One “diva” definition: female that expects special attention! So, I asked Jeremy yesterday if the little Diva was having her photo shoot (the new title I have for all the ultrasounds my sweet granddaughter is having these days). She has reached the awesome week 28 gestation, which for a Turner girl is a miracle! The 3D image is cuter than ever! Just can’t wait to meet her, but we will have to wait a bit longer. The hard news is that there still seems to be a heart defect that would require Sarah to deliver at CHOP with immediate heart surgery. Because of that possibility, follow up sonagrams will now have to be in Philadelphia. So, keep those prayers coming. #1 that she does not miscarry or early labor, #2 that the heart problem will not worsen #3 Sarah and Jeremy will continue to rest in Jesus for this journey.
I sign my books with the II Cor.12:9 verse, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. I just learned last week that “weakness” should be interpreted “disability.” To me who lives daily in the disabled world, thought that was pretty cool. I too am disabled – a diva who desperately needs Christ power to rest on me through all the special attention I need from above. 🙂
That was the word we got today from our son and wife following the 27th week ultrasound. We are not sure who Mabel is but we are assuming that is the top-notch secret name given to our grandbaby girl. 😊 So now we are letting that secret out! But on the serious side: She has gained weight. She has moved from the 12th percentile to the 25th. Getting more chubby like her grandma all the time! And the swelling has not increased. So, we have another week again to thank Jesus for his sustaining mercy on this child.
This week we hit the 6-month mark since Matthew’s intense brain surgery. Still, we have not had a single seizure and his academics and behavior have improved greatly. He is killing 3rd grade and the bus driver asked us today if she could pay us for his entertainment abilities on her bus run. So grateful to God for the changes in his life. Still working hard on physical therapy 3 mornings a week and we ask that you pray along with us regarding movement in his right foot. We see slight response but are wanting more. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia called today wanting to know if they could run a story on him. They heard from many staff that Matthew has an amazing story. God’s amazing healing at work. Next week our interview will happen.
Then, last but not least, Kari is running headlines in the Clinic for Special Children Newsletter. You can read the “Patient Story: Kari Denlinger’s Story at https://clinicforspecialchildren.org/ (and scroll down).
Our kids bless us in many ways. Ron and I just try to keep up and keep them warm and well fed. Speaking of warm, the Denlinger family has been blessed with a pop-up camper. Matthew is over the top excited at the thought of camping adventures. And we are too – even at our old age! So maybe you just might see us next in a state park campsite trying to stay warm and well-fed!
So, ultrasound of the week report is in. This is the first time this doctor has given a positive report.
This little one has moved from the prediction of 98% chance of miscarriage to the category of 2% miracle survival, and she is only at week 25! Jeremy and Sarah were told earlier that she would need to reach 28 weeks before we could breathe! This little girl is a fighter. Please thank the Lord along with us for this day!
So, our garbage collection day is Monday around here. I am sure you all have a similar day where you hoist the week’s trash to the curbside. Today is not Monday but I am certainly thinking of trash today. Before 8 this morning I had cleaned out enough “garbage” from my two kids that it felt like I had already put in an 8-hour shift. It wasn’t pretty or fun, and my attitude stank right along with it! Some confession before the Lord was in order. For the last 35 years, I have had more than my share of messy situations to clean up and I know that this may come as a shock to you (but it only hit me about four months ago) that a lot of my identity comes from being a “special needs mom.”
I realize most people have seen me that way, but it never really crossed my mind – probably because I have been too busy with “taking out the garbage” that I don’t sit long enough to ponder who I am. When I took those moments to contemplate that, I came up with this realization that to identify myself with anything other than being a daughter of the Most-High God is really rubbish. If you don’t believe me, check out Phil 3:8. It is rather convicting and if you really meditate on that verse, you may have some confession to do as well.
