he HAD to feel loved. We had to come to another realization as well. There isn’t a so-called normal anymore; of course, there never really was a normal for us, but this was and is Blake’s normal. It does not mean there was/is something wrong with him; it just means there is something different about him.

Blake

          We reluctantly made our appointment with neurology and the doctor immediately diagnosed Blake with Tourrette’s Syndrome. The doctor provided us with blanket of comfort and absolute assurance as he also had a child with Tourette’s, a sixteen year old son to be exact. He was an Irish man, with an over-bearing Irish accent, as if he had just recently left his native Ireland. He carried an old leather bag like the doctors used to carry many years ago. It was black and worn with a small brass plate on the side of it which displayed his initials. He quickly garnered our trust and we administered the prescribed medication after having it cleared with Blake’s cardiologist. We were very fortunate in that the medication worked really well for Blake. It did not alleviate his tics altogether, but it did reduce them to a point where he can function normally…or at least what we consider to be within a normal range of functionality. The smallest dose worked which spared us from having to try a seemingly endless barrage of dosage combinations and medications while each time potentially hoping for a favorable outcome.

          The only time we really notice Blake’s tics now is when we forget to give him his medication or for whatever reason, every once in a while his tics overpower the controlling range of the medication, but this does not happen very often. Blake’s tics flare out of control under some fairly consistent conditions; Tired, when he is frustrated, over-excitement and even more so during the school year. If it could be summed up into one general state, the tics are induced by some level of stress, good and bad.  One of our biggest concerns now is the co-morbidity rate which follows Tourette’s Syndrome and involves behavioral conditions such as; Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and other mental disorders. This rate hovers right around the 60 percent mark, but I will save this discussion for another post. 

          My little bit of advice, regardless of what might be influencing your child’s behavior, is acceptance. We live in a world where we are taught there is something wrong with the short bus. My generation has grown up making fun of kids who are different, whether that means retarded, deaf, dumb or blind, the epileptics, the wheelchair bound, the special education children, among a host of other diseases/disorders which affect a child’s ability to learn and interact. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOUR CHILD!!! PEOPLE!!! THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THESE CHILDREN!!! Sure, they might be different, but there is absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with different. The Bible says we are all children of God. I heard this next line at a leadership seminar and I cannot remember who said it, but I wanted to share it with you. Again…the bible says we are all children of God. We are ALL created in the image of God. Not one…Not some, but ALL. This means there is no hierarchy based on physicality or intellectuality, but that the basic foundation and fundamental being of each individual person is collectively created in the image of God. Not one…Not some, but ALL.

Blake at 8 Almost 9 Years Old

                  The American Dream has been dramatically distorted over the course of history. Our founding fathers gave up everything for their religious freedoms. They sacrificed all, placing everything they had on the line, including their lives, for the betterment of their families and their country. The American Dream is not finding the next Microsoft or the acquisition of wealth and material possessions. The American Dream cannot be found in the broadcast of frequency waves which air shows like The Next Top Model and American Idol. This dream does not begin with an end in sight for the American Dream knows no limits and has no end. The American Dream begins where we as individual Americans end. The actualization of this dream is only realized and lived out when we set aside ourselves and begin living our lives for those around us. Our enemy happens to be not that of an actual army as was the case with our forefathers, but one of narcissistic tendencies and what we believe to be inherent rights granted from men and among men.

                I struggled to make it through several different stages of life, suffered many trials throughout and fell to my own selfish and destructive behaviors time and time again. When I face-planted at the bottom of rock-bottom, I realized that I only had one true dream. As cliché as this may sound, my dream was to have a modest home with a white picket fence in the front yard and a family to share this home with and that was it. Now the white picket fence wasn’t a deal breaker because the Home Owners Association would surely have some kind of rule forbidding white picket fences in the front yard, but anyways, my dream is real and I am living it out, but the American Dream didn’t begin until I began living for my family… until I began living for God.

                I am living out a dream in which my children will never wonder where their mommy or daddy is or why they seemingly don’t want them. They will not bear witness to a home with alcohol and/or drugs, pornography and other things that children’s eyes should never see and/or experience. The hands of their loved ones will not harm them or shame them. Words of hate and discontent will not fall upon their innocent ears. My children will have a choice. They will not be destined for destruction as I once was. The American Dream takes place when we become subservient to our future… our children’s future, and to most of all…God.

Please take a moment to watch the video below as it tells the rest of the story. I want to thank the mastermind behind this project for listening to my story and taking time away from their precious families to make this happen; Alan Stolfus and everyone else involved in this project;

 Cast: Hayden Loughery, Joshua Harris, Mike Searle, Tony Dougherty, Sarah Shumacher, Alicia Ewing, Jay O’Brien, Erin Stolfus. Crew: Corey Crossen, Jay O’Brien, Mike Humphrey, Kynan Marshall, Eric Salzman, Aaron Sitts,

This is my dream…my American Dream. Except for me…It is VERY REAL.

NOTE: I apologize for the delay on getting this out, but I am dealing with the death of my mother and have been preparing for her funeral. The last paragraph of this post rings that much stronger with her passing. Please read and remember that it is the choices we make now which ultimately lead to the person we are to become in the future.               

  If you followed along with parts one, two and three, you can take an educated guess and probably be correct in your assumption that I will NOT be dropping a bombshell announcement in this blog that we are expecting our fourth child. You guessed it! We have definitely tucked our baby-making hats away up in the attic and will not be having any more children, at least not through natural means. Over the course of the last eight years, we have experienced too much pain and shed way too many tears of sorrow (even if these tears of sorrow were followed by tears of joy) throughout the days and weeks following the birth of each of our children. We were absolutely certain that things could get much worse should we choose to have a fourth child. We no longer cautiously weigh the odds or sift through the statistics; this is a chance we are adamant on NOT taking. We tight-roped this line one too many times before and our thoughts are that this chance is much too risky to take and there is way too much at stake should something go wrong.

            The flipside to this is that we didn’t necessarily want to stop having children or if we did, we wanted this choice to feel like it was our decision and not a choice we were seemingly forced to make. This made us feel like our decision to have another child was stripped away from us. I know, we always have a choice, but considering the circumstances, the choice was heavily weighted towards not having a fourth child. There was another choice though. We had thought about a second option, discussing it nonchalantly in the past should the opportunity ever arise. We knew this option was a huge commitment and that this experience would both challenge and change our family as we knew it forever, but again, it was a commitment we thought worthy of making. The commitment was and is adoption.

          My wife and I had discussed the idea of adopting in the past, but it was always someday, sometime in the future. Honestly, it was more of a fleeting thought which we often experienced together and one that we would possibly come to consider some day in the future…someday, but not these particular days. The topic of adoption usually came up as a side bar discussion when we became emotionally moved after seeing a commercial or after attending an event where adoption was a point of discussion. This topic also came up when discussing abortion, but like I said, they were always side bar discussions which usually ended with hypothetical maybes.  We weren’t really forced to think about this as a reality until we were seemingly forced to make a choice of not having any more children via natural childbirth.

