the way things are

I know people have strong feelings about a lot of things right now. I have chosen to keep quiet about my strong feelings about things, because I have run out of capacity, lately. My philosophy has just been to keep to myself and take care of my family.

We have sacrificed a lot in the last year and a half, in order to keep Kiran safe. A lot of people haven’t understood the level of sacrifice we chose, and that’s okay, mostly. The whole point is that he’s still here. I cannot – and do not wish to – fathom a reality where that is not so.

Making the decision to keep Kiran home this fall and start his kindergarten year online/virtually was one that I have been grieving, deeply, ever since we made it. There is no doubt in my mind or heart that it was the right decision to make, but I really didn’t want this for him. If I’m being honest, I didn’t really want it for ME, either. I am not a teacher, certainly not a special education teacher, nor am I a physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist (Yet!)…and I just really didn’t want to be in this position again.

There is a lot going on with health mitigation in the political and legal world in Iowa right now, especially as it relates to public education. I doubt I have to explain it here, but basically, this week, our school district could once again legally make the decision on whether or not to put a universal mask mandate in place. And our superintendent and school board members came through for kids like Kiran, who absolutely deserve – and need – to have a safe environment where they can learn in person. The vote was unanimous – masks will once again be required in all buildings by all people.

Again, I know people have strong feelings. But hear me when I say this: This is LIFE-CHANGING for Kiran and my family. We have quietly sacrificed and gone about our business and done our best educating him from home since March 2020. I could continue to do so, with success. I already see how much he is learning, especially with his virtual learning groups in the special education classroom. But, the screen fatigue and frustration behaviors I started to see toward the end of the school year last year, I am already seeing this week – week 4 of school.

So. It is time. His dad and I discussed quite a bit today about how we move forward and navigate the transition to in-person school for Kiran. With masking in place and good news about the vaccine on the horizon for kids his age, the benefits outweigh the risk. Monday, we officially start the process.

It will be a process. I am not sure what all it will take, but we anticipate a couple weeks before everything is lined up and ready. Because this was the kindergarten transition and Kiran is starting in a new school building, a lot of the in-person transition stuff wasn’t taken care of at the beginning of the year. Health documents need updated and g-tube education needs to take place. I don’t know what the associate situation will be, if they have someone or will need to hire someone to be one-on-one with him. I just know I plan to do everything I can to make the transition go smoothly.

Also, thinking about the possibility of this the other night, I cried. I cried a lot. This is no ordinary transition into kindergarten, not in any sense. Kiran has been home with me all day, most days, for a year and a half. As hard as it’s been…as many days as I have just wished for ten minutes to be alone…as overwhelmed and exhausted as I have been trying to wear alllllll the many hats to help Kiran thrive…

I am going to miss it. I am going to miss HIM. I have never forgotten to stop and take the time to appreciate how lucky I have been, to get this front row seat to his education. I have watched so many tiny steps of progress and seen so many concepts click for him after so much work…it has been such an amazing experience. Like it or not, I am going to miss a lot of those moments now. They will happen all day every day at school, and I may or may not hear about them later. And even though it was never “supposed to be this way”, this past year and a half, it was. It was this way. And it makes me sad knowing it must now go to the way it “should have” been.

It is absolutely what Kiran needs, wants, deserves. I am thrilled for him, and I know that he will grow so much learning alongside his peers. There are just some things, like true real life social interactions with others, we can’t replicate at home. He will be so excited. He loves his people.

But one of these soon here days…whenever it is time, and I drop him off for his first day of in-person kindergarten….

I am going to be a puddle. A giant, weeping mess of a woman. And it will be so, SO hard to let go.

It’s a long road ahead, but we journey together. This part of our journey is coming to an end, and it is time to navigate a new path. I’d like to say I’m ready – I’m not – but I do know, without a doubt in my head or my heart, it is time.

Heartiversary – Also, School

I still can’t believe it has been five years. It hits differently, this year. Seeing all the memories pop up on Facebook, knowing we are nearing another heart intervention.

But I am so thankful he is here.

The last two weeks have been incredibly difficult. Life has been pulling me in millions of different directions, and my plate is overflowing with it all. There is personal stuff – loss, goodbyes, things worth grieving simply because it’s a path I never wanted to be on.

