Six Day discharge and Thanksgiving

*For anyone who needs a recap, our little Sunley Summit has Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome (HRHS). Specifically, she has Double Inlet Left Ventricle (DILV) with an extremely small (almost non-existent) right ventricle and large VSD. Actually, the “right ventricle” is really just a small strip of tissue, so there is debate about classifying her as Double Outlet Left Ventricle as well, which is incredibly rare. Both the Aorta and the Pulmonary Artery are well developed and going into the left ventricle (as far as we can tell right now).  We are getting care at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX, whose heart center is ranked number one in the nation. There is no real cure for Sunley’s condition, so the plan is to do a total of 3 heart surgeries (PA Band, Glenn/DKS, and Fontan). Our hope is that these surgeries will work well enough to avoid a heart transplant and she will lead a long, full life with only those 3 surgeries. Sunley spent her first 6 days in the NICU, went home for a while, and then spent 26 days in the hospital after her first surgery (PA Banding) at 6 weeks old. She had a one week hospitalization for dehydration at 4 months old, then went home for a month. At 5 months old, she was hospitalized for low saturations for 5 days, and underwent what I’ve officially termed a “doing-something cath” (atrial septostomy). On November 6th, Sunley had her second open heart surgery, which required bypass: a Bi-Directional Glenn and DKS procedure, and incredibly went home only six days after that. She is currently 16 days post-op from that very invasive surgery.

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SIX days post-op and we were discharged. Amazing. Saturday, November 10th, we were able to move to floor 22, and after tweaking her meds just a bit, we got to go home on Monday, November 12th. She was sent home on Aspirin, Enalapril, Lasix, Hycet, and Tylenol. She hasn’t had a headache in 2 days now, so she is only occasionally getting Tylenol now, and hasn’t had Hycet in several days. It has been ROUGH having a baby so fresh from surgery home, but of course we are glad that she’s done so well. It’s been rough because she is incredibly grumpy, clingy, and eating like a HORSE (which is fantastic to see after 6 months of feeding struggles). Pre-surgery, Sunley ate about 750 mL’s per day, and now she eats about 1100 plus three avocado feedings. She is quite obviously putting on weight, but of course I have been conditioned to worry about fluid retention when I see weight gain, so it’s hard to let myself get too excited about that. The Glenn headaches are so hard to watch —she would just cry and grab her head with both hands. But I think we may be done with those, finally! Each day has gotten slightly easier, but she’s been waking up multiple times a night, and just never wants to be put down. Let me be clear: Sunley NEVER wants to be put down. If her butt touches the bed, she cries. If you get up and walk away to the trashcan to throw out a diaper, she cries. It’s been unbelievably exhausting, but each day gets about 2% better…so by that estimate, in approximately 50 days, I think we’ll be back to normal.

We really don’t have the heart (no pun intended) to let her cry it out at all, but maybe in a few weeks when we feel more confident that her DKS and everything has healed more completely we can try some gentle sleep training. To put into perspective how ridiculous her 6-day discharge was, I drew a before and after of her heart pre-surgery compared to after the Glenn and DKS.I’m assuming this is accurate, but a heart surgeon could probably see some flaws!


It’s hard to believe how quickly she progressed. Below are some photos from the evening after her surgery, and the days following. I know that to a lot of people this may be hard to see, but we couldn’t believe how GOOD she looked! I was so glad she was able to be closed, and we couldn’t believe how pink she looked. Since being extubated, she’s actually become slightly more cyanotic, but I’m looking forward to post-Fontan pinkness someday! One of the sweet nurses already had her name drawn on the board when we got there. Little things like that go a long way for parents! Also, do you remember how last time we were inpatient, I had to take down all my decorations, and I was super sad about it? Well, I heard a lot of reasons, as far as that paper and tape were a bacteria hazard, so I bought page protectors and suction cups, and voila! Interesting fact: I asked the nurses about it this time, and no one knew what in the world I was talking about. Sounds like just some normal growing pains with moving to a new tower — not everyone is on the same page with new/old rules. Moral of the story is, I got to decorate :)