                We were social networking one day…OK…we were actually stalking old friends on Facebook and the status updates of some friends we used to go to church with caught our attention. It was a brief glance at first and then a double take; we saw that our old friends were adopting not one, but two children from Ethiopia. Did I mention that they already had three children of their own? We seriously thought they were crazy at first, you know, raving lunatics (just kidding here as they may actually read this ;)), but we knew their hearts and crazy only related to the fact that their hearts were crazy for these children. We decided to have our old friends over for dinner so we could reacquaint and discuss both the whys and the hows of their adoption experience. After having mutual heart-pouring discussions about our desires to adopt, my wife and I came to the conclusion that we should adopt internationally. We could have chosen to adopt locally within the United States, but these children would be taken care of one way or another. The children of other countries were literally dying of starvation, along with other treatable medical conditions. We had the available room, we could raise the money and most of all, we had the desire and love to provide an environment which would give life and hope to a child that otherwise would not get to experience this side of life or for that matter, life in general. And most of all, we had the heart.  

                It was an epiphany of sorts, but it wasn’t the statistics which captured our hearts. Don’t get me wrong here; the statistics are indeed staggering as 24,000 children die each day…EACH DAY. These children are boys and girls who could be adopted and placed into the loving homes and arms of parents who can provide them with nourishment, love and hope. This is the equivalent to 60, count them 60 of my oldest son’s elementary schools. Can you imagine losing 60 elementary schools here in America…PER DAY? This was a shocking factor, but it wasn’t the deciding factor for us. We knew that we were only going to be able to help just one of those 24,000 children. Don’t get me wrong here because one child does make a difference, but not necessarily in terms of the overall numbers. We began to see and come to the realization that there was a child out there who was going to be our daughter. Yes, I said daughter, because this was obviously the only way we were going to have the presence of a little princess in the Harris household. We got three the hard way, the boys that is, but back to our daughter, she was out there … somewhere … in some other country…and she was suffering.

                We jumped in the adoption process head first and began researching adoption agencies so we could make the initial commitment to embark on this lengthy and drawn out process.  There was only one potential setback which might interfere with or prolong our ability to follow through with the adoption.  One of our pasts would literally come back to haunt us. Juvenile delinquencies and misdemeanor crimes of a trouble-filled past just might be a mountain that is too high to climb. This might very well be one mountain which we are not able to crest which also means there would be no summit to reach either. As a matter of fact, we wouldn’t even put our gear on. The journey would end much sooner than we could have ever imagined. In all actuality, this journey would come crashing to an end much, much faster than it began.

                One of the earlier items on the list for international adoptions is finger printing. Obviously, the authorities of both countries involved want to make sure you have not been arrested for, or have any convictions for violent crimes or other crimes against people which may show up on a police record; however, this isn’t the only thing they look at. Your entire record is looked at, both arrest record and convictions, whether you were found guilty or not and regardless of your plea. Even if the arrest was fabricated or a hapless law enforcement mistake had been made, it still shows up on your record during this process. You see, like many people, I made a lot and I mean A LOT of careless and imprudent mistakes when I was between the ages of 17-19 years old and every single one of these mistakes littered the pages of my record. There were 15 events which stringed one after another, page after page, throughout the report and even though some of them showed up as non-convictions or that I was found innocent, the events still showed up as strikes against me, therefore lending evidence and so-called credibility to a pattern of maladaptive behavior, deserved or not. There were certain events within this report which completely evaded my memory, but after a brief period of introspection, my memories soon sailed back to those exact moments in time. The biggest offense turned out to be a resisting arrest charge and disobeying a lawful order from a police officer. I won’t go into details here, but the charges were inflated as I was left with no choice but to try and defend myself from excessive police force. The only witness to this incident was under the influence of alcohol and the two police officers had also arrested this person’s father that same night so it wouldn’t prove to be all that difficult to discredit this individual’s eyewitness testimony. I had to accept the charge or face time in jail should I be found guilty as an officer’s testimony almost always trumps the witness in a court of law, so I hesitantly accepted the prosecution’s plea bargain.

                We still went through with the adoption process, selected an agency and began coordinating our efforts with a social worker at the agency. I was very open and honest with the adoption agency about my past. I didn’t want to come across as if I was hiding anything from them. This type of conniving would surely look worse should something come to the surface much later on in the process. I thought absolute honesty will prevail. I know in my heart it will. I wrote out and then meticulously typed up a six-page report on my past arrest record and provided reasoning as to why I was arrested, an explanation of the events leading up to the arrest and what I had learned from each of these experiences. The adoption agency was gracious enough to accept the report from me at no cost and they hadn’t requested an application fee either up to this point in time. The social worker forwarded the report to the agency’s legal representative in Ethiopia for review, who then forwarded the report to the proper court authority in Ethiopia for review as well. The adoption agency could have lured us deep into the adoption process with application fees, home studies and fingerprinting charges, but they didn’t. They were very helpful and understanding of our circumstances throughout this entire ordeal. We waited … and waited … and waited. I anxiously checked my inbox each and every day in anticipation of an email from the adoption agency. I had an immense amount of hope that the authorities involved would see past my historic transgressions and grant our family the gift of adoption. I quickly grew into a complacent mechanical like state, systematically checking my inbox with very little hopes that I would ever see any sort of response again and then one day, I opened my inbox and there it was; the black bold font jumped out from the screen, indicating a new email and guess what, the email was from the social worker at WACAP which was the adoption agency we chose to work with from the beginning of this process. My heart began racing several beats higher. The anticipation kicked in and I really thought that this was it. We actually have a chance at becoming the adoptive parents of a needy child from Ethiopia and that our daughter was out there somewhere, just waiting and hoping that her parents were seeking her out. This child would not suffer for much longer; a child of God would finally experience the love, warmth and nourishment of a family which she most certainly deserved.

                I paused, just staring at the screen; this was the moment of truth for us and our hopes of adoption. I double-clicked on the email and as the bold, black font faded to a normal font, a new window popped up displaying the contents of the email. Our flat screen monitor non-discriminately displayed the following words;

“Dear Josh and family,

Thank you so much for your honesty and for the time you have taken to present this information.

It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that our staff in Ethiopia indicated that they did not think that your case would receive a positive approval in an Ethiopian court.

Where it is understood that you have overcome a significant amount of adversity, this many infractions (although justifiable) makes the Ethiopian Federal Court unable to approve an adoption for your family.

Again, I am very sorry to deliver this news…”

I stopped reading as a tear slowly fell from my eye down to the corner of my mouth. I stared off aimlessly; I didn’t need to see any more of the email. The very thing we tried to avoid with having a natural child was cast upon us as potential adoptive parents. My hearts rapid pace almost died as it slowed to a mere idle, a deathly sunken state which landed somewhere in the vicinity of my stomach. I mean, really,” I’m a good person”, I thought. I have changed my life 180 degrees from where it was back then and I meant it. I was frustrated and I saw this as the Ethiopian authorities were willing to let this child die. My sadness and frustration transformed into anger. I thought I can fix this; I can send character reference letters and letters of recommendation from pastors, police officers, college professors, FBI agents, co-workers, church friends and past bosses. I’ll do whatever it takes! I’ll write my congressman! I’ll write the Ethiopian officials; however, none of this would suffice. There would be no international adoption, as a matter of fact; there would be no adoption at all.

                My wife and I are still open to the idea of adoption, but it came and went full circle, from a maybe someday, to a reality, back to one of those maybes; maybe someday…some day in the future. It will require a very unique set of circumstances for us to be able to adopt as we will have to find an individual or couple who either doesn’t want their child before the baby is born or a couple that wishes to give their child up for adoption after the birth or some other stage of life and we happen to somehow be chosen as the desired adoptive parents. This door has been temporarily closed to us for now, so we have decided to continue our focus toward our three boys.