But there is also school. And this time, I don’t mean mine.

Kiran’s general education curriculum is an online curriculum not actually associated with his school district. So far, there is no real teacher interaction, no seeing other students (supposedly, story times are coming). There are just videos and online practice and lots and lots of workbook pages. As in way more workbook pages than I think any kindergartner should have to do. I get it – with everything being online, there has to be some way to assess knowledge. As you can imagine, this is not at all geared toward Kiran’s learning abilities.

And the frustrating thing is, even though I have reached out – twice now – to the appropriate people within the district to get some accommodations for Kiran, all I have been able to successfully do is opt him out of PE and Arts/Crafts. I am still waiting on direction, and the online teacher (again, not affiliated with K’s school district) just keeps telling me she can’t make any changes until she gets direction from the district.

So. I have been doing my best to get creative and make assignments more accessible to Kiran, changing how we do things so he can participate at his skill level. I think I’m pretty good at it, and I just leave notes for his online teacher every time we submit an assignment so she knows how we worked on that particular assignment. My biggest complaint isn’t that I don’t have help with this part – I feel confident I am helping Kiran learn – my biggest complaint is it’s just too much content and too much work for us. I’ll be following up a third time and making some more requests.

It doesn’t help that this is Kiran’s transition into kindergarten and many members of his IEP team are trying to do assessments virtually in order to know how to update his IEP at the end of this month. I have been inundated with forms and questionnaires and interviews and meetings – there is SO much on our calendar for September, especially since all of Kiran’s big waiver meetings happen this month as well.

AND (oh, you thought maybe that was all he had going on!?!) we just started his eye gaze communication device trial on Thursday, so that adds a whole new piece of equipment and goal we must diligently work on.

I have to say – his IEP team members have been amazing. All of the IEP supports and therapies are happening virtually, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how that is going already. Even just almost two weeks in, they are getting to know Kiran and working with me to make the virtual setting beneficial. Between everything they do and everything I am doing, Kiran IS learning. It’s amazing to see, and I am so proud of him.

I’m also exhausted.

I don’t have a lot of grace for myself, and honestly, there have been numerous times these last two weeks that I have wondered why I didn’t just send him to school. Feeling like it’s all too much, I can’t do this…and then he successfully chooses the red marker when asked. Feeling like there’s no way I can help him navigate this new communication device…and he already has success with it during our first virtual session with his school SLP.

Feeling like what if he’s not learning as much as he would have had I sent him…and then thinking what if he wasn’t here to learn at all if I had sent him? Today, on his fifth heartiversary, I got notice that he may have been exposed to Covid…had he been in the school building. And I know I would be having a much different kind of night, tonight, if we had chosen differently for our family.

It is hard. He is learning. It is exhausting. He is safe. For me, this is the path we were meant to walk right now. And this, too, shall pass.

I’ll probably miss it.

Heart and Brain

In some of the mice studies for the genetic diagnosis Kiran has, it has been noted that two of the areas most affected are heart and brain. None of the other children that have been studied with this diagnosis have reported heart defects, so Kiran is unique in that way. But the brain abnormalities reported in others, along with the diagnosis of intellectual disability, are similar.

We just happened to see both Kiran’s cardiologist and neurologist on Wednesday this week. Gotta love those trips when you leave at 5 am. Kiran did not know what to make of me waking him up so early!

Neurology was our last appointment of the day, and it went exactly as I had hoped. We have only seen neurology a few times in Kiran’s life, because we have no reason to be seen regularly. We were following up with her for his unilateral flushing issue. And she agreed with the hematology/oncology doctor, that we have been chasing a cause for this long enough. We have essentially ruled out any serious cause, and Kiran has seen every specialist regarding this issue to do so. So we just accept that it is idiopathic, which means “of unknown cause”. It is just another thing that makes Kiran a unique, special little boy. Unless other symptoms pop up or it starts bothering him or increases in frequency greatly, we don’t need to follow up. One more specialist off the scheduled docket!

Our first appointment of the day was Kiran’s echo, and we got a special treat! Our favorite echo tech, who is retired but comes in to help on occasion, was there and available, so we got to have him for Kiran’s echo! But our new favorite requested echo tech is leaving next month, so we will have to find a new favorite once again. Still, it was so nice to catch up and have the calm, expert experience first thing in the morning.

