Sam. Conqueror. Overcomer.
As time pressed on, it became obvious that Sam's development was falling behind that of his RTS peers. Shortly before his 5th birthday Sam underwent a brain scan and it was confirmed by a paediatric neurologist that in addition to Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome, Sam also has Cerebral Palsy related to his premature birth, as well as Autism.
This blog chronicles our journey through these challenges...
Our world has crashed, been blown apart.
This can't be happening....why us? Why now?
Your fragile life shaken before it could barely start,
How do we get through this...please, Lord, tell us how?
Drowning in our sorrow, waiting for answers that just don't come.
Our baby "special needs"? It simply can't be true!
The heartache overwhelms us, we're left feeling cold and numb.
The diagnosis tells us little - these children are so few.
But then we finallyget to touch you, to see your precious face
And all the heartache and questions fade, replaced with love and pride.
It's obvious from the very start you're showered in God's grace,
And with His love and guidance, we'll take this challenge in stride.
When once we couldn't pronounce it, Rubinstein-Taybi's become our norm.
When once the future seemed dark, we now welcome the journey as having an RTS angel brings lessons in unexpected form.
Our world has crashed, been blown apart!
This IS happening....to us.....right now!
We've been blessed with a gift, so precious from the very start. How do we get through this? Here's how.....
By believing in a God, so merciful and great,
By trusting that He's right beside us as we journey through the narrow gate.
By believing His love for us is not determined by a human frame,
By trusting that we draw Him near by merely calling His name. This precious baby we asked God for,
Prayed he'd be perfect and complete.
And, as Samuel means "God hears", He's laid His answer at our feet.
(Nicky de Beer : 27/05/2010)
Sunday, June 18, 2017
A few years ago (and by "few" I mean ten or so...and that's where I'm leaving it), I travelled a fair distance to work each morning making my way into the CBD via either bus or train. Because I cannot pinpoint the exact year, I cannot remember exactly which mode of transport is relevant to this story but as I am leaning towards 1996/1997 (yes, okay...so a little more than ten years maybe) I am inclined to believe it is the bus. Travelling what seemed to be the same route a few times, was a young man who appeared to be roughly the same age and whose constant companion was his remarkable guide dog. So many times I watched the intriguing pair navigate the busy streets along Cape Town's Foreshore and brave the city's public transport (which was a courageous enough task for even the sighted) and could not help but stare intensely at the young man, hoping for the slightest sign of sight because my heart broke a little each time I saw him, at the thought of his having to encounter such formidable challenges each and every day...alone. While my memory is a little sketchy about the minor details (like whether we were travelling by bus or train, what with them being so similar and all) after all my "intense staring", it would be fair to say that I'd have recognised his face anywhere!
A week ago our NPO held a fundraising event and the guest speaker was a gentleman by the name of Hein Wagner - A blind man with vision. Hein, who now lives predominantly in Sweden with his lovely wife and daughter, hails from South Africa and had travelled to his country of birth alone to speak at our function. I had read his biography a hundred times by then, had copied it into several media documents...but had never thought to look at any pictures. Hein's lifetime accomplishments read like something out of an incredible feel-good movie. Few sighted men could achieve all that he has, so to say I was excited and very nearly intimidated to meet him would be fair. Hein entered the venue on the arm of a colleague and my heart stopped. Yes it had been about...ahem...ten years (give or take another ten) but that face was all too familiar. His presentation was profound! Amongst other things, Hein spoke about how grateful he was to his parents for insisting he learn to become independent, placing him in a boarding school for visually-impaired students 100km away at just five years old! While I have no plans to ship Sam off to boarding school (although this is a traditional punishment I have threatened all of my children with), Hein's message inspired me to rethink the way in which I approach Sam's challenges and, in turn, the attitude I instil within him to approach those challenges.