                I guess the worst part of this for me is that when 24,000 children are dying per day, give me and my family a chance. Give me a chance to love this child as my own. If anyone has been proven to be redeemed in this life, it is I, and not through anything I have done, but by the grace of a loving God. I myself was adopted. My parents, like many other parents in the past, made some very poor choices in their lives. I became a ward of the state at just two years old. I first ended up at a grandparent’s house who ultimately couldn’t handle the extra work which came with raising a fourth child living in an already cluttered mobile home. After suffering my way through the foster care system for a very brief period of time, another grandmother took me in when no one else would or could. I presented that exact question to her one day, “Mom (because this is what I called her), Why did you take me in?” She responded in the most calm and monotone manner stating, “Because no one else would”. She saved me from a life of not knowing my family, from a life of being raised by strangers, but not all children are this fortunate. I just wanted the opportunity to save or try to save one, just one of those 24,000 children who are going to die today.

                The foster system is riddled with unworthy parents. There are parents who become part of this process just for the additional income and others for selfish, horrid reasons which not even the foster parents themselves can possibly comprehend. Meanwhile, others take this route with an open heart, willing and waiting to love a desperate child in need. The children of Africa and other countries are literally starving to death and dying from treatable diseases and disorders. The majority aren’t waiting for adoption…they are waiting to die. Me, I am most certainly alive and well, a changed man living for a purpose higher than my own, a man who just wanted to make a difference in this world, in this child’s world. The choices of my past came back to haunt me when I least expected it and now, a child is trapped in poverty, destined to certain death because of my sins.

Honey,

I am sorry. I am sorry that I let you down. I am sorry that you won’t be coming home. I made some very bad choices many years ago and these choices are keeping you from us. Please forgive me. I love you!         

Love Dad

     I know this sounds horrible and it sounds as if I am sensationalizing the event, but I want to really drive the reality of this point home. God doesn’t will this. I made bad choices which had nothing to do with God, and now I have to live within the parameters of these choices which I have made. I want you to know that the choices you make now can and will affect your life in years to come. They won’t ultimately affect your relationship with God should you choose to follow Him, but there are certain consequences for our actions here on earth. Let’s look at a few examples other than my adoption experience or should I say non-adoption experience. Take smoking for example. Should you choose to smoke throughout your life, you will incur much damage to your body’s physiological processes, therefore shortening your life, a life in which you could have been fully engaged in God’s work here on earth, a life that is cut short. I can say the same thing in regards to eating poorly or drinking alcohol, lack of exercise, drug use and criminal behavior among a host of other maladaptive behaviors. PLEASE!!! I beg of you to take this point and this plea, recognizing the potential for disruption and dysfunction in your own life. If you are not caught up in any of these or other maladaptive behaviors, please share this with someone who is struggling in these areas. And if you have the opportunity to change a life, DO IT! DO NOT WAIT!!! A child is waiting to call you mom or dad, just as God once waited for you to call Him Father. The child’s life which needs changing might not even be in Africa or some other remote foreign country; they might very well be under the roof of your own home. This child or person just might be you as you are also a child of God. Did you hear that? Listen! You are a child of God!

Links

http://savetheorphan.blogspot.com/?spref=fb

http://itcouldnotbebetter.blogspot.com/2011/01/snapshots-of-sweeties.html?spref=fb

http://www.kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com/

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good, and the very gentle, and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.”

Ernest Hemingway

Introduction

          Some people will look at a name and think nothing of it. There may be a brief comment or thought as to the social status of the name, but beyond that, not much thought is given. There are parents who carelessly name their children almost as randomly as the next drawing of pick five lottery numbers, while others embed deep, spiritual meaning into the names of their offspring. Have you ever asked someone why they bestowed a certain name upon their child or children? I bet this question alone would draw some very interesting and colorful dialogue.

          There are other people who look at a name and they want to know why. There is an element of intrigue and inquisitiveness which grasps their inner soul and they manifest an extreme thirst for knowledge which can only be quenched by the answer. OK, OK, maybe this is a bit too dramatized, but I think you get the point. Corporate America believes that names are important to you as they spend billions of dollars on marketing and promotion to develop “name” brands and household “names”. Do you know who Thomas Mapother IV is? You should Google it because this person thought they needed to drop their last name in order to achieve notoriety.

          I don’t really care which one you are because I’m going to tell you either way, like it or not. I’m just kidding here, but I do believe it is important for me to disclose my reasoning behind the name BrokenTogether before going any further in my blog. This post shares the insight behind the name; however, it does not go into the specific details of why I was broken. I will now share with you what Brokentogether is and what the name means to me.

BrokenTogether Defined

(Courtesy of http://www.dictionary.com)

broken

[broh-kuh n]

–verb

1.   pp. of break.

–adjective

2.   Reduced to fragments; fragmented.

3.   Ruptured; torn; fractured.

4.   Not functioning properly; out of working order.

7.  Fragmentary or incomplete

8. Infringed or violated 

9. Interrupted, disrupted, or disconnected

10. Weakened in strength, spirit, etc.: His broken health was due to alcoholism.

11. Tamed, trained, or reduced to submission

12. Imperfectly spoken, as language

13. Spoken in a halting or fragmentary manner, as under emotional strain

14. Disunited or divided

15. Not smooth; rough or irregular

16. Ruined; bankrupt 

together

[tuhgeth-er]

–adverb

1.   Into or in one gathering, company, mass, place, or body 

2.   Into or in union, proximity, contact, or collision, as two or more things

3.   Into or in relationship, association, business, or agreement, etc.

4.   Taken or considered collectively or conjointly

5.   (of a single thing) into or in a condition of unity, compactness, or coherence

6.    at the same time; simultaneously

7.   Without intermission or interruption; continuously; uninterruptedly

8.   In cooperation; with united action; conjointly

9.   With mutual action; mutually; reciprocally

–adjective

10.       Slang . mentally and emotionally stable and well-organized

Brokentogether

[broh-kuh n-tuh-geth-er]

-noun

1. Slang, Me

adjective

2. Generally relating to an individual who has been broken mentally, physically or spiritually, but through some sort of restorative process, is in a literal sense restored to their original state prior to being broken; generally related to the Christian religion and the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

BrokenTogether Explained

          Broken can be anything. It can be as little as one experience or a collection of experiences. Brokenness can be induced and initiated by fear or immersed in the passions of the pleasure principle. This state of brokenness can be mentally, physically or spiritually, and experienced as your passing through the innocence of childhood or gauging the world from your front porch as an aging adult. Pain is relative to the individual which means that our greatest personal pain is equal to that of another person’s greatest pain, regardless of the specific event. We can only feel or relate to the pain we have experienced. Just as Hemingway stated, some will break easier than others, he indicated a threshold which also indicates a relative nature to what I am calling brokenness. Brokenness can manifest itself in many ways. The pathology of brokenness can be traced back to many of the following traumas; physical abuse, child abuse, bullying, sexual abuse, drug, gambling and alcohol addiction (often preceded by a previous state of brokenness), pornography, divorce, infidelity, health (mental and physical) and many other specific traumas which are too many to account for all of them here. These traumas are things which break our spirit and can often lead to the following; cutting, lack of self-worth, suicidal ideation and attempts, suicide, guilt, shame, physical harm, incarceration, loss of family and friends, addictions (new and continued), separation from God and many other courses of destructive, abnormal and maladaptive behavior. Broken is the hurt, Broken is pain.

