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Monday, November 10, 2014

Happy Twelfth Birthday Princess Ellie!

Ellie turned 12 yesterday. I can hardly believe it. And as a nice birthday gift for mama she transformed again in a way that may seem small but was really telling for us. Each year whenever she gets presents she tends to shun them. We joke and say that all new toys start off as the devil. We have had to slowly introduce them to her by doing things like playing with them ourselves, or leaving them sort of near by in view and every now and then insinuating that they might be lonely.

Even toys she has come to love and are essential to her, started this way.

But yesterday this pattern changed. She got a KiddiJamz DJ toy - which Dave found. It's really such an Ellie gift because we noticed how she plays her favorite videos on fast forward then going back, etc. in her own pattern.  We also call her "DJ Ellie" because she likes to mix the songs on her toys to fill the house with a music all her own.

So the KiddiJamz is, on paper, a perfect Ellie gift. However, after years of the initial rejection, I have developed low expectations for her acceptance of new gifts; wisely trying not to get too excited about a certain gift for her. But this year she changed.  She took to this toy the minute it was opened.

This is a picture of her playing with her newly unwrapped toy.  She would play with it for a few minutes and then push it away and stare at it. Then she would ask for it again. She did this several times.  You can see how delighted Dave is.

Today she didn't want to stop playing with it to go to sleep and she had already mastered how to record, mix the different genres, record her other toys into her mixes by holding the microphone to them. She has recorded several songs on the little "iPod-like" devise that comes with it! She's incredible and determined and focused. Ha! So this also tells me that, when she refuses to focus on her homework it's not because she can't focus, it's because she doesn't want to.  Bring it on Ellie!

I can't believe she is twelve. Time these days seems to be going by too fast. Ellie has been the healthiest she ever has and has a full life with school and after school activities like soccer and iPad class (yes, there is such thing) and homework. She is spending more time playing on her own and expanding what she can do. We are all changing and Ellie most of all.

Happy Birthday Princess Ellie!
Love, Mama

Friday, November 07, 2014

For the beautiful Anastasia: Questions and Answers

Ellie at Advance with Doran and Dada

Yesterday a father wrote to me with a lot of questions about his beautiful baby girl Anastasia.  Rather than respond in private, since many of his questions are things we also asked in those early days, I thought I would answer most of them here. 

Dear J.,

Thank you for your lovely letter. I am very glad that some small bit of the content here has helped. I remember those early days, and Ellie looked a bit like your Stacey. It's a lot of wondering and worrying about what the future will be. Who will my sweet, beautiful baby become? I also realized at that time, when Ellie was Anastasia's age that, because babies are supposed to be total care, this was the most "normal" our life might ever be: the days when I and Ellie could still pass as just another baby with her mama. (There's some psychology for you. ;-)

I also worried, and I have written about this here, that Ellie would transform into someone I could not relate to or connect with. The good news is, that on the eve of her twelfth birthday, that is very far from the case. She is still my beautiful, funny, smart Warrior Princess. She is still making progress; still evolving.  But I didn't know that would be the case way back when the doctors used to talk about stalled development, as if the brain ever stops creating neurons in response to the environment. We never believed that Ellie would hit a ceiling, though the doctors would say that and we saw other parents who believed that and then made is so by not stimulating their kids beyond that "ceiling."  This is a path I do not recommend. 
Ellie signing Hi!

The brain above all else, is a dynamic system all its own. It's always evolving. And it takes feedback from the body and external environment to build itself. There is evidence of this in spades in neuroscience studies. The simplest example is of new neurons that developed (as shown in the scans) when a person learns to juggle. 

The implication of this for the child with CP, is that if the brain can't make the body do something it's supposed to, because the connection is cut off due to brain injury, it might be possible to wire it up from the outside. Make the body give the brain feedback by motoring the child's limbs, etc. through the motions. We did this on many levels on it worked in getting Ellie to eat and drink. Because of her prematurity and lack of oxygen at birth she arrived with no suck reflex that typical babies have. Then she had a Grade 3 IVH brain bleed on Day 2 of Life that impacted her nervous system leaving her upper body hypotonic or floppy and her lower body hypertonic or spastic. The hypotonia in her trunk and head, face and neck meant it was hard for her to move her face. She had a mouth full of cotton and weak sphincters. She could not feel all that much, nor control her tongue. So we did facial exercises in her mouth and on her face that we learned in the NICU from the amazing Jean Dolaway. We worked with a feeding specialist to learn more techniques and exercises beyond the NICU. That was time and money well spent. We did them for many years. She was able to learn to eat and drink after over 10,000 hours of working with her on this. We are currently still working with her on drinking. In her case, the input from the outside allowed her brain to build new capacity that was supposed to be a reflex coming into life but was taken out by her rough start. Our stance was to never quit trying to stimulate her - to bring the world to her because she could not go to it. We still do this and it has helped her immeasurably. 