Having done several rounds with many of the obstacles Sam struggles with the most already, I thought it was worthwhile revisiting the more fundamental tasks which, although perhaps appearing "basic" to many, would make a significant difference to our daily lives. So first up was independent feeding - with the complex puzzle which makes up the lil flappy dude's brain, one of his trickiest challenges is fine and gross motor planning leaving eating independently as something we have not yet been able to master. This weekend seemed as good a time as any to try again...
Sam's movements lately seem to be hindered by an increasing amount of tremors and shakiness, but after a few more tries he really seemed to get the hang of manipulating the spoon which also seemed to ease the flow of his movements a little. A change in utensils (I foresee mountains of dirty dishes in my future while we figure this out) and Sam was not only more comfortable with the process, but was even scooping up stray food from his chin!
We will of course spend some time on this new goal before we move on to something else (and right now I can't even imagine what that something else would be) but, as with any form of progress for a child with specific needs, the joy of seeing how impressed Sam was with himself and the encouragement of what a little perseverance and motivation can do, was pretty darn awesome!
And so...did I ever find out if Hein is in fact the young man who I witnessed so many years ago? I'll never know!! My lacking self-confidence and social awkwardness prevented me from asking him outright, despite him being very friendly and approachable. I have considered indulging in some Facebook creeping (because once you've been an intense starer there's little else more inappropriate) to see if I might come across a photo of him at around twenty years of age but the thought of finding him with a short, trendy hairstyle then like he wears now as opposed to the long, almost shoulder-length bob I remember the young man having then, would be strangely disappointing. So, for now, I fancy the idea that Hein Wagner is in fact the blind, young man upon whom my senseless sorrow was wasted as while I thought he was out feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable, he was in fact out conquering and overcoming 💜
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
The doorbell rang and I cringed inwardly at the thought of having to tap into even more adept ninja moves, intercepting Sam's frustrated swipes at now FIVE moving (and thankfully, blissfully unaware) targets. A youngster of about 12 quietly entered the room with his adult companion. With my back being to the door and my neck currently alternating between despairing states of immobility or excruciating pain (but Yay! for still half-gracefully being able to carry 30kg's of flappy dude around right?) I had a limited view and decided a not-too-welcomed bear hug was needed by Sam at the very moment the newly-arrived patient had to brush by our chair into the room.
Surprisingly, no swipe...no smack...just the most magnificent smile as Sam watched the boy take a seat in the corner and pick up a magazine. As he settled quietly into his chair and I was able to glance more easily at the newcomer, I found myself suddenly fighting back overwhelming emotion as I instantly recognised his Down Syndrome characteristics. For the rest of our time in the waiting room Sam smiled, happy-flapped and ooooo'd admiringly at the very reserved youngster, the other energetic and now also agitated kiddies having suddenly become invisible. Sam has always shown recognition of other physically differently-abled children, for instance, when walking in a busy shopping mall he will quickly point out a child in a wheelchair, but this was more than simple recognition...it was a resonating of shared journeys and an instinctive knowledge that Sam and this boy were the same kind of different! Understanding this 'recognition' when the object of Sam's attention is in a wheelchair or walker or similar means of support is pretty easy, but his intrigue this time round would not have been triggered by any outward 'hints' and although incredibly heart-warming, has left me somewhat unsettled.
Because of having Sam's learning potential constantly undermined due to his physical challenges, finding a school which focuses on his cognitive abilities rather than the physical has been life-changing. With Sam suddenly seeming so perceptive to those around him though, I can't help but wonder what the effects will be of his being the only physically-disabled lil flappy dude in his school. I do see occasional inklings of frustration emerging (okay...maybe "occasional inklings" is a little conservative #eyeroll) but because in my heart I know that he would not thrive anywhere else, hope that I can find a way to instil upon Sam's heart the very thing I spend a decent amount of my time advocating for...that being "different" is not only okay, it can be a pretty profound state of being. Wish me luck xxx
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Where should we start....let's start with some of the not-so-fabulous stuff and, as always, end off with the good stuff.