          It is my belief that we are all broken to begin with. This is due to the corrupt nature of man and his inability to fix him or herself. With that being said, together means the pieces have been collected up, sorted out and we are in the process of being put back in order.  We don’t look or act the same as we did before. Our lives have been changed, but it wasn’t our broken state that put us back together. A truly broken thing never fixes itself. The broken thing needs intervention. Broken things do not fix other broken things either. They only lend to the company of brokenness which gives the perception of normality. This is also why misery loves company; People just want to feel normal and accepted. There is only one who is worthy of fixing the broken and only true restoration and acceptance comes from Him and that is God. Together is the healing, together is hope.

Q: So what exactly is Brokentogether?

A: Brokentogether is me; Brokentogether is YOU!

Let us all be strong in and at the broken places!!!

If you would, share with us what is in a name to you. It could be anything; your name, your child’s name or any other name that you draw meaning from.

Cooper 2007

               This post is by far one of the hardest things I have ever written up to this point in time. There are several reasons for this, but I will focus mainly on just a couple of the major ones. Our first son needed a life saving surgery to repair a broken heart and our second son needed surgery in order to correct a defect in his stomach.  The collective results of these experiences on us were emotionally draining and these events culminated and concluded with Gavin’s story. The rest of what makes this hard to write will bear itself throughout the paragraphs of this post. The ability to vividly remember snapshot images and the emotional trauma associated with them is a joy and a curse. I am ecstatic that Gavin miraculously pulled through all of this, but I took his illness and near death extremely hard. The events leading up to the birth of our third child were carefully weighed and cautiously accepted. I mean, third time is a charm, Right?

Blake 2007

               After Blake’s heart condition and Cooper’s stomach defect, my wife and I hung up our baby-making hats. We made a tentative unwanted realization that maybe we shouldn’t have any more children. My wife seemed adamant on this position while I reluctantly went along in hopes of waiting out this stronghold position of hers. Other people made hapless comments about us having more children and my wife automatically snapped back and shot their innocent inquiries down before any more words could fly from their mouths. She quickly answered “WE’RE DONE!” and I almost always followed this up with a quick and quirky comment, “She may be done, but I’m not done yet”. I played this off as a joke, turning my head towards her direction and shelling out a half-hearted smirk. I really wanted us to have more children. We had two children with medical problems at birth already and the chances of a third child having issues had to be slim, Right? I mean, there was no indication of any genetic defect involved so the odds had to be on our side. They had to be! Regardless of the odds or statistics, my wife was not comfortable having a third child.

                My wife and I came to the realization that we were going to be a two child family. Blake was a toddler at this point and Cooper had fattened up like a Thanksgiving bird. You never would have guessed that this kid had an eating problem. The only eating problem he had now was eating too much. We honored and cherished making many memories with the boys during this time period. Blake started Kindergarten and my wife and I were just beginning to notice Cooper’s delays. There really wasn’t anything to notice, but more of what was missing which grabbed our attention. Cooper lacked a vocabulary and we only knew what he was saying or indicating because we were used to his half-hearted attempts at communication. Cooper also began displaying behaviors which were abnormal to us and at first seemed to be autistic in nature. He wasn’t a social baby, and enjoyed many activities which were classic and indicative of a child much younger than he was. He was behind in what the educational assessors/evaluators considered normal play, normal speech and normal language comprehension. This situation presented many challenges and a struggle all of its own, but that struggle is for another story. We had a difficult time getting Cooper evaluated, but we stuck with this process and he became eligible for treatment/therapy as a part of the Missouri First Steps program, as he was more than 50% deficient in all the above mentioned areas. This meant that at 18 months, Cooper was essentially functioning at a level consistent with or below that of a nine month old baby.

Blake and Cooper 2007

               After countless times of Heather telling people no and me following up with my typical line rebutting her comment, I estimated that these subtle relentless tactics would pay off, but my wife held her ground like a fortress, with unbreechable walls. She wasn’t budging on this decision. On multiple occasions I hung my head, almost as if I was retreating in defeat and beginning to accept this unwanted realization. Maybe this was it, maybe I need to accept the number of children we have and be grateful for the opportunity to raise them. This steadfast, strong approach by my wife was secretly growing weary. Her defenses were falling and she didn’t even know it just yet and neither did I, but Heather was sub-consciously thinking about retreating from her earlier position on not having a third child.

               Cooper was climbing stairs and even ladders by this point. He didn’t have a fear in the world when it came to climbing. His face had fattened up to chubby round and his mid-section and thighs were on the brink of bulging with fat rolls. He had these large adorable eyes which mesmerized you, capturing your heart with just one look and cheeks that screamed out pinch me. You could even see the beginning of some reddish-blonde hairs budding up from Cooper’s once bald head. There was just one problem for Heather though, Cooper was beginning to lose his baby look and the Harris family loves their little babies. The fact that Cooper was beginning to grow up brought home the reality that he might very well be the last child to grow up in the Harris household.

Cooper 2008

               It was Labor Day weekend 2008, Heather and I made our traditional trip to Independence, Missouri for the once a year Santa-Cali-Gon Days Festival. This time of year is very unpredictable in terms of weather so we dressed the boys appropriately and off we went. Upon arriving at the festival we went through our typical motions and followed the usual routine of hitting a few street vendors’ booths and grabbing a hot dog or two from the local Boy Scout group. The crowd was still sparse at this point and you could hear all the street vendors pitching their products; “Turkey Legs, Turkey Legs, Get your fresh hot Turkey legs”, just two booths down a timid high school aged youth was passing out samples of assorted roasted cinnamon nuts and the sweet smell of kettle corn hovered in the air, long before you ever saw the smoke rising from the big black kettle.

               After spending a little time on the street, we made our way to the craft area. We enjoy looking at people’s crafty work and artistic approaches to every day goods, but we rarely buy anything. This has mostly to do with the fact that when we do buy something, we rarely put it to use. We trudged through each tent which was swarming with people and vendors. Some vendors were out and about their displays, hurriedly exchanging goods for money and change with veteran patrons while other vendors seemed to sit back and wait, almost looking as if they wished to be someplace else.

               We tracked our way up one side of the craft tent and down the other, commenting back and forth about different products. We shelled out both positive and negative comments of praise and critique towards whatever it was the vendors were selling. We were forced to look at some displays longer than others as we maneuvered the baby stroller throughout the crowd, weaving in and out of gawking patrons. As we pushed Cooper along in the stroller, we were armed with apologies ready to be delivered as we nicked at the heels of the people walking before us. The booths ranged from decorative goods to artwork, pictures, frames, even picture frames and all sorts of other unique items for patrons to purchase. This was just like all of our traditional trips from years before with the exception of one tiny little phrase which escaped Heather’s lips. These spoken words required an oncore performance before it would sink into my psyche. We approached several different vendors selling baby clothes and with each passing, we realized we no longer had a need to look at any of these clothes, except for how cute and adorable some of the items were. The realization of us not having any more children must have been weighing on Heather’s heart because that trip to the festival became an iconic moment forever etched on our family timeline. I did a double take, looking back at Heather and said “WHAT!!??”  As calmly and nonchalantly as she said it the first time, she repeated herself, “Let’s have another baby.” I replied, “Seriously! What caused you to change your mind?” She wasn’t really sure at this point, but she knew we weren’t done having babies just yet. Something inside of her just kept tugging and pulling at her subconscious. She just felt like our family wasn’t complete yet.

Blake and Cooper

               We had taken a considerable amount of time, at least to us, to have Blake and Cooper. It took us longer to conceive than we originally anticipated with each of them and we expected nothing to be different this time around. Two weeks later, Heather was pregnant. We wouldn’t know it at the time for several more weeks, but in hindsight, it all happened so amazingly fast. Heather later stated that it probably was a good thing that she conceived so fast because if the attempt at getting pregnant would have dragged out, she probably would have changed her mind.