If there is one thing you do, do that. Bring the world to beautiful Stacey.

We brought the world to Ellie by doing these things: 
1. We talked to her all the time - in a very animated way that resulted in her first sounds and now her very prominent vocalizations
2. We printed out big letters on paper and taught her the alphabet
3. Read to her constantly and exposed her to math as a 2 year old.
4. We did infant massage that helped a lot. 
5. We did lots, and lots of Tummy time! 
6. We did all the PT and OT exercises we learned in early intervention outside of those sessions. 
7. We let Ellie play on a big foam ABC mat at home so that she had to move and roll to get to her toys. This built strength.
8. We did a ton of foot soaks with espson salts so the magnesium would sooth her stiff ankles and feet (we still do those).

Ok so now onto your questions:
What are the three therapies that helped Ellie the most?
That's easy:
1. The neuro-respiratory therapy we did with Linda Scotson at Advance. She now calls it The Scotson Technique. But we did it with Ellie 6 days a week, 4 hours per day for several years, traveling to England to Advance twice a year to learn more. That helped Ellie tremendously with her breathing and eating and being in her body. Linda also counseled me and gave me the strength to fight the medical diet that Ellie was on that was making her sick. See my posts on nutrition. Ellie has severe reflux. I was able to help her be minimally symptomatic by changing her to an alkaline diet of whole foods. We researched this for a long time before we went. And I finally called Linda and had a long chat with her and then made the investment. I encourage you to research everything using the web and asking around as much as you can. There are no easy answers to the questions CP and TBI's pose to our kids. If you call Advance they will talk to you free of charge. I would call them and ask all your questions to them to (that makes two!)

2. The nutritional based healing I did with her by putting her on real, whole foods I make myself that were high in alkaline and low acid. 

3. The hyperbaric oxygen treatments (with the protocol Linda Scotson developed). We did a lot of this since Ellie was 13 months. They helped tremendously. We saw her make gains from them in terms of being more alert and aware and along with the TST she got healthier. Additionally, many of the parents we met doing the same thing, who had kids who had lots of seizures said they saw a decrease in the number of seizures.  So we are believers in (with the right protocol - Linda's is akin to what divers do and is very specific) Hyperbaric.

4. Tummy time.  Tummy time could be number 1. We read Linda's book called Doran, it really shows how being on one's tummy wires up the brain to the body and in Ellie's case this helped a lot. It helped her get stronger all over. We do tummy time every day even now.

Was it worth it traveling to England for TST?
YES, and yes again. If I had to do it all over, I would have done it as soon as Ellie was able to board a plane and I would have done even more of it. The combination of the TST, hyperbaric, and nutritional healing helped Ellie when all the meds in the world were making her sicker and sicker. I would do it all again and am grateful to Linda and the staff there for the work they did with Ellie and us. 

What else do children do at Advance?
Lots of tummy time to deliver the gentle touches that build up the child's respiratory system that allows more oxygen to get to the brain. They will also do hyperbaric. Linda gave me a ton of counseling on Ellie's nutrition that made all the difference for Ellie and for me to fight to get Ellie off the medical diet of synthetic foods the doctors were saying she needed. If you look under the tab "nutrition" you can see in depth what I did. But any child with reflux who also has CP (in fact everyone) will hugely benefit from a low acid, high alkaline diet of whole foods versus the synthetic, acidic stuff the doctors push on their patients. We learned that acid builds up in everyone's cells - this is normal. The way a typical person gets rid of that acid is by movement. Because it was hard for Ellie to move, she had more acid to deal with in general. And this also negatively impacted her reflux.

Is TST useful to a child who does not have respiratory issues?
Yes. Ellie wasn't a chronic lung kid because she was a big 27-weeker. But, because of her prematurity and her brain injury, her body was not developing normally. The TST increased her circulation and oxygen saturation that helped Ellie's whole body and brain. 