While we are so happy with Sunley’s progress, we did have some bad news the day of discharge. Her last echo showed a weakened squeeze from the front portion of her only ventricle, and she had some mild pulmonary valve regurgitation. Neither of these things were issues that should keep her in the hospital, but it’s something to watch in future checkups (Next checkup is November 28th). Because of this, her sats are lower than we’d like (again, in the low 80s this time). No one can tell us what will happen in the coming years, but of course I’m concerned about that weak squeeze, concerned that the tissue below her aorta will continue to build up and cause problems, etc. It’s frustrating to look at her and know that at best, she will always only be well enough to not be in the hospital; she will never be WELL. The best phrase I’ll ever get to use concerning her health will be “She’s doing well for right now.” But who knows? Maybe we’ll get to be in that space for decades before encountering any major issues :)

On a brighter note, we are feeling like we’re SO close to going HOME to Midland!! Home by Christmas feels like a solid possibility, and we can’t wait to have our family back together. We were planning on trying to get our big kids here for Thanksgiving, but they have both been sick, and we just can’t risk Sunley catching anything at all right now. It breaks my heart, but we are going to have a second Thanksgiving in January, and I think we might make that a permanent tradition. There really aren’t words for how much I achingly miss my kids, but it is what it is, and it’s almost over, Lord willing. The coming 2019 will be the rebuilding year for the Nichols clan, and I can’t wait to get back to being my kids’ parent. Someone will probably need to remind me of this when I start to potty train Ruger.

While I’m completely OVER being away from home and away from my kids, a part of me is absolutely dreading returning to our everyday life. Everything has been completely paused for us, and I’m not really sure anymore how to not be in and out of the hospital, or how to interact with people outside of the hospital. Mostly, I am just really going to miss the friends we’ve made here. God didn’t answer our prayer of complete healing for Sunley, but He did send us into the arms of some pretty incredible heart parents who have uber-quickly become lifelong friends, as well as a couple doctors and nurses who made this whole thing bearable. Those friendships have made five separate hospital stays FUN. WHO says that?! Of course, no one wants to see their children in the hospital, but we are so blessed to have some actually really great memories accompany the hard ones.

I’m also really grateful for how much this journey has forced my brain to slow WAY down. I miss traveling and shooting weddings a whole lot, but I’ve been able to spend time with other creative outlets that I hadn’t before, and it’s all just for me, with no deadlines. I’ve written a ton of poetry and lullabies that’s just for me and my kids, I’ve been doing some watercolor just for fun, and of course I’m still editing photos (just not getting paid for them, ha). It’s been kind of fun to just let myself be a mom and an artist and not have to find a working balance between the two. I’ve been singing Sunley a short little song I wrote the day of her surgery, when we found out that the DKS was a real possibility. I was super worried about her ability to recover from such an invasive procedure, especially considering her issues with a previously weak squeeze, and even though it probably sounds morbid to a lot of people, this little song made me feel a lot better, and still does. Also, if you feel like this is dark, then just consider the lyrics to Rock a Bye Baby, and it makes this song sound like Happy Birthday ;)

If you take her, take her peaceful

Do not let her mind be fear

All I want is to see her smiling

All I want’s her to know You’re near

If you take her, take her laughing

By the ocean, bright and sunny

Feeling sand and watching sailboats

With her sister and brother running

If you take her, then take me also

For I don’t like this world alone

But if I stay while she leaves smiling

Then give me grit while we wait for Home

I am very sad to not have my bigs here today for Thanksgiving. Of course, we got about 5 different invitations to spend today with other families because we are surrounded by the sweetest people. But we just decided to spend the day with our small little unit, make chili dogs, and thank the Lord that we got to keep this little drop of sunshine in our lives <3

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