This week has been full of looking back on our past contributions. Ron spoke on Sunday at the 30th anniversary of the church we planted, and it was an awesome experience to be there. Hallelujah – they are thriving in Jesus! This week RHMA (the mission we were with for 25 years) is having a pastor’s conference here in Lancaster, and we are helping a little with it. We have been doing lots of reminiscing of our ministry with them – lots of joy in those years, along with some very deep pain. For the past 10 years our identity is that of “caregivers” – certainly hasn’t been a cake walk and if you have followed our story, I know you agree.
The covid crisis has caused a lot of us to “redefine our calling in life,” and we’ve taken a closer look at what we want to be known for. I got a new title here in the last few months. I’ve been upgraded to grandma! It is a treasure to me as you know. I am writing this before the weekly ultrasound of my little granddaughter. So many of you are praying and waiting (along with me) for the next “read” on her life. I will update as soon as I know.
But this morning my heart is convicting me that “above all else, above any identity, above anything I can be known for, it is all loss for the sake of Christ.” The prayer of my heart is 1 Cor 8:6: “There is one God, from whom are ALL things and for whom we exist, one Lord Jesus through whom are ALL things.” Everything else is rubbish! Today, take out the garbage of glorying in other identities and be filled with the fact that God loves you and if you love Him, you are known by Him. What can be more precious?
Let’s keep the prayers going. Our little granddaughter is still giving Jeremy and Sarah a run for their money (and providing some cute ultrasound pictures). The week 23 gestation ultrasound reveals stability in that the hygroma on her neck has not grown and there is no extra fluid on heart, lungs, or other vital organs – only involving her skin. That is the praise, and we are celebrating!
The continuing prayer need is that she is still in a “critical stage,” though with each day her chances of survival improve. An additional cause for prayer is that her cardiogram is showing potential issues with her heart, and we are praying for miracles as this grape-size heart (normal for week 23) develops and grows strong. Your prayers mean everything to us all as we daily petition God on her behalf. He knows her name! He has heard it a lot from the mouth of this grandma! This morning when I told Kari that her little niece was going to get her picture taken again today, she smiled and raised both arms to heaven.
Let’s follow Kari’s lead and keep our hands, hearts and prayers raised to heaven. To God be the Glory!
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Time to storm heaven again with prayers for our family. Not for Matthew, nor for Kari, but for our yet-to-be- born first grandbaby girl. Jeremy and Sarah are expecting in Jan 2022! We are so excited to be entering this new phase of life – Grandparenthood!
Last Monday Sarah had a 20-week routine ultrasound and were asked to see the doctor afterward—and the word was not good. The ultrasound revealed a possible very bad diagnosis -the baby girl may not live. Sarah was moved to a ‘high-risk’ category, blood tests were done and the following day a more high-tech ultrasound was to be complete. That one revealed that the situation was still grave but slightly improved from the day before. Weekly ultrasounds are now in order.
I (Joan) cried all week. How can this be. I hurt so badly for my children. I hurt so badly for my granddaughter- would I know her? I hurt so badly for me! God this isn’t fair. Haven’t we had enough of pain in this family? Haven’t we had enough of watching children suffer?
But God is on His throne, and all the earth is to be silent. I lamented, I prayed, I pleaded with God to allow this time to be different. And I took much time to be silent before Him. This little girl’s name- chosen by her godly, sweet parents long before they knew of her condition means: “God answers prayer!”
Today’s ultrasound and DNA testing do confirm a diagnosis (Turner Syndrome). If she can just get through the next 2 weeks her chance of survival improves greatly! She has good signs of health that we are putting hope in. So today we rejoice because she lives another week, she seems strong, those 3D images that this grandma receives- I think she is the cutest baby ever!! And I danced just a little today (as much as my hip could handle) because God is reminding me that this one is created for eternity. And that is worth celebrating. I may be back to tears tomorrow and that is ok, because we love this little fighter. Jeremy reminded me that it seems like Denlinger girls beat the odds. Kari sits with her new diagnosis- should not have lived past 10 years and now she has the distinction as the oldest in the world with RARS2.
So, will you storm heaven on her behalf? She wants to live – her Mama feels it. And we the eager grandparents just want to see this precious family together.
