Sam. Conqueror. Overcomer.

On the 15th May 2009, Samuel Christian made his way into this world...two month's premature and in severe respiratory distress. Within hours, Sam was diagnosed with Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome - a very rare congenital disorder, of which little was known. The diagnosis together with the immediate challenges Sam faced to thrive became our core focus and it was with joy and thankfulness that we eventually brought Sam home, after nine weeks in the NICU.

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 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

As the parent of a differently-abled child... hard should you push? How sure can you be that you're allowing enough consideration for health, physiological and emotional wellbeing. How sure can you be that you're not allowing too much consideration? And on which one of those would you most prefer to err?

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, 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

Does he know...

...that he is different? I've wondered about this often before but could never really come to a solid conclusion and, honestly, wasn't sure it mattered much. About a month ago we sat in the ENT's office...I say "sat" but mean "flapped, whinged and occasionally shrieked"...with Sam becoming increasingly agitated as our wait ticked past an hour. The younger, more mobile patients (all 'typical') provided Sam with a momentary distraction as they played on the mat, hopped around, etc. but once that moment had gone (all 5 seconds of it) Sam resorted to taking occasional swipes at them, especially whenever one sprightly young kiddo entered his personal space...which personal space, with about 4x4m² being shared by four other children, had had to become remarkably conservative!

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 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 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

Mother's Day this year was one for the books (or blog in this case) as it came complete with a school-made Mother's Day card from the lil flappy dude. Although I am pretty sure that Sam's not particularly invested in the sentiments of Mother's Day as, of course, every day is in fact Sam's Day (just kidding) he sure did seem super-chuffed with his card!

And immediately after Mother's Day the lil flappy dude went and turned EIGHT! With his birthday falling on a Monday, he had  a small celebration with his classmates, which he was just as super-chuffed about...especially because there were balloons involved, the object of Sam's most passionate love-hate fascination.

And immediately after his birthday (like literally the next day) Sam went into theatre for his umpteenth number of grommets and for us to finally have an opportunity to intervene and hopefully provide some relief from the nasty issues those talon cusps have been causing. 

The grommets were a breeze, as always! The talon cusps were filed down so that they now lie flush with the gum/palate and then a little of the surrounding gum was cut away to make room for the bulk of the cusp which has yet to grow out. Sam had also made light work of grinding another two teeth down into the gum. Luckily these were both still milk teeth which could be extracted to make way for the yet-to-make-an-appearance adult teeth. The work on the talon cusps proved a bit of a bloody affair and Sam was not entirely impressed with the generous mouthful of blood he woke up from anaesthetic with (apologies for the graphic details). Since the procedure, now three weeks ago, we have had a rather challenging time getting Sam to drink fluids. Follow up consultations have reassured that his mouth, throat and ears are all looking really good so it has been a little exhausting trying to figure out what the issue is, which issue is now causing some very unwanted bladder problems. For a host of reasons (which I am not going to go into now) Sam still drinks mostly from a bottle. Knowing his complicated sensory system, the chances are that the first few bottles after the procedure caused a significant amount of discomfort (we were warned this would be the case) and so Sam has now developed a negative association with a bottle. With another kid this could perhaps have been a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to animatedly introduce an alternate, way more fun drinking apparatus! This is, however, I'm pretty much doing WWF-style moves while squirting small amounts of liquid down his throat. Could it possibly have gone any other way 😉  

And, in closing, some recent school pics...just because 💜