               The pregnancy started off great, well, as great as a pregnancy can start off. This was the continuation of the Harris family’s journey which was headed down yet another road, to yet another adventure. Everything went really well during this pregnancy, but one thing was different from any of our previous pregnancies; Heather was diagnosed with an auto-immune deficiency disorder, much like Lupus and as the pregnancy progressed, she needed to receive extensive monitoring to make sure her body did not attack the fetus. The side effects of this disorder morph as the pregnancy progresses; In early pregnancy, there is an increased risk for miscarriage and throughout the pregnancy, there is the potential for stunted growth and/or the baby being stillborn at birth. There are many other complications associated with the auto-immune disorders which can include risks of infection and even death which are 20 times more likely in women with these disorders (Mann, 2006). Here we are in the middle of our third pregnancy, already on guard due to our past experiences and yet we are hit with another bombshell. We looked forward to each doctor’s visit with a bittersweet disposition as we experienced bi-polar like mood swings as we rode hostage to this emotional rollercoaster. This frame of mind was mainly due to the reasons behind the visits and what we might find out during them as well. We teetered back and forth from feelings of joy to feelings of despair as we looked forward to any good news which might come about, but clinched our teeth in fearful anticipation that everything was going to be alright. We harbored much of this in silence from our family members as we didn’t want to raise their concerns and set sail to any further stress than necessary.

Blake and Cooper 2009

              This newfound knowledge about the auto-immune disorder was just that, knowledge. There were no external symptoms or immediate underlying concerns leading to further anxiety. As we approached week 32 of the pregnancy, the time spent at doctor’s offices and hospitals increased exponentially. As a precautionary measure, we had a fetal echocardiogram at 32 weeks. This procedure looks at the baby’s heart to determine if the baby has any congenital heart defects while still in the uterus.  This was yet another moment where we were on pins and needles, almost holding our breath while we tried to gauge what the doctor was looking at, attempting to interpret their reaction to what they were seeing, but even if something was wrong, most doctors have a good poker face. The test results were negative, meaning the doctor did not find any congenital heart defects present. Whew! We could wipe the sweat from our brows and breathe again as we did not have to worry about heart defects this time around, at least not those which are present in the womb. The 32 week mark also introduced us to weekly bio-physic profiling (due to Heather’s auto-immune disorder) which included a non-stress test three times a week for the next seven weeks (a whopping 21 visits for this alone).  This baby soared the summit and went through the ringer in terms of rigorous medical testing to make sure our third child was healthy and there were no looming surprises to leave the doctors scrambling once the baby finally came. Were we worried? Absolutely! The mindset for us was not one necessarily filled with vexation, but more along the following lines; there were two completely different anomalies weighing against us due to our first two birth experiences and we were thinking the odds had to be in our favor this time around, Right?

               Heather’s medical diagnosis and our first two birth experiences placed us in the midst of a unique set of circumstances. The doctors played off their immediate concerns as long shots, but they had to be prepared for anything. Due to concerns carrying over from our first two deliveries and my wife’s auto-immune disorder, the doctors scheduled Heather for an induction at 39 weeks rather than wait until week 40 which was just a week away. Here we were again; we were supposed to be filled with an overabundance of joy during this iconic moment of our lives, and we were, but doubt was forcing its way in on us. We were very excited and the suspense was hovering in the air, but the not so faint memories of a not so distant past haunted our consciousness.

               It was a beautiful June day. We dropped the boys off at my wife’s parents on the evening of June 10, 2009 and went out to eat prior to making our way to the hospital. We enjoyed a peaceful dinner with just the two of us and then made our way to the hospital that same night. We approached the admissions desk and up we went to the very floor and room that would later serve as the delivery room for our third child. We nestled in, well as best as one can nestle in a hospital room and began preparing ourselves mentally for the events which lie ahead. The doctors started Heather off on Cervidil which threw her into painful contractions almost immediately. Heather expected this process to drag out and carry on late into the night or even come to fruition sometime the next day. At My wife’s request, I reluctantly made my way home and let the dogs outside . I decided that if Heather was OK with me leaving her at the hospital for the dogs, she wouldn’t mind me working out, taking a shower, grabbing some clothes as well as some other miscellaneous objects. I did work out or at least I tried; however, the situation took a dangerous turn while I was gone.

Blake and Cooper 2009 - Parkville, MO

               Heather called me while I was at home and told me to get back to the hospital immediately. She sounded a bit uneasy on the phone, but not frantic, maybe annoyed more than anything else. She didn’t tell me anything was wrong either, just that I needed to get back to the hospital now; I hung out at the house a bit longer, gathered some clothes and other miscellaneous objects, ate and took a shower. Again, she never mentioned anything about distress. While I was gone, my wife had unplugged the monitoring equipment and made her way to the restroom. After climbing back into the bed, she plugged the monitoring equipment into the machine just as it was prior to her unplugging it. My wife thought she might have done something wrong so she hit the nurse call button and just as a nurse chimed in over the intercom, four nurses calmly entered the room and began administering care. The baby’s heart rate fell from what was an already low heart rate of 110-120 beats per minute to a heart rate that constituted a medical emergency at around 50 beats per minute. The nurses came in and placed Heather on her side and gave her an oxygen mask to place over her nose and mouth. The staff continued positioning her in a multitude of positions trying and get the baby’s heart rate back to normal, but this first attempt wasn’t working. The nurses had to make the call to remove the Cervidil without the doctor’s order so that Heather’s body would stop contracting. These early and painful contractions were putting too much stress on the fetus. Once the Cervidil was removed, the baby’s heart rate gradually accelerated back up to the original baseline. I was impervious to this situation the entire time as I wasn’t even there for my wife; all because originally, the dogs had to be taken out to the restroom. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

               The situation subsided and the rest of the night was spent in anticipation of what was yet to come. Heather was undergoing these false painful contractions while I passed out cold on the hospital provided foldout bed. She always dogs on me for falling asleep when she had to suffer through this moment, but I had a really good excuse. Really, I did! She is an extremely tough woman and either hides or fails to reveal her true level of pain and discomfort and me, well, I have a sleep disorder. I am often falling asleep whether you like it or not as I am a borderline narcoleptic. The night came and went and morning was upon us and still no baby; however, this changed almost instantaneously, at least in the baby-bearing world, when the doctor broke her water. One hour later, we had a baby boy. Gavin Isaiah Harris was born on June 11, 2009 at 11:45am. He weighed in at just over the average birth weight at 7 pounds and 13 ounces.

Heather and Gavin just Before He left to go to NICU

Gavin - June 11, 2009

               I had this feeling of almost ownership this time around. I was becoming a pro at this delivery room routine. Gavin was born and then the delivering doctor handed him over to Heather. His cry came late which for me was the moment at which I could finally let go of the breath I was holding and begin to breathe normally. This moment was always a pivotal yet terrifying moment for me in the delivery room with all three children. Gavin was blue for an extended amount of time compared to our other children’s deliveries, but this particular detail didn’t seem to bother the medical staff. I proudly walked back and forth from Heather to Gavin, back to Heather, back to Gavin, then back to my awesome wife conveying descriptive details to her in regards to what they were doing with Gavin. Something wasn’t right though. All of a sudden, there was an uneasy buzz in the air and this conspiratorial process filled the room as I felt we weren’t being told everything just yet. There was some intermingling taking place amongst a multitude of healthcare professionals who had crowded their way into our room. There were more people in the room than I was previously accustomed to and that particular detail was not sitting well with me. My curiosity churned and my uneasiness morphed into anxiety, as I said to myself and then repeated it out loud to my wife, “Oh no, not again!!!” These feelings of uneasiness, anxiety and angst were solidified when the nurse told us they needed to take Gavin to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for monitoring. They told us everything would probably be just fine and that he was more than likely having some transitional issues, but they had no idea what kind of fear and strife lay in our past experiences with our children or what was going through our minds at that very moment. Gavin was having some minor difficulty with breathing and they needed to monitor his oxygen levels. We spent most of our time back in the NICU with Gavin as the NICU staff began administering oxygen to him via blow-by.