Today is day 11 of Kari being served a mitochondrial cocktail. A cocktail “generally comprises three or more liquid ingredients, at least one of which is alcoholic.” In Kari’s customized mixture there is no alcohol but there are lots of ingredients – seventeen in all! Most of these are vitamins and the key item is an amino acid, arginine.
The reason we’re serving it up to Kari is to try to treat her condition at its root. The cocktail is prescribed by a medical doctor / mitochondrial specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Will the cocktail work? We don’t know. Kari is one of only 45 people known to have this genetic disease. And she is the oldest. Most die in infancy. Not sure that any others with her specific diagnosis have been given this treatment. She is therefore something of a guinea pig. Joan and I are to be the observers, noting any changes.
Have we seen any results so far? A few, but not significant enough to blog about. So far, no total elimination of seizures, nor signs of development.
Yesterday we were encouraged to learn that it typically takes six to eight weeks to see any changes. Another reason for encouragement: She is tolerating the concoction quite well. To put this in context, imagine suddenly going from taking a few pills a day to sixty or more. Hard to imagine not reacting to something – in the very least not having some GI irritation. Fortunately, there aren’t sixty pills to swallow. A compounding pharmacy puts pure forms of these ingredients into liquid which can go into her g-tube. Even so, she’s being hit with a lot of stuff! It is quite a cocktail.
After 34 years, is it reasonable to look for a miracle for Kari? In a way, it seems to us that her living long enough to come into an era with this level of scientific discovery – that is God’s intervention. That he would lead us to this type of testing after all these years and that she could be diagnosed, that is divine providence to be sure. There are many other pieces to this puzzle that had to come together so that we could have this full of a picture.
And so, we ask God to continue to do amazing things. And yes, we are praying this this cocktail would help Kari connect with the world around her.
In the meantime, Kari is still the same sweet, amazing, contended daughter who brings us joy. Whatever else could change with Kari, that surely will not!
The decision as to whether to have half of our son’s brain disabled was now in our lap. Many tests had been performed. 40 specialists at CHOP had reviewed the case and all had given the green light (not a single hesitation). Matthew was an ideal candidate for a Hemispherotomy. “If he were my son, I would be scared,” his neurologist told Joan, “But I would definitely have him go through it.”
And so, we were meeting with Dr. Kennedy, the surgeon who would perform the several-hour long operation. It was February. We had lots of questions for him, including this one: “Is Matthew getting too old for this surgery? Wouldn’t it have been better if we had it done a few years ago?”
“Right now, there is a 19-year-old young lady who is here in rehab. I performed this same surgery on her last month. She wanted rid of her seizures. And she is now seizure free!”
At that moment Joan and I were thinking the same thing. It is so hard to decide something like this for your child. What would he want? And how could he possibly know what he wants? We decided that this young lady, through her experience, would speak for Matthew. It helped us make a hard decision and to be at peace with it, thinking that this is what Matthew would choose if he had sufficient understanding.
Fast forward several months… I was having breakfast with a group of guys. It had been a little while since we had met together. I was sharing with them what Matthew had just gone through and the progress he was making and how he is now seizure free.
“What was the name of the surgery? And who did you say the doctor was?” asked my friend, Ross, sitting to my right. I answered.
“I think that’s the same surgery my granddaughter had. And that doctor’s name sounds familiar. I have to call my daughter and find out for sure.”
It was my turn to ask the questions. “How old is your granddaughter? When was her surgery?”
“19” and “The beginning of this year.”
Yes, this was the girl who had helped to pave the path – a young lady, Abby, also from Lancaster County. A few minutes later Ross was on the phone with his daughter, telling the story to her, and then passing the phone to me. “Please tell your daughter thank you. Her decision not only benefited her, but her story helped us feel comfortable with an exceedingly difficult decision.” In turn she thanked me for saying so. The recovery has not been easy, she told me, but Abby (at the time) had just achieved the ability to walk as much as two miles! So, with hearing the continuing story of her progress, she encouraged us again.
