Jan 9, 2013

Wednesday SHINE....


Today's Reading: Micah 1 & 2

Happy Worship Wednesday, SHINE girls! 

I have a very special story for you.No, beyond very special. Out of this world, change-your- life-special story to share with you on this worship Wednesday!

Today is the perfect day for this post because I am worshiping our King for the miracles that He gave my friend, Kelly McLeod.

Kelly is one of my very best friends. She is one of those girls that you just want in your life forever! Words cannot express how much I adore this girl. She is truly my one in a million friend. 

Kelly's story has touched hundreds of lives. We lived this with her as it was taking place. Her unshakable faith and perseverance inspires so many of us.

Grab your coffee, a warm blanket, some tissues, and be blessed by her story today.  

My Story
by: Kelly McLeod

The last weekend in October 2010, Chad and I started getting the house organized.  It was the first time in my pregnancy that I actually felt good and I knew it was only a matter of time before I wouldn't be able to help much.  I was really beginning to show I was pregnant with twins!  We got a lot accomplished over the weekend and we felt really good about our progress.  On Monday morning I had a feeling that something wasn't quite right but I had an appointment with Dr. Allen on Wednesday so I just chalked it up to first pregnancy jitters and went on with my day.  Tuesday morning I had some very light bleeding so I called Miss Paula at Women's Healthcare Associates.  She discussed with Dr. Allen and asked for me to come on in.  So I did. 

Upon examination, it was decided I would need to get straight over to the hospital so Miss Amy drove me.  I was terrified, completely panicked and couldn't reach Chad on the phone.  I was admitted right away.  Amy stayed by my side until mom could get to the hospital.  I'll never forget her kindness during such a scary time.  Mom had to call the Potts Company and ask them to track Chad down.  Later I found out when Chad left work, he called the Lt. Governor for a police escort into Athens.   

We were told I'd be staying in the hospital until I delivered.  We hoped that would be weeks to months.  I was diagnosed with incompetent cervix.  The amniotic sac was bulging through the cervix, so they had me lay in the trendelenburg position, where my hips were higher than my head.  The hope was that between the positioning and medication, the bag would slide back towards the uterus so that a cerclage procedure could be performed.  If we could get a cerclage in, it would close my cervix and possibly enable me to carry the babies to term, or closer to it.  We just had to wait and see what happened over the next 24 hours. 

There were some potential problems with performing a cerclage.  I was already 22 weeks and 1 day pregnant and that procedure is typically done well before that stage of pregnancy.  Also, the "bag" blocked the view of the cervix so there was no way to really know if there was much left to sow back together.  There was also the risk of the procedure rupturing the bag.  If that happened, nothing could be done to prevent labor and hospital policy dictated that prior to 23 weeks, no measures of resuscitation could be made. 
 
Ultimately we opted to forgo the cerclage...too many risks.  Instead, I laid in the bed, upside down counting down the days, hours and minutes.  I was prepared to be there for the long haul, I so wanted to make it to 37 weeks!  I had a physical therapist come in and show me some exercises I could do to keep from being so sore.  The staff was so good to me and I had so many friends and family come show their support.  But I was scared.  I had never even felt them move, but loved these babies so much.  I felt utterly helpless...I had just done a Bible study about the Frazzled female and boy did I feel just that! 

The first few days were long, but nothing compared to Sunday, November 7th.  The family gathered, knowing we had to make it one more day for the babies to have a chance at survival.  The time changed Saturday night which gave us an extra hour of agony waiting.  My dad frantically tore the clock off the wall to spring ahead an extra hour.  Dr. Faase, the neonatologist came to speak with us.  She explained hospital policy and offered to sit with the family and answer their questions.  We held our breath most of the day.  They continually monitored my blood work for any sign of infection.  The doctor’s first priority was me, but my only thoughts were for the lives of these two babies.  In the afternoon the doctor decided it was time for me to sit up.  I was so fearful that the moment I did, I'd immediately go into labor.  Instead I got very sick.  Even that didn't make my contractions any worse. 

Chad and I sat in the room together and decided that no matter what happened the rest of that day, our children needed a name.  We had the book of 100,000 names but one name stood out for us.  Chad’s Uncle Rick had mentioned the name Ian a couple of times.  We looked up the meaning and decided right then and there, it was meant to the name of our son.  Ian is a Gaelic name meaning "God is gracious". 

