Struthers’ nurse today was asking about my medical condition/history, and I had a sobering yet heartwarming thought. For years now, I’ve quite literally owed my life to some brilliant physicians at University of Colorado. And now my son does too. Them and our Heavenly Father who has always placed us right where we were supposed to be.
So many of you have prayed for me and my health since my diagnosis of Fibromuscular Dysplasia in 2006. FMD is a vascular disease that causes aneurysm, occlusions and dissections in arterial walls. All of these are scary big words that basically mean my arterial walls are very weak and collapse, burst, or tear. I have the disease in nearly every arterial bed, but my most troublesome areas are my carotid arteries, cerebral arteries, renal arteries (to kidneys), and many of the arteries in my stomach (mesenteric, iliac, etc). Throughout the years, I’ve assembled an amazing team of coordinated physicians at my place of employment (Penrose Hospital), the University of Colorado and Cleveland Clinic. And my spectacular team only grew as we learned of our little miracle back in May.
The basics of FMD and pregnancy are this: No one knows. So for years, Eli and I have pursued any answers and professional medical opinions we could get on whether it was safe for us to pursue family in this manner. And no one could really tell us. They could outline the risks and potential problems, but none were willing to give us a solid recommendation. They were worried about the fact that a pregnancy requires up to 60% more blood flow, with increased velocity throughout the body…a scary proposition for someone with aneurysmed and torn vessels that don’t behave normally. So finally, we left the medical opinion up to God. And twice, He gave us the answer we were hoping for, one that required us to even more fully trust Him than we thought possible. And twice in a 6-month period, He took away that answer. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” suddenly had new meaning. Sobering meaning… but He had finally given some of what I had mourned–that positive pregnancy test, telling my husband and having our own little secret for weeks. So perhaps even in tragedy, He indeed gave and it was time for us to move on.
Then came time for my annual checkup with one of the world’s foremost FMD experts at Cleveland Clinic. And this time, there was little hesitation about a recommendation. You see, the two pregnancies, totaling less than 15 weeks, had not done my vascular system any good. After nearly 5 years of complete stability, the disease had progressed to a point that made pregnancy an even more scary proposition. I was told I would need another “intervention” (angioplasty) by the end of the year. So we listened, with a bittersweet relief that all things pointed to a clear answer that we weren’t supposed to build our family this way. And we filled out that adoption application that had been sitting on the desk for nearly two years.
And just about the time we began to once again “make our own plans”, we were surprised with the news that while I had been getting the medical answers I pursued, God had been pursuing His own plans, in His own timing. I still can’t believe it, but there we were, pregnant for the third time in 8 months. This time, we had nothing to do but trust wholly. And it seemed very real from the very beginning.
My team included Cleveland, Colorado Springs and University based Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialists, Cardiologists, Interventional Radiologists, Pulmonologists, Vascular Surgeons and Neurosurgeons–and they were all communicating regularly like a well-oiled machine ready for anything. Weekly appointments were exciting for us, with more and more glimpses of our little one and hope that this little person would continue to grow healthily inside me. Three car accidents (in two weeks–that’s a whole other post!) later, we all decided this kid was a fighter and here to stay!
At 25 weeks, right after celebrating the viability point, I really began not feeling well. I’ve always monitored my blood pressure closely, and can even tell you within about 10 points where it will measure at any given point. My blood pressure was volatile, with highs and lows, and I sent an email to my Denver team (it was my “off” week with them and my Colorado Springs provider was out of the office) with my blood pressure readings and other symptoms, and they asked that I come meet them at the end of the clinic day. That was 35 days ago, and I haven’t been home since. They decided to admit me to get the blood pressure under control, and I think we all thought it would be for just a few days. Then days turned into weeks, and the twice-daily fetal monitoring and weekly ultrasounds all high-risk OB patients receive began to paint a scary picture. A picture of a child not growing and not having a normal heart rate for his gestational age. You see, when they would get my blood pressure out of stroke range and where they wanted it, our precious son suffered and didn’t have enough blood flow. This was a delicate balance for exactly 16 days, and then the scales tipped. I’ll simplify it here: instead of my body sustaining him, he began sustaining me and pumping blood back to me.
It all happened very quickly, and once again, my spectacular team was ready to roll. Within a matter of minutes of an abnormal-sounding fetal monitoring session, there was an ultrasound in my room and it was confirmed that there was too much placental resistance and that blood flow was not reaching our son. And he had fallen from the 20th percentile in size, to the 11th, to now the 3rd. So that balance we had struggled to maintain had tipped, and it became painfully obvious that he would do much better outside of me at this point.
During the time that I was a pregnant inpatient, Eli had made nearly daily trips up to visit or stay with me in Denver (about 1 hour, 15 minutes without traffic). He was trying to work and had many meetings, so we had a ‘code’ about my calling him in case of emergency. If I called him once and he didn’t answer (which he would only do in a meeting or running), I was to call again, right away, or call from an hospital-based phone number. So only a couple days after agreeing to this ‘code’, I had to put it into practice. And indeed, Eli had been running on the treadmill and answered on the 2nd call. An hour later (way too fast), he and his Dad (who had been in a meeting in Denver and was closer than Eli) walked into my empty hospital room, my bed already whisked away with me on it. I’m still so incredibly thankful that his Dad was there with him when he walked in to that empty room. Minutes before, the physicians had asked me how far out he was, and I called and confirmed, then they whisked me away, apparently deciding that was close enough. Nurses were waiting and ready to ‘suit him up’ and bring Eli into the delivery room, where they were preparing me for a cesarean section. He made it…we both had tears of relief more than anything that he was there before the excitement began. Then, in a matter of minutes, after recording a little video to our son and snapping a couple pictures, and squeezing his hand tighter than I ever thought possible, we heard a cry. Yes, a cry! None of us were expecting that. Between the dire-sounding fetal monitoring that was still loudly projecting around the room and the knowledge that at 27 weeks, our son wouldn’t have developed lungs, I was wondering whether that’s what I’d really heard. And then I heard it again. The sweetest sound I’ve ever heard…and his name was Struthers.