Teeth! Teeth? Yes, really...teeth. Of all the issues we'd prepared to deal with when Sam was diagnosed with Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome I not once expected TEETH to be such an issue. What the doc should have said when giving us the low-down on RTS was "Child will have walking issues, feeding issues, breathing issues, sensory issues, spinal cord issues, testicle issues, speech issues, orthopaedic issues, digestive issues BUT out of ALL OF THOSE issues....the one which will challenge you the most is TEETH!!" Okay, I'm being a little melodramatic...which is completely out of character...but still. So we were nearing the end of the three months we had to wait to see what that little talon cusp was going to do and were thankful that the area around the talon cusp had seemed to settle (after lots of infection and inflammation) when a couple of weeks ago Sam started refusing to eat and drink again. I thought it was just another round of irritation so had a look inside Sam's mouth and was not too happy to see another talon cusp coming through. Another three-month wait here we come. With (I think) most of the Rubinstein-Taybi kiddos having developed talon cusps, the issue itself is not anywhere close to being considered medically "serious" or anything like that, but it's all the spin-offs from this "small" issue which are really quite frustrating.
As always, Sam's first line of defence is to throw some hectic oral sensory aversion at me and refuse to eat or drink...a little annoying but, oh, we've done our time with this stunt and it eventually comes right. The more worrying problem is that he steps his teeth-grinding up a level or ten. We've already had to cut the remains of one ground-down tooth out of his gum which caused the subsequent adult tooth to come out sort of in the front of the gum as opposed to out the bottom of the gum because it could not break through the area which had been stitched closed after the procedure. Now, with there being more irritation in his mouth, Sam has managed to completely grind down yet another tooth into the gum and has another two, mere days away from going the same way. I get that Sam's REALLY into doing things a little different (because after all DIFFERENT IS COOL!) and I'm really into embracing all that funky difference. But every now and again maybe doing one or two things in the normal way...like just having your teeth come through the right spot in the gum...would be quite fab.
Funny story though...when we were done with our most recent sensory-instigated fast, the lil dude decided that he was done with pureed foods. Yay!! Of course, we've been here before, but this time it really is looking promising. We last had pureed food a little more than a week ago ("we"?...because I make a habit of eating pureed food?) and have done really great with sliced beef and chicken, just the minced meat remains a very expressive no-no. So the meat might have been cut up really small. Like REALLY small...like to about what I'd imagine an ant's portion would be. But still, progress is progress so it most definitely counts. Only time will tell how long we will be doing ant portions of food though because Sam's sensory issues and digestive issues are not usually keen on parallel progress...but here's hoping!
Random funny story...Sam watches a bit of tv in the morning when he wakes up so that I can try get all the morning tasks seen to. If Sam has not woken up by a certain time, I usually put a movie on (always Teletubbies Bedtime where Alex sings "Wake up sleepy head"...pretty cute hey?) quite loudly, but on the odd occasion that Sam wakes up before that, he sticks his hands out from under the blanket and before even opening his eyes will sign whichever movie he wants to watch...and it's never Teletubbies Bedtime. You sort of have to see it to appreciate it, but basically he'll be lying dead still (which generally only happens from about 5am onwards) and all of a sudden two little hands will frantically pop up and sign the desired dvd in an exaggerated and very cheeky way...which is so odd, because our lil flappy dude is NEVER cheeky (*exaggerated eyeroll).