Cardiology did not go as I had hoped. I think after years of hearing “Everything is stable, see you next year!”, I was lulled into a comfortable space, even though my brain knew that Kiran would eventually require interventions. It is nothing we weren’t expecting, and in fact, is exactly what we have been monitoring. The pressure gradient in the conduit that was placed between his right ventricle and pulmonary artery has increased, somewhat substantially. However, there is no indication the right ventricle is having to work harder yet, which would be an increase in size – a growth of that muscle, so to speak. Because of that, it is not something we need to urgently address. Dr. R said Kiran will probably need a cath lab intervention, to balloon the stent, in the next 12-18 months. The ballooning helps to increase the size of the space so blood can flow more easily, lowering the pressure. It essentially prolongs the life of the valve, because we don’t want to have to put in a bigger one (which is open heart surgery) until we absolutely have to. The bigger/older he is when we replace it, the fewer we will have to replace over the course of his life.

So, we do need to keep a closer eye on things, so we will see cardiology again in six months, rather than waiting an entire year. At that point, if things are stable, we will go another six months. If the pressure gradient has increased a lot and/or we see right ventricle wall growth, then it will be time for the intervention.

So the positive here is it is exactly what we knew was going to happen, and we have a plan in place to address it. This is nothing surprising and is just part of having these procedures with conduits placed. He’s in great hands with his cardiologist, who I trust completely. I was so thankful for his calm guidance and explanations. He is always good at taking the time.

It’s a long road ahead, but we journey together.

Big Diagnostic News!

I was not anticipating a phone call this morning that would bring relief along with a complex emotional reaction after years – almost six, to be exact – of wondering and hoping for answers.

I’ll back up a bit. Two years ago, Kiran underwent whole exome sequencing, which is the most thorough genetic testing available, I think even still, but certainly two years ago. His genetic report came back with a misspelling on RAB11B. At that time, this misspelling was considered a “variant of unknown significance”, which basically means there wasn’t enough data at that time to say anything about it for certain. They would not say that the misspelling was responsible for Kiran’s medical issues.

Our genetic doctor at the time speculated that it made sense that it was – but cautioned that we couldn’t know for sure just yet – but it was a misspelling that was being actively studied.

Today, I got confirmation that they have indeed upgraded this misspelling to a “pathogenic variant”. This basically means that they now have enough information to definitively say that those with this misspelling have certain medical and developmental characteristics that are caused by it.

Kiran is still unique with his heart defect, as none of the other (3-4) known kids have complex heart issues. But this means we can look more confidently at the two studies we have to get an idea of what is in Kiran’s future. And hopefully, now that the misspelling got its upgrade, more people will be found that share the diagnosis.

I love definitive answers and new information, and it’s nice to have another piece to the puzzle – the biggest piece – as to why Kiran is who he is.

Kindergarten Thoughts

I made a decision this week that I can no longer shoulder any part of the burden of educating people or appealing to their emotions regarding this ongoing pandemic. It is not worth the toll it takes on me, and I am having to buckle in for another intense ride over here.

All of that being said, I am going to continue to share my experience and the difficulties the reality of this virus continues to place on my family.

A difficult decision was made this week, and it is one that is still making me angry and devastatingly sad. Kiran will not be going in person to the first part of his kindergarten year. We spoke at length with his pediatrician around this decision, and she validated that it was the right one for Kiran’s health and safety. We are pursuing homebound services, which means his therapists (and I believe a special education teacher as well) will come into the home and provide the educational and therapeutic instruction he needs, as outlined in his IEP.

Of course, this is not ideal. I was so excited for Kiran to go to kindergarten and learn alongside his peers. You can’t recreate the social aspect at home very well, though I am already thinking of ways to try, especially to support him in his communication goals.

I have already had to pivot my own educational plans in order to have Kiran stay home with me full-time, yet again. I am thankful I am able to take a semester off from UW-Eau Claire because the class I was taking this fall is also offered in the spring. I am still taking the physics course locally this fall, and I have other big educational items to tackle. It will be enough, so I knew something had to give.