From there we began looking at names for our daughter, starting with the I's.  We stumbled upon Isabella, a name I always loved.  It means: "Consecrated to God". 

Yes it was meant to be. 

With the names selected all we could do was wait...

9:00, 9:30, 10:00, 10:30, 11:00, 11:30....we counted every minute from 11:30 to midnight.  We could hear the cheer from the family in the waiting room as the clock struck 12:00.  You had a fighting chance. 

We finally tried to get some rest.  Around 3 am my latest CBC results prompted Dr. Allen to get ready for delivery.  I had hoped there would be a little more time.  We weren't able to get the steroids to help the development of the lungs and brain.  But waiting any longer would increase the odds that we'd develop a life-threatening infection.

They really cranked up the heat in the delivery suite...it needed to be very warm for the babies.  I remember thinking I wish I had gone to birthing classes.  I hadn't thought to ask anyone how in the world I was supposed to breathe or push.  Chad was so strong and gave me so much comfort.  I had the best care team you could imagine.  Our nurse stayed with us after her shift ended so she could be a part of the delivery.  Linda May was the absolute BEST!    They were all wonderful, but Linda was special.  I felt honored to have her be there with us. 

At 5:45, Ian entered the world.  He cried out and it caught me so off-guard that my eyes filled with tears and my heart ached with worry.  The NICU staff went to work getting him incubated and tubed.  They were absolutely amazing.  We wanted to give them a little time to get Ian stable (as stable as a 23 weeker gets) before they broke my water with Isabella.  It felt like an eternity, but about 45 minutes later she was born.  They were both tiny...a little over a pound and less than a foot long!  That is where the miracle journey REALLY began...

The babies were constantly monitored those first couple of days.  Everything about that time is a blur for me.  They threw so much information at us, it was a hard to take it all in.  Ian was much more stable than his sister.  She faced a lot of problems.  They told us it is common for "Baby B", or the second twin to have a more difficult journey.  They suffer more trauma from delivery.  Chad and I spent the majority of those first few days in prayer.  We prayed without ceasing the twins would survive, that they would thrive, that they would have a chance at a "normal" life.  We prayed the Lord would fight for them.  I repeated Isaiah 41:10 over and over.  "Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, I will help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

On November 10th, the Lord held Isabella in His righteous right hand and welcomed her to heaven.  Her fight ended while Ian’s waged on.  We were scared, we had doubts, but we held firm to our faith.  Every time the devil tried to rob our joy, we looked at Ian and praised God for his life.  Each day was a challenge, but the Lord carried us.  He spoke to us through His word, through song, through strangers and loved ones alike.  I never experienced a walk with the Lord as I had during those 3 months in the NICU.  For all the Lord gave us during those dark days and for all the support we received from our medical staff, family and friends, we want to give back.  We want to honor Isabella’s memory and pay tribute to Ian’s miraculous journey.    


 Our Mission
I first want to let you know The Second First Foundation is still in the “pre-production” phase.  Trying to maneuver through all the applications is proving to be a challenge that makes my head spin, however I believe the Lord is leading us to serve the NICU community and as such will make a way for us.  I was so excited when Jill asked me to blog about II First – if I’m honest, I’ve been dragging my heels with getting this foundation established!  I’m intimidated by all the hoops you have to jump through to establish a 501c3 (charitable) corporation!  The idea for the foundation was born shortly after Ian arrived home from the hospital.  In the beginning, all of our focus and energy was on Ian and his development.  Then we needed time to grieve the loss of Isabella.  Now that Ian has started pre-school a couple of days a week – it’s the perfect opportunity to get the ball rolling!  I’m excited to share our vision for II First and I hope to receive feedback from many of you!  It may be that one of you has a skill set that can aid our progress!  I believe so strongly in the power of prayer and in working together with the body of Christ!    

Today, Ian is just like any other 2 year old child. To look at him now, you would never imagine the challenges he faced – a miracle I can only attribute to God’s goodness and mercy.  As difficult as that time in our lives may have been, I believe with all my heart the Lord used these babies to draw me to Him.  I thought I knew what it meant to walk with Jesus, but before Ian and Isabella I didn’t understand RELATIONSHIP with Christ.  I thank the Lord each and every day for the trials and triumphs that helped me trust and love Him more.  I have such a desire to serve him through our II First ministry.