Seeing as we're currently into all things -free (puree-free...sleep-free) we decided to have another shot at nappy-free...or as close to that as we can get. WARNING : POTTY-TALK TO FOLLOW! Previous attempts have been a bit tricky. While you can get Sam to pee on demand, he doesn't quite seem to grasp the concept of telling you when he has the need to go (there had been a degree of damage to his bladder prior to the spinal cord surgery but there was almost a remarkable improvement after the surgery which in my layman's mind would say that Sam should recognise the "urge" to pee, but specialists' opinions seem unclear). This might not seem terribly problematic but when attempting to potty train the last time, we found ourselves in a situation where Sam would only urinate when I took him to the toilet, he just refused to pee in a nappy. The challenge with this is that he freaks out when sitting on the toilet, so he needs to stand...which would ordinarily not be an issue...except that the lil dude obviously cannot stand unassisted. So I land up supporting him, which leaves those little funky hands free to roam the toilet. Eeeeek! At home this is thankfully a little less of an Eeeeek! but this method of peeing means that Sam using a public toilet is not an option. The tricky part comes in when you're doing a four-hour trip to Stilbaai and the dude won't pee in his nappy and cannot use a public toilet. You see? Tricky indeed. Luckily I spotted this nifty little item on Facebook recently...
...and we're giving it a go...and a rather successful go at that. We've gone days where Sam has only used one nappy the entire day and he seems to have gotten over the idea that he cannot alternate between nappy and toilet (even though it was actually pretty awesome that that was his mindset). The only minor obstacle here is that I haven't quite yet figured out how I'm going to go about sticking little green, froggy urinals in every public bathroom we might ever need to visit in the greater Cape Town area. It's a little all over the place for now but it's a start (again)...an awfully tricky start...but a start nevertheless.
And we're almost on to the really good stuff (nay...awesome stuff). Last bit of trickiness comes in with those funky little feet. After acquiring some rather entertaining physical issues (a hip which keeps clicking out...a knobbly-thingy protruding from my neck...and and) I thought it might be best to stop carrying our 25kg's of smurfiness around. Understandably the lil dude was not too excited about having to abandon his go-to mode of transport, being mom's hip, but now seems quite keen to walk into school (assisted of course) in the mornings...unless we are late (which, ahem, almost NEVER happens) then hip it remains. So, lil dude is keen to 'walk' and mom is keen to have something vaguely resembling an aligned body back at some stage - it all sounds pretty peachy. Which it is. Except for these uniquely-designed little feet :
While it's pretty awesome to see how steadily more confident Sam is becoming on his feet, it's a little worrying that these little feet seem to get more funky by the day. Sam is not very keen on walking with his AFO's on, but walking without them seems to be worsening both the Hallux Varus in the left foot and the over-pronation in the right foot. So, the problem - Sam needs to walk. Sam does not want to walk with AFO's. Sam's feet are thus becoming more funky. The solution? I am clueless. For now.
And on that terribly constructive note...here's the AWESOME!
My precious little, triple-diagnosed, previously deemed "ineducable" and only worthy of "a place to put him so I could go on with my life" flappy dude took part in his FIRST EVER school concert. This mama's heart near exploded with pride and awe as I watched him...what an incredible kid! What an incredible inspiration! What an incredible school for being able to recognise the potential which lay hidden in the non-verbal, sensory-dominated labyrinth in which Sam waited to be discovered. Thankfully though, before I could embarrass myself by turning into a blobbering mushy mess, my not-so-little-anymore very flappy and terribly cheeky dude decided to throw a Sam-spin on things...see for yourself xxx
Sunday, October 30, 2016
It was incredibly emotional opening Sam's bag up at the end of the term to his report and classwork books, sent home for review. Sam thoroughly enjoyed going through his school books with me and pointing out the activities which were obvious favourites :
Thursday, September 1, 2016
Saturday, April 9, 2016
Sunday, February 7, 2016
Gone, thankfully, are the days of hauling out cryptic map books when searching for never-been-there-before locations. Nowadays we jam on our GPS of choice or, if you're like me, Google Map every place before the time, preferably with a streetview, so that you can memorise all surrounding street names (just in case) and even a "landmark" or two. While I've not yet needed to purchase a GPS of the conventional kind, I am privileged to be accompanied on each trip by a location-finder of sorts anyway. Fabulously impressed that my particular GPS is spared the usual mechanical, insufferably-monotoned verbal directions, opting instead for charming grunts, excited gestures and warning screeches when necessary, the only snag is the rather limited choice of destinations (exactly two in total) and just as limited routes thereto. The you're-heading-in-the-incorrect-direction alarm could also benefit from a volume button or, even better, simply a MUTE button, particularly when attempting to make which is nothing more than a 200 metre detour in order to take care of the concerning petrol light results in such extreme protesting that you look worriedly passed the light, take a breath and hope that there are sufficient fumes to carry you and said screeching GPS home.