I am already planning out a schedule and thinking about having an art day, a music day, etc every week. I welcome any input on how to make this a fun experience for Kiran. Due to being his virtually guided everything last year (preschool teacher, SLP, OT, PT, feeding therapist), I am intimately acquainted with all of his goals and the skills we need to practice. I have also, already this summer, started working on color identification and added in more naming identification practice.

I guess I am saying I continue to be dedicated to making sure he continues to progress and doesn’t get behind or decline in any big way, but I recognize – and this is the part I will continue to grieve – that I can’t give him the social experience, the connection with his peers, the ability to be around people, which he so loves.

I also recognize this, too, will pass. It will. I thought it would have by now, and it is SO hard to tighten the bubble again, something we also discussed with the pediatrician at length. In my household, we have still been taking mitigation measures. I still haven’t been to a restaurant or bar or really out much at all in general, and what I have felt comfortable doing will now cease for me. For our family, Kiran’s pediatrician recommended being very mindful of the risk anyone will bring to Kiran and making decisions accordingly. Until he can be vaccinated, we have to remain vigilant.

I know these are the decisions that we must make to keep Kiran safe, to protect his heart and his little body. But they are shitty decisions, and I’m tired of having to make them. I’m tired of having to explain them. I’m tired of maintaining boundaries. I’m just tired.

Back to Back

Two Iowa City trips in five days isn’t my idea of a good time.

But. Let’s start with the good news. Because Kiran has had this flushing symptom for going on two full years now, I was able to notice a trend. Both last year and this year, the flushing is practically non-existent during the summertime. Hematology/Oncology doctor said that if this was a neuroendocrine tumor, we wouldn’t see the symptoms go away, certainly not seasonally. We should be seeing the symptoms slowly increasing or new symptoms adding on.

This is what I had hoped she would say and how I expected the appointment to go. As long as Kiran’s labs come back within normal limits (from what we’ve seen from him – a couple things have been high), we no longer have to follow up with her. We can contact her if we start seeing other symptoms or the flushing escalates, but otherwise a rare thing happened today: We took a specialist off Kiran’s team! Hurray!

Of course, we may have added one on, but hopefully only for a season. We saw GI today, and Kiran was officially diagnosed with chronic common constipation, not because of a disease (that part is good anyhow). Different from the last GI doctor we consulted, this one told us Kiran will likely need to be on a maintenance dose of some form of stool softening medication for the rest of his life. He was prescribed something different than what we tried last time, at my request. This means there is a clean-out in our future, starting tomorrow.

I am really battling myself with this. I feel like I have let him down – I have worked so hard with diet and exercise and natural remedies to get this under control – and ultimately, it didn’t work. I don’t know why this hits me so much harder than when medicine was prescribed for his heart function or eye drops are prescribed for his vision needs…why do I take this one on as a personal failure? I don’t know, but I’m trying to work through it so I can let it go.

The important thing is I recognized that despite my most valiant efforts, what we were doing wasn’t working. It wasn’t solving Kiran’s digestive issues. And it’s going to be so important to get that remedied prior to all day school. And certainly for his comfort.

Despite good news, bad news, neutral news, these days are hard. They always take it out of both of us, and likely out of our supports as well. So tonight, we snuggle, and likely go to bed early!

Unique Little Man

Long day in Iowa City yesterday, with a Genetics appt in the morning and an eye appt in the afternoon. We were lucky that we had enough time to take a break in between and sit at a nearby park for lunch.

It had been two years since we saw genetics, and I was hopeful more research would be available by now. We were told Kiran’s specific gene misspelling was one of interest, but only one more study has come available in the last two years. I haven’t taken the time to sit down and read it yet, but it is a study published in 2019 with only one participant, a male from Korea. It may or may not be the same patient that is in the study published in 2017 with five participants, three of which have Kiran’s exact misspelling.

From what the doctors said, it doesn’t seem we have any new information to help us know what might be ahead for Kiran. With this new study, that means only 3 or 4 kids worldwide, besides Kiran, are known to have this genetic condition.

So here’s something exciting. The fellow asked if we would be open to having her write up a report on Kiran to be published, since he has a unique characteristic not reported by the others with this misspelling: the congenital heart defect. His dad and I agreed, so Kiran will officially be a part of this body of research (albeit small so far)…and what excites me most is some other family, likely in another country (since we know all three known kiddos are from countries not USA), might be able to sit down with their doctor in a year or two and have NEW INFORMATION AVAILABLE.