The twins were born in a community hospital.  We received excellent care and never dreamed of delivering any place else.  But they were born severely premature, 17 weeks early!  The hospital we delivered at had a pretty advanced Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), especially considering it was a smaller hospital.  Still with all the equipment they had, the one piece Ian needed was only on their wish list.  In the end, it became necessary to transfer to a larger facility that was better equipped to meet his needs.  A piece of equipment valued at approximately $30,000 is what separated us from being able to stay within our community while Ian was nursed to health.  

We had spent a month building relationships with the staff.  The staff spent a month getting to know our son and all of his little habits.  They taught us the lingo, made sure we were involved in every aspect of his care.  They really empowered us to be Ian’s advocate.  In addition to the emotional set back, transferring from our local hospital to the “more advanced” NICU in the city posed many physical risks for our son.  Hitting a simple pothole could have caused a brain bleed that could have impaired Ian’s development.  

As it was, the transferring nurse had to bag him the entire way to the hospital because Ian didn’t like the ventilator on the rig!  What if they hit traffic?  Would she have had the physical endurance to continue?  Probably so, but when I think of all the “could have beens” my mind goes to a pretty dark place.  We did not want to leave the place we now thought of as home.  Every day was scary but there was comfort in the familiar surroundings and routine we created in Athens.
   
It took a little time to adjust to the bigger hospital.  It was farther away and had a much larger staff, but we were empowered to be Ian’s advocates and we jumped in with both feet.  We cultivated relationships with their staff.  We LOVE these men and women for how they helped our son but I’d be lying if I said it was anything short of difficult. 

God had His hand in every detail of Ian’s journey.  When he was born, we were in a blessed situation – I work for family so I was able to conduct my job at Ian’s bedside.  Although the distance between our home and the hospital was 45 miles each way, my fuel costs were donated by my work.  We weren’t home much except to sleep and shower, so the yard suffered, but we didn’t have other children to care for.  Because of our favorable circumstances we were pretty easily able to make Ian the priority.  I didn’t have to juggle going to work with being at the hospital.  I didn’t need to have someone pick up our other kids from school because Ian was all we had.  We just didn’t find ourselves in as difficult of a situation as many parents do.  I say this, not to diminish what we experienced but to emphasize how much more difficult it could have been for us and how much more difficult the reality is for so many families!  Many friends and family members offered to help us, but at the time, I didn’t know what to ask for.  I wasn’t sure what I even needed.  Hindsight really is 20/20 because looking back on it I can tell you with great confidence what we would have found helpful!    

We were told over and over how important our presence would be to Ian’s development.  Being at the hospital was the most important thing we could do for Ian.  Still, with everything we had in our favor, making the journey back and forth to Atlanta every day was a challenge, physically, financially and emotionally.  It had been much easier at the local hospital.  Our family and friends were close by and the commute to the hospital was manageable. 

I feel certain that Ian thrived because Chad and I provided a constant presence at his bedside.  We were so very blessed I was able to be with Ian each and every day he was in the hospital.  Faced with the same situation, many families would not have been so fortunate.    

Through this experience, we recognized the needs of the parents of Micro Preemies.  It also fostered in us a desire to serve.  How could we be so blessed and not give back?!? There are so many opportunities to serve this community of families.  Micro Preemies, babies born before 26 weeks, weighing less than 800 grams (1 pound, 12 ounces) are by no means the common population of NICU patients – they are more the exception than the rule, however the needs of these families are great. 

 It is our goal to minister to these families through The Second First Foundation, to ease the financial and emotional burden associated with an extended stay in the hospital.  We seek to raise funds to provide gas cards and gift certificates to local restaurants for these families.  The financial burden of eating out most meals or filling up at the gas station takes its’ toll over the course of the 2-4 months micro preemies spend in the hospital.  During Ian’s time in Atlanta, it snowed three times, which meant we had to stay in a hotel.  We hope, through the foundation to be able to provide assistance to families in these types of situations. 

We also want to minister to the emotional and spiritual needs of NICU families.  A very close friend of mine gave me a devotional, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  It changed my prayer life.  I read from it each and every day.  Today, I read the children’s version to Ian.  This is another goal of our foundation – to provide devotional materials and Bibles for the families of Micro Preemies. 