Gavin at North Kansas City Hospital 6-11-2009

               Gavin’s situation gradually became more and more alarming as the NICU had to keep increasing his oxygen rate and in the meanwhile, his O2 stats were dropping and the percentage of carbon dioxide in his Arterial Blood Gas tests were rising. He moved on to an oxygen mask very quickly and was soon under an oxygen tent. His oxygen levels were at 35 percent supplemental oxygen at this point and we were growing very concerned. I should place some emphasis on that “very” above because we were pretty close to freaking out at this point. We didn’t have anything against North Kansas City Hospital, but we wanted and requested our son to be in the hands of the tried, tested and true experts at Children’s Mercy Hospital. The staff at North Kansas City Hospital called in their on-call pediatrician, the on-call doctor and the on-call neonatologist from Children’s Mercy Hospital to evaluate Gavin’s condition. They took a chest X-ray at which time the doctors noticed some fluid in Gavin’s lungs and attributed this to possible pneumonia.  The possibility of pneumonia meant that they needed to administer antibiotics and they did so as soon as the order for the meds arrived. The doctors also told us that Gavin’s current respiratory distress could be related to transitional issues as well, but once again, Heather had a bad feeling and she desperately wanted us to transfer to Children’s Mercy Hospital.  Heather and I had intense discussions in the hospital room amongst ourselves trying to decide the best way to get our son to Children’s Mercy Hospital. After speaking with the on-call pediatrician, she agreed that if and/or when Gavin reached 50 percent supplemental oxygen, she would request a transfer and he would be transported immediately to Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Gavin North Kansas City Hospital NICU 6-11-2009

                We spent a great deal of time in that small NICU room by Gavin’s side as our situation grew more and more frightening. Each tick upward in supplemental oxygen felt as if we were taking a step closer to the edge of a cliff and we didnt know exactly where that edge was. Gavin was breathing at a very rapid rate and his chest was sinking in at least an inch with every labored breath he gasped for. It was painful to watch. I cringed each and every time I looked at his chest, trying to imagine his pain and wishing I could make it mine. Once again, we found ourselves in yet another medical predicament with one of our children and we couldn’t even comfort him during this time. At first he was enclosed in a dome-shaped cover that went over his head and then an oxygen tent. This tent was a lightweight, yet rigid plastic which was formed around his head and draped down over the top half of his body so that the supplemental oxygen could be directed to his face without interfering with his breathing. Gavin was then placed in a see-through case and we were fortunate if we could even caress his hand or foot with one of our fingers through one of two small access ports. After we made the agreement with the on-call pediatrician, we were a little more at ease as we had an objective point in time to which he would be transferred, but by the time we made this agreement, our son was hovering around 40-45 percent supplemental oxygen. At approximately 1:30AM, the on-call pediatrician came into our room and told us that she no longer felt comfortable providing care for Gavin at the North Kansas City Hospital NICU. The Children’s Mercy Hospital transport team followed in right behind her and Heather woke me from my deep slumber explaining that I needed to get up and go…NOW!!! I kissed and hugged my wife goodbye and then followed the paramedics to Gavin’s NICU room where I watched and waited as they prepared him for transport. “My wife”, I thought, “I can’t leave her”, but she was just 12 hours out of delivery, she wasn’t going anywhere and no doctor in their right mind would release her.Gavin in NICU – June 2009

               I reluctantly watched as the paramedics loaded Gavin into the ambulance during this surreal moment. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost without my wife in this situation and I didn’t know the condition of my son’s health either. How long would I be at the hospital without her? What if she needed me to be there for her? I know I need her, but she was miles apart from her son and I, and she couldn’t even get out of the hospital. The ride from North Kansas City to Children’s Mercy Hospital seemed like an eternity. As we pulled away from the hospital, I felt an unwanted and undeserved sense of betrayal as I left my wife. My eyes were fixated on the passenger side mirror until I could no longer see the hospital’s exterior structure and then…only then did I start to turn my focus on what lie ahead.

Gavin-Children

               The paramedic driving the ambulance was great. He was skilled to the highest degree at diversion and kept my mind in the here and now. He helped keep my spirits high as my mind raced from thought to thought; speeding from conclusion to conclusion, from my wife, to my sick child in the back, knowing the only thing that was separating us was the metal interior wall of the ambulance. He was back there and he was hurting. I kept turning around expecting to see him, but nothing…I…saw…nothing. We arrived at the hospital emergency room area and something had changed during the short trip between the two hospitals. Something was wrong…really, really wrong. The paramedics had picked up their speed from the original pace and were moving swiftly with a sense of purpose. “What’s wrong?” I thought. How in the world did we get to this point? What’s happening? “SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME WHAT”S GOING ON!!!” I thought. The paramedics allowed me to have a brief moment with Gavin and off they went, to where, I didn’t know, and if or when I would see my son again, that I didn’t know either. I stood there in silence, in shockand in disbelief that this was happening.

               One of the paramedics took me to the NICU waiting room area and asked me to wait there and someone would be out shortly to speak with me. It was approximately 2:00AM in the morning. I had no one to call and my best friend was miles away, stuck in a lonely hospital room by herself. The hospital staff showed me to the NICU family room which was a small room among a plethora of doors which lined the NICU hallways. The room was pitch-black as I entered into it. I turned on the light and the room consisted of; a chair, loveseat, computer and desk, refrigerator, a shelf with an assortment of books and magazines, cabinet space, a small dining table with four chairs and a coffee table with a phone placed directly in the center of the glass top. The room was crowded for a single person, much less introducing multiple families to this area, but it was definitely homely. I was lost, lonely and afraid. I don’t like sitting and waiting in normal circumstances, but I couldn’t pace very far in this room and I couldn’t roam the halls as I was waiting on a report regarding Gavin’s health. I paced the room as far as I could, and then back and forth, back and forth and around the table; I paced for I don’t know how long. I nearly collapsed onto the loveseat, assuming a fetal position as I began to sob uncontrollably. After gaining my composure for a brief period of time, I placed my earphones tightly into my ears, selected Tenth Avenue North’s By Your Side and hit repeat on my MP3 player. I laid down on that loveseat, soaking it with tears of desperation and sorrow and began slowly falling away from God. I was angry and upset; I wanted to tear this little room apart in frustration. It took everything I had to not dismantle that room. It wasn’t about a single event though, but the onslaught of three separate tragedies, three separate children and three totally different medical emergencies.