The doctors were pleased with Kiran’s developmental progress, and we will now see them in a year’s time.

The eye appointment was long. It always is with dilating drops and now the doctor always sends us to attempt to get good pictures of Kiran’s retina and optic nerve. Dr. felt everything looked good and was excited – and thinks Kiran will do well – with his upcoming eye gaze device trial. She was seeing good attention and tracking. The bummer news is she still isn’t pleased with how small his left pupil is, so we now have to do eye drops every day for another six months (as opposed to every other day these past six months).

Kiran was a trooper, as usual, but definitely wore out. All he wanted was to snuggle with mama when we got home last night, so snuggle we did. We have a couple more big appointment days coming up, too, and I am hoping all of our updates are as uneventful as this one!

Touched Out

I haven’t been writing as much lately, and I have noticed with social media in general, I have been sugar coating our journey. Reasons exist for this that I won’t share, but it isn’t a place I like to be. I like to be as real as I can be about the good, the bad, the successes, the fallbacks, the light, the dark – and I just don’t feel like I can provide that at the moment, so I tend to not write. For those who enjoy our journey and my honesty about it – I’m sorry. The time will come when I feel I can again, and I look forward to it more than anyone.

Kiran has been struggling with something respiratory this week. He came home with it Monday morning, mild fever and all. No fever or sneezes since Monday, but he is still coughing a lot, stuffy, low energy…high neediness.

Kiran has never been someone who has required a lot in the way of physical touch. I mean – he LOVES his hugs now (and so does anyone getting them!) but as an infant, he honestly didn’t even want to be touched if he was upset. He wanted to throw his tantrum and just be left to do it. He does seek out comfort by way of physical touch more now that he’s older, but I don’t feel he’s very needy in this area.

Except when he’s not feeling well. And I have noticed it even more so this illness. He’s been pretty uncomfortable, and he really hates the coughing fits. He makes small little vocalizations that about break my heart, and even if I just leave for a few moments to use the restroom, he inevitably has a coughing fit and cries out for me. He has wanted someone with him, close, and he’s been insistent with the hugs/snuggles, not letting go.

Honestly, at this point, I am touched out. I’m overwhelmed. Thankfully, he is feeling quite a bit better today and is playing – and I’m washing germs out of all our sheets and blankets and resetting a few things. But it’s been a hard week. I’m behind where I should be with my class, one of the harder classes I’ve taken made even harder because it’s compressed into half the time.

The worry also takes it out of a person. We did consult his pediatrician on Tuesday and determined there was no reason to give him a Covid test at this point – we are simply cancelling all activities, following health guidelines, etc. With the fever going away after one day (and never being above 100.7) and no issues with breathing (which I have been watching like a hawk), it didn’t seem necessary. With his history of pneumonia, I have been watching and waiting for any downhill indications – fever returning or breathing becoming more labored – and for that reason, he has spent all week sleeping in his travel bed on the floor right next to our bed. I am hopeful tonight will be his first night back in his room since his wake-ups from coughing last night were minimal.

Self-care for me today is a shower and this blog – just writing to get it out there. I’m tired. It’s been a week.

I am thankful he’s managed this illness like a champ, and we could rest and recover at home. I am thankful I was able to slow down and provide comfort when he needed it this week. I am thankful I have learned to not completely overwhelm myself and let some things go for now – I will have to work my buns off, but I will catch up with school. This, too, shall pass. And it will be okay. Kiran can do hard things, and I can, too. As always, we journey together, and I am so beyond thankful for that.

God’s Hand

Hitting a deer on the freeway never seems like a good start to a story. Then again, most really cool stories tend to have deep valleys involved. I have decided there are bits and pieces of this story that aren’t really mine to share so publicly, so this won’t have every peak and valley and interesting tidbit – but I am sure that this is a story I will animatedly tell for many years to come. I am not always good at seeing God’s hand at work in my life, and I struggle – often – believing He is actually playing an active role. But I see it here.

And after the last week and a half I’ve had, I needed to see it.