During Ian’s time in the hospital, I was able to utilize the Caring Bridge website to blog about Ian’s journey in the NICU.  It was a way for me to share the events of each day with all the family, friends and prayer warriors that followed Ian.  It was a love letter to my precious baby boy.  I am currently working to have the blog posts published in hopes of sharing it with families facing similar situations, to encourage them.

There are so many ways we can come together to meet the mission of The Second First Foundation.  Here is one example that I am so honored to share with you. 

I have an aunt, retired 7th grade school teacher, but no names here.  She’d probably not want the credit – but I am proud to feature her service to Isabella’s memory. 
An infant has an incredible sense of smell.  It is the most developed sense they are born with.  I was told by a lactation specialist that a baby can smell their mother up to seven football fields away – now don’t quote me on that because I didn’t look that factoid up on snopes or anything, but the bottom line here is that a baby recognizes it’s mother by smell.  The NICU staff at Athens Regional gave me this tiny crocheted blanket (affectionately referred to as a “boobie” blanket) and asked me to put it in my bra for the day – it basically soaked up the “mommy” smell.  So as not to be gender biased, Chad did this with a blanket too – “daddy” smell works too!  When we left for the night, they placed the blanket in the incubator with Ian to comfort him.  It promoted relaxation for him.  I found that to be just an incredible concept!  So, back to my aunt, who as you’ve probably guessed by now, does beautiful crochet work.  Since the time I was in the hospital she has donated probably hundreds of these little blankets in Isabella’s memory.  I was not even aware of this fact until over a year after we’d come home from the hospital.  There is no telling how many families have used these blankets just as we did with Ian.  It may seem like a small thing, but it is a powerful ministry and it is just one small way we seek to serve through our foundation.

Those months in the hospital, Ian continued to grow and develop but we missed getting him dressed up for his 1st Thanksgiving, 1st Christmas, and 1st New Years!  As thankful as we were to have him alive and growing, getting better each day, a small part of hearts longed for a way to have those “first” moments again.  He may never have another 1st Christmas, but we were inspired to create for our family a Second First!  Last Thanksgiving, I had a friend create a onesie & bib for Ian to wear as we celebrated my favorite holiday. 



 I think it turned out so cute!  We hope producing similar items and selling them will be one of many opportunities to help raise funds for our foundation. 

Our logo is currently a work in progress, however I have mocked up a version of what I envision.  The Roman Numeral II is what I’d like to use to represent “Second” – it looks like 2 I’s, put together - for Ian and Isabella!  Now obviously, the final product will be prettier than this version, but hopefully you get what we’re going for…



 I wanted to share the logo to help you visualize another area we seek to minister.  The Beads of Courage program was initially created to help pediatric cancer patients chronicle their battle with the disease.  Artisans across the country hand-craft these beautiful beads and donate them for the program.  The idea is that each bead signifies a procedure or milestone in the journey.  It gives families a physical representation of what each child goes through.  Gwinnett Medical Center was the first NICU in the country to pilot this program and they kicked off shortly after we arrived.  Ian was somewhat of an ambassador of the program.  He was one of the more critical patients at the time and as such, we had a LOT of beads!  We were interviewed by the local newspaper and I can remember telling the reporter when the day comes that Ian tells us he can’t do something, we will just pull out the beads, a gentle reminder that “CAN’T” isn’t in our vocabulary!

Chad and I wearing our beads


The beads are an incredible testimony of each child’s journey.  I cannot begin to tell you what they mean for our family.  They represent the challenges, the triumphs and the hope that exists.  We would like to create a bead with our II First logo to donate to the Beads of Courage organization for babies that are in the NICU during a holiday. 

We plan to focus our initial efforts at the two facilities that nursed Ian to health, Athens-Regional Medical Center and Gwinnett Medical Center.  We will work together with the NICU to identify families that would be in need of our assistance.  What we envision is providing a gift basket for the family, complete with gas cards, restaurant gift certificates, a devotional, a Bible, a crocheted blanket and a II First Bead.    

So that is the vision and the inspiration for our ministry.  We hope we can count on your prayers to see this to fruition.  If you have experience setting up a 501c3 and could lend your expertise, or have experience setting up a website, can knit a blanket, donate a gift card or a Bible, if you’d like to join me in serving in any capacity, it will take many hands and feet to serve this community and we would be honored by your generosity.

Thank you for allowing me to share our story and our hearts with you today.  God Bless each and every SHINE girl!  Much love to you!

Kel