“Joan, you aren’t going to believe my story from breakfast this morning…”
One of these days we’re going to meet Abby. For one, her grandfather is determined to bring him to our church (Calvary) so his Adult Bible Fellowship can meet the one they’ve been praying for. Perhaps we’ll meet her at that time, if not before.
Abby is a paver in our lives. Though at the time she didn’t know it, she was helping to lay a path that would make our journey easier.
Matt is another paver. He is our Matthew’s cousin. He was at Lancaster Rehab recovering from Guillain- Barre Syndrome (GBS) and learning to walk again when Matthew and I visited him. It was in the Spring of 2020 and because of Covid our visit was by seeing one another through an exterior window and simultaneously talking with one another by phone. At the time, I had no idea that Matthew would face a somewhat similar ordeal.
Few, if any, have had a bigger heart for our Matthew than this cousin. This past weekend was Matt’s daughter’s birthday. Throughout the evening Matthew had watched the other children jumping on the trampoline. Joan proudly, but with sadness, watched Matthew encourage the other children. Jumping has been one of his favorite things in the world (whether a bounce house or trampoline). Just before we left the party, Matt said to our Matt. “I’ve got a surprise for you.” Realizing what he had in mind, Joan protested, “But he can’t climb in.” Undaunted, Matt replied, “We’ll get him in.” And that is the context of a clip from a video that we treasure!
The trouble with honoring individual pavers is that others on an exceedingly long list go unmentioned. There is friend, Russ, for example, who also had to learn to walk again because of GBS. (Russ’ story is entitled: A mile in my Shoes – Joan wrote the forward to his book). How supportive he and his family have been! He is one of those who, for months, never took off that purple wristband. And it isn’t just those who’ve experienced rehab – everyone on Team Matthew has made the path easier through prayer, encouragement, gifts, and acts of service (read back through our posts and you’ll see many examples).
Thanks to each of you for the paving stones you lay!
I was appalled when Joan’s mom (with dad’s assistance) removed every wisteria branch from our garden arbor. It had done so well that spring and summer, covering the arch with green leaves, creating shade over that area of the brick walkway. It had taken a few years to grow so well. And now it was gone. Joan was just as upset. But perhaps the master gardener knew what she was doing.
The next year that plant grew back with even greater force and the year after we saw something new – beautiful blooms. I’ve read that it takes eight to twelve years for wisteria plants to bloom. But it is possible to encourage the plant to do so sooner – through a severe pruning. In our case the plant displayed its flowering beauty in half the typical number of years.
A hemispherotomy surgery (see explanation below) is a severe pruning to be sure. The thought of putting Matthew through it was at first repulsive and then terrifying. But he made it through and is well into rehabilitation, but we have a long way to go. We are told that it takes three to six months for full recovery – meaning returning him to the abilities he had before the surgery. Matthew is just six weeks in.
Even so, there is already evidence that Matthew will bloom. He will have cognitive ability for which he did not have potential prior to his “pruning.” With seizures out of the way (we’ve seen none since the surgery), new things are possible. This will take time, which will require corresponding patience on our part.
Everyone loves miracles, especially those that show immediate results. It would be nice if the surgery outcome had looked like the man by the Beautiful Gate who, after a word from Peter, was immediately walking and leaping and praising God. Instead, each new step for Matthew is painfully slow.
I’ve learned a lot from the wisteria experience. Though none of my garden pruning has been that severe, in faith I’ve since taken the shears to many plants and have, over time, seen a lot of fruit as a result. And slowly I’m growing in my confidence that the Master Gardener knows what he is doing and brings much fruit through his pruning work in our lives (see the Gospel of John, chapter 15).
* A hemispherotomy is a type of brain surgery where the two hemispheres of the brain are disconnected. Children who may benefit from this procedure already have long standing weakness on one side of their body; this is due to severe damage to the opposite side of the brain.
Joan’s mom passed away yesterday morning. Joan and her dad were with her at the time. We had just finished singing “It is Well With My Soul” to her and then as dad read to her from the Bible she left us and entered heaven. We miss her already. We cared for her in our home for over seven years, time which passed so quickly.