This little dude...always an enigma with his odd Sammerisms. Almost as enigmatic is his exceptionally accurate knack for remembering the makes of cars and who drives what. Every car trip, even while ensuring we are travelling his preferred route, is spent scanning the roads and pointing out every make of car he recognises. Different colours don't confuse him, so its the model of the car Sam's actualling taking note of and then excitedly gesturing whether it's Daddy's car, Nina or Lisa's car, etc. With mind-boggling perception Sam will notice a car whisk briefly across the road, even from a surprising distance. It's really quite intriguing.
Unfortunately we received some not-so intriguing news on Monday regarding Sam's vision. With Juvenile Glaucoma being linked to Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome, for the first few years of life Sam underwent six-monthly Glaucoma examinations under anaesthetic, as the Opthalmologist we were seeing felt that Sam tolerating the examination simply in his consulting rooms was highly unlikely. Luckily (?) as Sam was having surgeries almost every six months at that stage, finding theatre time to couple the examination with was never a problem as having Sam undergo anaesthetic simply for a 5 minute exam was also not ideal. However, the only surgery Sam has had over the last two-and-a-half years was done with less than 24-hrs notice which was just not enough time to bring an Opthalmologist on board.
Concern growing with each passed examination-less month and Sam seeming to have lost interest in reading flashcards and books like he used to and even becoming a little agitated when I tried, I decided to make an appointment with a local Opthalmologist to discuss going ahead with the examination in theatre, even if it had to be a 'wasted' anaesthetic. When we arrived at the rooms, the receptionist asked what we were needing to be done and when I replied that I was wanting to make arrangements for the Glaucoma examination, she walked over with some eyedrops to dilate Sam's pupils. I laughed and told her not to worry as there was no way Sam was going to sit calmly through it. She suggested we try some drops just in case...and what a worthwhile suggestion it was. Sam did awesome through the examination, scan of the optic nerve and the tonometer. The great news is that there are no signs of glaucoma. The not-so-great news is that Sam is considerably visually impaired and should have been wearing specs years ago already to make the most of the limited time during which your eyesight develops. With vision teaching optimum development around 8/9 years of age, Sam's been robbed of some much-needed time. So specs have been fitted and once the apparently fairly thick lenses have been fitted, we'll dash down to collect so that not a second more is wasted.
Besides helping with his vision, Sam's physiotherapist is hopeful that being able to see better will increase Sam's potential to walk unassisted as he'll be able to more accurately judge the distance between himself and, for example, furniture.
A sneak preview...Sam quite happily tolerated the specs but there's quite a difference between keeping them on for 10 minutes compared to 10 hours.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Six days into 2016 already! Wow! I so planned an end-of-year, this-is-where-we're-at post. Guess we're doing a beginning-of-new-year, this-is-where-we're-at post instead.
Festive-Season plans were kept on the subdued side this year as Sam was scheduled for a Tonsillectomy on the 15th and the ENT doc had told us to prepare for a pretty hellish two weeks of recovery. And what would Christmas be without a surgery/illness anyway, right? Christmas 2010 we did Spinal Cord surgery on the 20th December and since then some-or-other bug each and every year.