 

Tenth Avenue North’s By Your Side

Why are you striving these days
Why are you trying to earn grace
Why are you crying
Let me lift up your face
Just don’t turn away

Why are you looking for love
Why are you still searching as if I’m not enough
To where will you go child
Tell me where will you run
To where will you run

And I’ll be by your side
Wherever you fall
In the dead of night
Whenever you call
And please don’t fight
These hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you

Look at these hands and my side
They swallowed the grave on that night
When I drank the world’s sin
So I could carry you in
And give you life
I want to give you life

(Chorus 2x)

Cause I, I love you
I want you to know
That I, I love you
I’ll never let you go

(Chorus 2x)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Gavin - Children

 

               I want to say that someone came for me around 3:00AM, but I had lost all consciousness of time and my surroundings; I was in a state of shock. A member of the hospital staff called out my last name. At first I thought I was dreaming, but I looked up from the loveseat to see a silhouette of a man standing in the doorway. “Am I dreaming? Are you talking to me?” I questioned, or so I thought. He seemed to ignore my self-spoken rhetorical questions and said, “Mr. Harris, I need you to come with me”. I reluctantly followed him as my mind began to clear from the groggily haze I was caught up in and I immediately began thinking the worst. What is he going to tell me? Where is he taking me? How am I going to tell my wife? I followed the man down the hall and into a room at which time he pulled up an x-ray on the computer screen. He explained to me that Gavin was experiencing severe respiratory distress and that he was in respiratory failure secondary to Pneumonia and tension pneumothorax along with a pulmonary hypertension component. This meant that Gavin had a hole in his right lung and it was leaking air out to his chest cavity. This outward force of air could not escape his body thus creating the tension pneumothorax which meant the lung was being forced into the heart causing the heart to become distressed as well. Sometime during or immediately following transport, Gavin’s right lung collapsed and immediate life-saving action had to be taken. The course of the following actions would determine if Gavin would take another breath or not.

Gavin - CMH NICU - June 2009

         

      The doctors had to do something to get this air out of Gavin’s chest cavity in order to release the pressure off of his right lung and heart and if they didn’t do it or do it quickly enough, he would die. The resident doctor plunged an air-evacuating 18 gauge needle in between Gavin’s second and third rib trying to clear the air…and…nothing. The resident plunged the needle a second time trying to evacuate the air and this time, 85mL of air from Gavin’s chest cavity was evacuated. The resident doctor plunged the needle into Gavin’s rib cage one more time and the attending doctor one more time as well, evacuating an additional 90mL of air which was pressing against his lungs and his heart. All in all, the doctors removed almost a cup of air from Gavin’s chest cavity. Imagine adding a measuring cup, one cup, in between an infant’s rib cage and their lungs. The doctors removed the immediate concern for now, but the pneumothorax kept recurring and a chest tube was inserted into his ribcage and sutured to hold it in place. I actually saw an image of the chest tube in the x-ray I was looking at as it punctured its way through his skin and ribs and into his chest cavity. The particular x-ray I was looking at had been used to make sure the chest tube was properly placed.

          

Gavin-Children

     I sat there motionless, expressionless and without words to say. My posture was slouched and my gaze stared empty at the x-ray before me. I guess the gentleman was expecting a different reaction, a different response, but I was growing numb. I had nothing; no words, no reaction, no response and no feeling. Attempting not to look cold-hearted, and especially because I wasn’t, I concocted a story, a true story nevertheless and explained it to him. I told him about my previous experiences with our other two children and chalked up my ostensible calmness to experience. The fact of the matter is that I was clueless, emotionless and shared the likes of the walking dead. I was a man who had abandoned his shell, the shell which sat empty before this gentleman. I was terrified, afraid, and lonely. All I wanted was to be with my wife. Did I mention I was terrified? I wasn’t supposed to be hearing any of this without her. I went back to the family room after this, laid down on the loveseat, reassuming a fetal position; as a matter of fact it was the exact same position as an hour earlier. I continued building a wall, brick by brick, layer by layer, a wall that would prove difficult to tear down. I built this wall to protect myself from the emotional trauma of the situation. My natural human instincts were kicking in, trying to protect my psyche and preserve my mind from further trauma. I knew Gavin’s situation was bad, but I would not have an idea of just how severe it was until my wife and I were reunited. Our reunion would come less than 12 hours after my departure from North Kansas City Hospital and this would be one of the longest 12 hours of my life.

               The family room was dark and as I laid down on the loveseat, once again I inserted the earphones tightly into my ears and pressed repeat on the MP3 player. I picked up right where I left off listening to Tenth Avenue North’s By Your Side. I grasped at anything and everything trying desperately to bring myself closer to God. I needed a strength and hope that went beyond the moment, beyond the situation and most of all, beyond me. I needed a strength that came from God. I had already called Heather prior to laying down, keeping her apprised of the situation as she was still at North Kansas City Hospital and I was at Children’s Mercy Hospital with Gavin. The one thing I didn’t know just yet was that when they placed Gavin’s chest tube, he was also intubated and placed on the ventilator. Prior to the ventilator, Gavin was on 100 percent oxygen and his O2 stats were still dropping below 80 percent. If you remember from Blake’s story, this prolonged exposure to low levels of oxygen can lead to permanent brain damage in infants. We also had no idea that at this point in time, Gavin was the top priority in the NICU and would be so for several nights. He was still in critical condition.

Peek-a-boo...He put that on there himself...Really.

               I floundered into some kind of somber mental state and all I wanted to do was sleep. I just wanted to close my eyes and sleep. This way I wouldn’t have to think about things. The charge nurse came in the family room and said that she could probably get me a bed in the Ronald McDonald House. She had already come in the family room several times informing me that I couldn’t sleep in there. So around 4:00AM I stumbled my way through the hospital halls to the Ronald McDonald House. I wearily punched in the access code she gave me and found the way to my assigned room. I was afraid to go to sleep because I knew I would have problems getting up. I set the alarm on my mobile phone, but I didn’t have a charger and my battery was nearing the end of a charge. I finally fell asleep, but I didn’t regain a conscious awareness until sometime around 10:00AM. Apparently, Heather was trying to reach me that next morning and the charge nurse didn’t leave any sort of note or indication as to where I was. I was missing in action to everyone else. Since the staff couldn’t locate me, they told Heather I wasn’t there. I finally woke up and spoke to my wife only to find out that Gavin’s condition had worsened and the medical staff was contemplating what to do next.

        

Gavin - CMH NICU 2009

       Heather made it to the hospital a little later that same morning just 18 hours after having a baby. I’m not really sure how she connived her way out of the hospital, but she did nevertheless. It felt awkward and weird going through all this experience and not being able to hold and bond with your own child. Gavin’s condition continued to worsen and the doctors had one last option as the tension pneumothorax kept recurring. We weren’t sure if we would ever get to hold our precious little child again. The doctors were even beginning to sound skeptical at this point. The hope that once protruded from their voices was diminishing from their spirits. Heather even asked the doctor about breastfeeding since she was pumping all this milk and investing all this time. At one point she had such a surplus of breast milk that we began throwing it away. When she asked the doctor about stopping (knowing that Gavin may never feed from it) he said she should keep pumping and maybe it would give her some sort of purpose, making her feel like she was contributing to the effort. She pressed the matter further and the doctor told us that everything was hour by hour at this point in time and they were doing absolutely everything they could; every resource and every tool they had at their disposal was being used, well almost every resource. The doctors had one last eleventh-hour effort before we had to realistically consider our options ; just how long do we allow this to go on? At what point have the doctors done all they can do and Gavin has taken all the stress that his feeble little body can take? Would we have to make the choice to pull the plug on our own son? Would we have to end life support? We began having these discussions with the doctors as our fears became closer and closer to reality.