Insurance company totaled my car, my beloved years-later-dream car. I wasn’t surprised to hear it, but I was really upset. Now we had this added stressor. When you need to play car seat musical chairs and have a vehicle that can safely transport a boy and his wheelchair, it’s not easy. The rental car was tiny. Thankfully, we only had to trek with the wheelchair once this week, because I had to take the seat off and put it in the front seat next to me, fold up the rest of the chair, AND take one wheel off to fit it in the tiny trunk space.

First peak – Insurance valued my car at a much higher price than I anticipated. Since I only had one payment left (that is a valley – sigh – one payment and I would have been done with car payments for awhile), we now had a substantial amount to put down on a new vehicle.

Eric came to me and said “What if I sell my motorcycle?” I met him with a firm “no” and many reasons, but he generally doesn’t listen to me when it comes to stuff like that. Some of this is his story, and he had reasons and had been thinking of selling for awhile (I’m still somewhat skeptical on this). A very long story short, he had a buyer at the house the next day willing to pay his asking price. There is a really touching and small world kind of story connected with this motorcycle buyer, but in an effort to preserve privacy all the way around, I will just say it revolved around another kiddo with a congenital heart defect.

At this point, pieces are falling into place. It is feeling meant to be.

And then we visit a Toyota dealership.

You see, we knew our next vehicle was going to be a (preferably new) Toyota Sienna. They are one of the top rated minivans and one of the most often modified for accessibility. We had a whole plan to work toward this that didn’t involve a deer.

In case you didn’t know, everyone’s buying a car right now and because of some chip that goes into all/most vehicles, there is a car shortage. Toyota apparently hasn’t had the chip shortage problem, but now their inventory is very low because everyone’s been buying a Toyota. The dealership literally had 9 new cars on their lot, none of them Siennas. In fact, every Sienna on the pipeline coming in was either already sold or a very expensive model that was far beyond our price range.

Our best bet? Build one. Sounds fun, right?

It would mean we would have to wait two to three months for our vehicle. Valley time.

Now, we had gone to the closest Toyota dealership first, to try and see a Sienna in person, but my amazing financial planner (Seriously, I’ll give you her info) had strongly recommended another client of hers who works in financing at the Toyota dealership in Ames. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to reach out and see if anything was different up there – and I’d rather use someone I have a connection to and is recommended if we are waiting that long anyway.

Same story. No inventory. She connected me to a salesperson she trusts up there, and he gave me a call. We talked about kinda what we were looking for – model, color, etc – and made an appointment for 9 am this morning to pre-order/build our Sienna and get that process started.

Yesterday, right before 2 pm, I get texts from both the financial person and the salesperson within two minutes of each other. And a voicemail from the salesperson. I call back.

You’re never going to believe this. This van is in my driveway right now, and I am still in shock.

I’m going to stop right here and say this: I keep thinking about how my greatest peak in this story was someone else’s valley. And I can only stop and hope and pray that their valley is leading them to the vehicle they are meant to have.

Someone had financing fall through on the same color, same model, exact Toyota Sienna we wanted.

The cypress green is apparently not a popular color – people are crazy because it was the color I fell in love with and absolutely wanted. The fact that this car came in and was that color (the salesperson said about 1 in 200 are that color) AND the less expensive model we were after….

And things just fell into place. We were able to purchase a brand new van, that we will be modifying for Kiran’s needs in the next year or two, and drive it home today. Because Kiran is with his dad, I haven’t been able to test this yet, but I am about 98% sure the wheelchair AND pacer will fit in the back without needing to take anything apart. There are so many amazing safety features and Toyota is actually big on mobility for all and will have some great options – and even financial help – when we are ready to modify. This will be our vehicle for the next 20 years or more, Lord willing.

And just like that, we have exactly what we need and much sooner than we planned.

And just like that, I am reminded if something is meant to happen, it is going to happen. And the valleys don’t make sense a lot of the time until you see where they nudge you. The path always seems to open up in life – granted, it is far too often a path full of fallen branches and thorns and difficult terrain that will leave bruises and scars – but that path also leads to places where the sun breaks through and the water sparkles.

I’m going to keep on with the journey, and I’m thankful to be doing it with those who are truly meant to be in my life. Today is a good day.