On the 14th December (having finally made peace that removing Sam's tonsils was the only way to go and keen to just get it over and done with) we had a consult with Doc ENT, who had last seen Sam in October, to a) run through the final details for the following day's surgery and b) check that Sam was good to go for theatre and, more importantly, anaesthesia. After an extremely thorough examination Doc ENT concluded that he could not be certain that Sam's tonsils were the cause of us not having had a decent night's sleep in the last six week. Yes, he reasoned, the tonsils are enlarged but not barely close to what is referred to as "kissing tonsils" which is when the tonsils are so large that they actually touch (can you imagine?). Sam's greatest breathing issues come from having an extremely deviated septum in the right nostril which is almost completely obstructed (so much so that when I spray Sam's nose he has to lie on his back to allow the little pool of liquid to slowly drip passed the septum) and the common RTS floppy airway. Doc ENT advised that there are usually only two reasons why tonsils should be removed...significant airway obstruction and repeated tonsillitis (more than twice in a twelve month period). Already confident that removing the tonsils was not going to make a worthy difference to Sam's quality of sleep (which was our main objective) and with Sam last having had tonsillitis about 4 years ago, he was not 100% comfortable with going ahead with the Tonsillectomy and presented it in a pretty convincing argument, saying that should there be any complications and he was to land up in a Court with questionable motivation for having performed the procedure, there would not be sufficient medical background to substantiate his decision.
So...surgery scrapped for now!
Doc ENT did refer me to a dietician as he feels we are not managing Sam's reflux as efficiently as possible and this is in fact what is causing the constant irritation in Sam's throat. He suggested trying to get Sam off pureed foods completely and as quickly as possible as the absence of chewing (which stimulates the production of digestive enzymes) aggravates reflux and also suggested a completely dairy-free diet. Yikes! A tall order for a kid with extreme sensory challenges whose diet consists purely of pureed meat and veg, cheese, yoghurt and the occasional mushy mac and cheese. Oh well...what were we to do but give it a go. Doc ENT feels that with an adequate lifestyle-change regarding Sam's eating habits, his reflux should be so efficiently managed that medication should no longer be necessary.
For 13 consecutive days (starting immediately on the 14th) the Lil Smurfy Dude ate all things un-pureed...WHOOP! WHOOP! Chicken and even beef finely cut up and mixed with veggies and couscous was a HUGE thumbs-up. And then? He stopped as quickly as he'd started and we were back to pureed foods. Well, actually at this point, we're back to NO food as its been almost a week of him refusing to eat anything at all! Talk about from one extreme to the next...special needs parenting is most certainly just that...EXTREME!
Sam's adult front tooth (the baby one which he ground down into the gum which then had to be cut out in theatre) has been struggling to come through for some time now, you can see it sitting there in all its toothy glory just under the gum. It just can't seem to break through the gum, possibly because that section of gum was sutured up as opposed to having a "gap" where ordinarily the baby tooth would have fallen out. So that could quite possibly be the cause of his not wanting to eat. Sam does also have a bit of a crampy tummy-thing going on so perhaps even a bug in the brew...who knows? But even if it is a bug, the 6th of January is most definitely not considered "Christmas-time" still (just smile and nod, okay) so...YEAH!!! for our first illness/surgery-free Christmas in five years. Ah, as they say, celebrate the small things!
Aaaaand...another hidden blessing of special needs parenting...some time in the future we are going to get to celebrate Sam tolerating un-pureed food again (this was like the third time already LOL!) Just like we are going to get to celebrate him taking one or two unassisted steps again. What could be sweeter than living those precious moments more than once? And each time is as awesome as the first :)
Ooooooh...talking about celebrating...we have finally managed one other liquid other than warm Pediasure out of a bottle (right through the sweltering heat of Summer usually) and it be litchi juice out of a juice box! Fair enough Sam isn't so much sucking on the straw (or even closing his mouth on it) as what I am squeeezing the juice into his mouth, but hey...it's juice...out of something other than a bottle...it counts (again...smile and nod).
Happy New Year everyone...may it be a Blessed and prosperous one for us all xxx
Monday, December 21, 2015
Our visit to Sive Nathi is shared in more detail with quite a few beautiful photos at Daniel and Friends Fund BlogSpot, but one of my absolute favourites....