How old should a child be to start?
ASAP. You can't start her too soon. The earlier the better in fact. A child's brain is like a super brain, developing and growing like mad. What a great time to influence that by ensuring the body is wired up to it. The TST helps people with brain injuries like Ellie because those gentle influences on the nervous system communicate to the brain and the whole system gets back in sync if that makes any sense. 

I wish we had done it as soon as Ellie was able to travel. It wasn't cheap in that we were coming from the US and our work was impacted by having to take care of Ellie. So we went into debt to do it - but it was worth it. I don't regret it one bit. And, when Ellie was small it was much easier trip than it would be today. Though I want to take her back to Linda for an evaluation. So we might do that at some point. 

What do we do psychologically?
This question of yours is the most heart breaking. I don't think there is any easy answer. Dave and I were devastated of course. But the great thing was that both he and I knew that we loved Ellie and we could feel her presence - our connection to her. We focused on that and decided to believe in her and look for ways to help her heal from her injuries. 

In that sense, healing did not mean believing all the doctors said - in fact the opposite. If we believed them we wouldn't have done 90% of the things we have because they said she would be a vegetable. Which clearly turned out to be wrong. Also, they will tell you Stacey needs this and that surgery, this and that intervention. Be very wary of this. It's true, Stacey may need certain interventions. But the thing to be wary of is two fold. 

First, there is this thing called the "management model." Under this philosophy (also a Greek word ;-) interventions, surgeries are done to help the caregiver not for the healing of the patient. 

Second, medical knowledge is always evolving and doctors don't know everything. So ask the same question of three different people when you are trying to make your decisions. You will be surprised to have three different answers. Also, use your gut and common sense and do your research (like you are by reaching out to me). We were told for example that when Ellie needed a g-tube she would also need a Nisson Fundoplication (where they tie a bit of the stomach around the opening sphincter of the stomach so that the patient can't vomit). We refused based on two things: research that showed the fundo made it very hard to swallow and eat by mouth, and the fact that vomitting is the body's way of getting rid of things that are toxic to it. It didn't make sense. Note: some kids do well with the fundo and need it. But Ellie is hypotonic and reflux decreases if a child can eat by mouth because digestion starts in the mouth. We did not want to take that away from her. We made this choice in light of the doctors threatening us by saying that Ellie was sure to get esophageal cancer. During another, truly needed surgery, we had Ellie scoped and turns out her esophagus is perfect. So the doctors were wrong. 

As you can see, the way Dave and I dealt with all of this was to just dive in and work hard to save Ellie's life and make her life good and cherished and safe and thoughtful and hopeful. This sustained us through years of long nights being up with a vomitting refluxy baby who never slept. It sustains us through all the bad things. We just keep trying to do whatever we can to move her forward. Though I think I could do a lot more these days  - like Feldenkrais. I want to do this with Ellie. I will let you know, here if we do and how it goes.

Another hugely helpful, sustaining thing was being in touch with other parents. The cohort of parents we met in the long months Ellie was in the NICU taught us so very much. The same is true of the amazing parents we met at Ellie's first school. So if you can find others in a similar situation that can help protect your sanity. (So I am glad you reached out to me!)
Ellie playing her guitar this week!

I am not sure that is a great answer to your question. But to be clear, I cried a lot too. I grieved a lot too for many years but especially early on. I grieve still for the loss of that healthy child that Ellie might have been if not for her traumatic brain injury and prematurity. When my grief comes I honor it but try not to live there for long. The cool thing is that whenever I get overwhelmed by worry or grief (and I still do at times, but not as much as in her first 7 years) I go and hang out with Ellie. She makes me be in the present moment. And in the moment all I experience is this cutie pie of a girl, who I love more than life, who is inquisitive, loving and wants to dance! She is my normal and my heart. 

Your Anastasia reminds me of Ellie in terms of the shape of her head. ;-) But she is wide and clear eyed. When Dave and I saw her we both said, oh she's going to do great. Not that we know this for sure. But she looks really good and she's a cutie pie. ;-)

I am sorry whatever happened to her did. I am sorry this is happening to you and her mother. I am glad you reached out and I hope this is helpful. 

Please, write any time.

Love and hugs,