               The doctors had to place Gavin on their eleventh-hour effort which happened to be the oscillator. This machine allows the lungs to function differently which limits the impact of trauma on the affected area. The doctor asked my wife if she knew what an oscillator was and he wasn’t ready for her answer. Her response back to the doctor was, “I know that I have hardly seen anyone come off of one”. The doctor was taken aback with a surprised look on his face as if he didn’t know how to respond. He was able to come back with some reassurance, but how reassuring can you be after not only having, but engaging such a discussion. Even though the situation had worsened, I was relieved and my emotional state had improved since my love and life partner, my wife was once again by my side. We truly are a unit, WE ARE ONE!

               Respiratory failure takes on a unique pathology in infants. There are many conditions which doctors can do amazing things with the body and keep it functioning while they fight on for answers. Respiratory issues can often be a different story. The child can work so hard at maintaining their breath and life until they come to a point when they are no longer able to sustain this effort. At this point, they will simply give up and stop breathing altogether. There are no life-saving measures or CPR that can be done at this point. When they give up, they give up. While this is not necessarily  a medical definition or a professional explanation, this is exactly how our doctor explained it to me after I asked him at what point do we think Gavin has had enough. I was beginning to accept the reality of and what could ultimately happen should Gavin’s body give up.

      

Someone loves their Teddy Bear

         I never thought I would be in this place. Even with the previous two medical conditions of our first two children, I never contemplated ending life support functions. Thank goodness that while this was becoming a reality, it was more of a fleeting thought in our minds and the doctors had yet more work to do. The oscillator actually seemed to be just what Gavin’s lungs needed. The ventilator allowed his lungs to deflate too much causing undue stress on his pneumothorax. The oscillator kept his lungs inflated so they didn’t have to work as hard, giving the pneumothorax a chance to heal and this was just what his body needed. The pneumothorax was decreasing which meant his lung was healing. The true test would come when it was time to remove the chest tube and start weaning him off the oscillator. Gavin had to have blood drawn from his heels for Arterial Blood Gas tests multiple times per day, every four hours to be exact. These tests were performed so the doctors could check the carbon dioxide to oxygen levels in Gavin’s blood stream. It is one thing to have low O2 stats, but when the body cannot exchange the CO2 for oxygen, things begin getting ugly real quick. His poor little heals had been poked so many times that they literally were starting to look like hamburger meat. The resident doctor and even an attendee made three separate attempts at starting a central line to try and give Gavin’s heels a break. Starting a central line is a very painful procedure because the blood has to come from an artery and not a vein, but all three attempts failed miserably. We anxiously awaited 10-15 minutes for the procedure to be completed as this was how long the doctors told us it would take. We sat with immediate family members in the waiting area and went from relieved, that Gavin was getting a central line to give his heals a break, to frustrated and mad that our child was being used as a guinea pig for the resident to learn on. After an hour of poking and prodding, the medical staff finally determined that they were doing more harm than good and ceased trying.

        

Somebody

       We went to the hospital to give birth on a Thursday and by Friday, our son was on life support and that first night and second day he needed further intervention to save his life. He was placed on the oscillator on Saturday and for the next five days, we questioned whether or not we would be taking our child home, just as we had taken our other two children home after their experiences. The only true way to see if Gavin was getting better was for the medical team to put him to the test. The doctors clamped the chest tube and began monitoring Gavin’s pneumothorax at which time there was minimal recurrence. My wife and I were reluctant about the procedure and insisted the doctors take another chest x-ray and continue to do so until they were 100 percent certain there would be no relapse. They insisted this was normal and that everything was going according to protocol at this point. Gavin’s pneumothorax DID NOT progress any further and the doctors began to decrease his reliance on the oscillator. This is always a scary moment as this is the moment you are waiting for, but dread at the same time; however, this dread would be short-lived.

               When Gavin came off the oscillator, he did so with a fierce resiliency. He bounced back tough and within 24 hours he went from an oscillator to a nasal canula, just as fast as he declined, he bounced back just as strong. The doctors were amazed at this display of defiance that Gavin was demonstrating. We were ecstatic and joyful that he not only recovered, but did so with such tenacity. On Father’s Day 2009, I received the best Father’s Day gift up to this point and probably ever, as we were moved out of the NICU and into a regular room on the fourth floor. We were almost home. After almost two weeks in the hospital, we headed home with our not-so-new infant so we could begin integrating him with the rest of our family.

Almost out of the NICU

               The emotional wall I built while in the hospital was tall and strong. I approached God from a distance for a long time, a year and a half to be exact (If you’re wondering, that is the present day). Until now in this moment that I write this blog, I have begun tearing these bricks down one by one. I am destroying the façade which was built on that family room loveseat the night that Gavin was born. I had spent many days in a children’s hospital up to this point, but this experience would impact me the most. This was the collective end to three separate medical traumas. The experiences are like snapshots in my mind. The images and memories are embedded deep within the electrical circuitry of my brain, but one particular experience stained my mental imagery and is embedded in my mind like a scar on the flesh to this day. The several weeks I had spent in a children’s hospital setting over the last several years brought about many experiences before me, but this time introduced me to an entirely new experience altogether and a new perspective to my way of thinking. I had never heard the wailing cries of a grieving mother, at least not until Gavin was born and hospitalized. This mother’s cries poured out from the hospital walls and the door of a private room that all of a sudden wasn’t so private anymore. I imagined her tears hitting the carpet as I know mine would have been and all I wanted to do was hug her. Family members lined the hall of the NICU, presumably to have one last moment with their child, grandchild or some other relative and to console one another.  Everything was suddenly put into perspective. The one thing I hope I never hear again is that sad and painful cry deep from within a mother’s soul. I cannot even begin to adequately explain how it tears at your heart.

 

Nothing Like the Bond Between Mother and Child

              No matter how bad things are or seem to be, they can always be worse. Gavin’s health was poor, but this family had lost their hope. Their hope was now in another world while we still had our hope in this world to cling on to. Gavin was still fighting and this ultimately forced us to fight right there along with him. We never gave up or lost hope, even when all hope seemed to be lost. Even if at times we were hanging on to hope by a thread, this grieving mother had lost even that; no rope…no string…no thread…no hope. She would eventually leave that hospital with empty arms and without the joy of her life.

               Gavin is now 18 months old. He is by far the most active of our three children and is into any and everything he can get his grubby little hands onto. His smile never fades and for having two older brothers, Gavin holds his ground pretty well. The one thing we really struggled with again during this time frame was how to meet the needs of not one additional child, but two additional children. We had one child who could somewhat understand the critical nature of the situation and the other who was still clinging to his ego-centric principles. Most of our visits with the boys were spent in the hospital waiting room as they played with community toys and managed to annoy other families waiting for time with their loved ones. I was able to sneak away to one of Blake’s baseball games, but you could tell this time that the thought of mom and dad being gone all the time with little brother was visibly weighing on their minds, regardless of the circumstances.

               So, third time is a charm…right? This is kind of what we thought as well. Then again, it is just a saying, a saying that concludes not in a specific number, even though it does use the numerical value of three, but a saying that concludes with perseverance. It’s kind of like the saying if at first you don’t succeed try again. What it is really saying is to keep going, never give up. It doesn’t matter if it relates to your parents, your children or your relationship with God. The only thing that matters is that you never give up. Don’t lose hope in yourself or others, for when you do, that is the moment you lose yourself, just as I did that lonely night on the family room loveseat. God is all about first, second and third chances. How about you? Are you ready for a second or third chance at life? Maybe the third time is a charm, then again it could be the first or second time, but you may never know what could be missing from your life until you try.