We have always carried in our hearts the knowledge that systemic JA is very complex and can be dangerous.  Sometimes this weight is too much to bare. So, as parents, Michael and I focus hard on the things in our lives that we can celebrate.  Our two most joyful celebrations we cherish are our two boys, Logan and Parker.  We have been so very blessed with all they bring to our lives.  As most parents, we wouldn’t trade them for anything in the whole wide world.  And because we adore them with every ounce of our beings, we also can feel such devastation when medical issues arise.

During the final week of school, we were painfully reminded how very fragile Parker’s health can be.  We know this to be true with our “minds”, but oh how we pray with our hearts for protection from this fact. 

For several months, Parker has had heart issues and is seeing a new pediatric cardiologist.  The cardiologist, and several of his other docs, feel that his heart issues are stemming from his autonomic system dysfuctioning.  This was firmly confirmed during his last hospital stay by the team of docs that surrounded the care of our dear child.  What makes this so incredible is that another young lady, whom we are very close to, is also experiencing autonomic dysfunction and it has been much more severe and she has been hospitalized for nearly 4 months (at two prestigious hospitals).  Her mom and I are close and much of the initial onset, lab results, and treatments were all the same for Parker.  Seeing her struggle is heart wrenching and makes us wonder “what’s to come…”.

Although this has complicated things for Parker, this is NOT what landed Parker in the hospital this month.  Very suddenly, Parker got incredibly sick with nausea and an uncontrollable gastro-intestinal virus.  Being nearly 16, I am sure he wants some privacy around this; so I will spare many of the details, but he did pass out and somehow made it back to his room after coming to.  I took his temp and he was running 104.9 degrees F; and he was completely delirious.  After calling his pediatric rheumatologist and leaving a message, I started packing because I already knew I was going to have to take him to the hospital.

Parker is on several immune suppressant drugs and one of them is a biologic, rilonacept (arcylist), that is specifically used for systemic JA because it is to keep fevers down.  In fact, it is also used for something called “periodic fever syndrome”.  One of its main purposes of this shot is fever suppression. We were advised, when he started the study on this drug, that if he ever ran more than 101 fever that we were to take him to the ER. 

After packing, I called the doc’s office back and by that time, Parker could hardly be awakened and was even more delirious.  I somehow got him into the wheelchair and into the car.  As we drove to the hospital, he was completely out of it and when we arrived he was starting to turn blue.  I was completely running through motions…pulling up to the ER entrance, pulling him into his wheel chair with the valet guy’s help, handing over my keys and rushing inside. 

A young man in the waiting room looked at him and said, “Mam, is he ok?” as Parker was sweating horribly, blue, and slumped over.  All I could squeak out was “yes, thank-you”…knowing full well he was not.  As they were handing me the form to fill out, a nurse rounded the corner and just took him from me and said follow me, pushing his wheelchair into triage.  She put the pulse ox on him and his oxygen was low.  And again she pushed him in his chair and said follow me.  As she entered the ER room, I was only steps behind her…and in front of me about 8 people swarmed the room leaving me to stand in the backdrop staring at my blue child, praying, and not knowing what to do.  They were hooking him up to all kinds of things, starting his port with IV bags AND digging for second access point to start another IV line, in his collapsed veins.  After 4 pokes and a second nurse trying, they finally got the second line started in his hand.  Parker never woke.

The lead doc asked me all kinds of questions and thank God I have all his diagnoses, surgeries, docs, treatments, and allergies all typed out on a list in my purse because I honestly was in shock.  All I could think to do was to give him the rheumatologist’s cell number …because I knew she would be able to explain his complexity and what labs to run.  There is something about seeing your child laying lifelessly on a gurney and his clothes being cut off him and him never waking up through all this. In that moment, I was so incredibly thankful that Parker’s sweet, caring, brilliant doctor had actually given me her cell number because even during this I felt like I was intruding on her personal life but I knew this was realllllly bad; and she held many key pieces of information that the ER staff needed.  She had saved his life before.

I was in the moment I have feared most with this disease…he was literally near death…I think closer than he has ever been.  As I type this I can’t stop my tears…I have literally dreaded sharing this in writing because typing this out makes it all too real and I am reliving it.  So I apologize to the many who don’t use Facebook and you are just now finding out that he was admitted into the pediatric ICU on June 3.

As they pushed multiple bags of multiple medications through him, and they finally seemed to begin stabilizing him and calming themselves, I called Michael.  Once again, here we were in crisis and he was out of town.  Of course, he drove straight to the hospital.  I then called Logan, as I knew he came home to an empty house.  I let him know that Parker was in good hands and to pray. 

See, Parker’s body couldn’t handle getting this virus on top of his systemic JA and his immune deficiency. Remember, he was already in autonomic dysfunction (dysautonomia has several forms) and on top of all this, his body was going into adrenal crisis.  Just that, on its own, is dangerous.  I didn’t realize until later in the PICU that this was also going on.  

That night was a very long sleepless night.  I couldn’t sleep, I could only stare at my child and the monitors and pray.  They had to move and shift him many times in that bed and he never ever woke.  I kept telling myself his body is healing…that is all his body can do right now…it is healing…I could not lose my child.  Not now…

Many specialists surrounded our son’s care that next day:  neurology, cardiology, endocrinology, gastrology, pulmonology, and pediatric critical chronic complex care specialists (who we actually have been trying to transfer him to for the past month because his primary doctor felt he is too complex for her to continue to treat him).    It was very surreal…many of these docs were partners to the docs he actually sees at the hospital and to hear their take on all this just made me take slower and deeper breaths.

The first two days in the hospital were quite a blur for me…for Parker they don’t even exist in his memory.  He can’t remember anything.  But I think that is probably a huge blessing for him.  With each day that followed there were more and more labs and tests. On the 5th and final day, he had an endoscopy that showed gastritis (which he has had for years now) and the doc shared pictures of where his pills hit the atrium wall of the stomach and there are tons of burn marks and blisters. So his meds have been adjusted some. They also took 5 biopsies that all came back negative.  Best news ever.

Parker was so thrilled to come home.  Due to all this, it has impacted school and he still has one final exam to make up but amazingly he passed to 10th grade.  This is truly a gift and was so needed after all he endured.  He had follow-up appointments with almost all his docs and mostly things are looking better.  He is our miracle kid.  He still has to still see a specialist for the dysautonomia.  We are setting that up, but in the meantime, the cardiologist has ordered weekly infusions of sodium chloride at home…this is one of the least invasion treatments for this, so we are proceeding with that.

For now, we are putting off his 2 minor surgeries but are still trying to get them done for prior to school starting.  In the meantime, the doc will do an MRI and get it all lined up for the neck nerve ablations and the nerve stimulator trial in his spine.  Parker still wants to have them done.  I just can’t imagine living in so much daily pain.

Parker is now enjoying the start of summer, resting a lot during the day, counting down the days for Camp Boggy Creek and anticipating the National Juvenile Arthritis Conference where he is an Ambassador of Hope.  Last night he went to the AF awards ceremony where he and Logan got an award for being the top family fundraising team.  Michael and I have all of you to thank for that amazing moment of pride.  It is because of all of you that our gratitude overflows.  You make it possible for our boys to go to conference and camp.  You make it possible for studies to be funded to push us closer and closer to a cure…and you instill HOPE in our children, so that they can continue to say YES to all the possibilities life has to offer.  Our family loves life a little more fully, a little more deeply, and lot more happily knowing that Parker pushed through this scary time, reminding us how precious life is.  Please hug and love on your children and family and keep on HOPING.


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