Charlotte's Journey Home

Just a Regular Kid, Sort Of


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Memories, Milestones and a Near Miss (bonus orthopedic update)

Facebook reminded me today that Charlotte spent October 25, 2012 at Lurie Children’s after her cardiac catheterization. While her heart-a-versary (May 16) never evades me, this date had slipped my mind. It was a blip,  a near miss in one way (as she wouldn’t need open heart surgery for another 2 years) and a reminder in another (it had been five years since her last heart intervention). Today, being reminded of Charlotte’s medical complexity on a day when all we had to deal with was typical adolescent anxiety was a gift.

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Charlotte is blessed with a mild version of truncus arteriosus, if a heart defect can be mild. She has no genetic syndrome (like Down Syndrome or DiGeorges, both closely associated with heart defects). She has no neurological, cognitive, or developmental complexities despite the strong correlation between congenital heart defects and ADHD, and between heart defects and learning disabilities.

But, while she has not had any surgical or heart complications (knock wood), she has not gotten off scot free. She is among the estimated 44% of CHD patients who develop scoliosis. So far, so good. her curve is at 5% or so and should not require surgery or a brace. (I did have her read Judy Blume’s Deenie this summer, just in case.)

We learned at her orthopedic appointment last spring, however, that she also has leg length discrepancy. That’s a fancy way of saying that one leg is significantly shorter than the other., the initial assessment indicated that there was as much as 2cm difference between the legs. Dr. King recommends surgical intervention for discrepancies +2cm.  The surgery requires two small incisions near the knee cap through which the doctor manipulates the growth ligaments on the longer leg to stop its growth. The surgery is timed so that the child will grow roughly as much as the discrepancy after surgery, letting the shorter leg catch up. There’s about a month on crutches and discomfort.

In October, Dr. King took special x-rays to measure each bone in the leg and determine just how big a discrepancy we’re facing. Special x-ray = laying a yardstick down next to the leg and then studying and measuring the resulting image. Not nearly as high-tech as I’d expcected!

The initial assessment indicated that there was as much as 2cm difference between her legs. Dr. King recommends surgical intervention for discrepancies +2cm.  The surgery requires two small incisions near the knee cap through which the doctor manipulates the growth ligaments on the longer leg to stop its growth. The surgery is timed so that the child will grow roughly as much as the discrepancy after surgery, letting the shorter leg catch up. There’s about a month on crutches and discomfort. They figure out the timing based on a hand x-ray that allows the doctors to determine the child’s bone age.

Charlotte and I had the same reaction to the news. We felt like we’d been punched in the stomach and resisted the urge to cry. As soon as we got home, I locked myself in the bathroom and wept like a baby. I couldn’t imagine my poor baby being surgically prevented from growing. And, based on her initial reaction, I knew that if she needed surgery we would be facing a different, and deeper, kind of anxiety than with her last heart surgery. The difference betwen 9 and 11 years old is significant in that regard.

About a week later, Dr. King called with the official results of Charlotte’s bone age study and leg measurement. The bottom line: the in-depth measurement shows only a 1cm discrepancy. So, for now, NO SURGERY FOR CHARLOTTE. Just six month check-ins until she finishes her growth spurt.

We  were all so relieved. A reminder of Charlotte’s forever status as a CHD patient, and a near miss in terms of another, new kind of surgery. And a chance to see just how like a giraffe she will naturally become. She’s topped 5’3″ already and towers over her friends, a cousin, and lots of adults.

With our gratitude to whatever powers continue to let Charlotte lead a regular life, our hearts go out tonight to Rosie Rose, a 12 year old who has been living with brain cancer since she was three. Today she had her tenth brain surgery (23rd surgery over all). She, her mom, and sister are the true warriors–living on their faith in G-d and using their spare time to raise money for Lurie Children’s and pediatric cancer. Please keep Rosie in your prayers.


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Cardio Report

As I began last time the blog returned from a holding pattern to our primary mode of communication about Sprout’s heart, I want to start by conveying our deepest gratitude for the emails and texts you sent after my last update. It is heartwarming (pun, though bad, is intended) to know that you continue to read and check in after nearly 10 years and that you especially tune in to the truly important things.

We had an early morning appointment at Lurie Children’s yesterday morning. As usual, Charlotte had an echocardiogram and an EKG. Liz Cappella, Dr. Young’s amazing nurse practitioner who has cared for Charlotte since our PICU days, came in to take a history. We let Charlotte take the lead answering the questions and describing what she’s been feeling. The bottom line for me is that Charlotte has been feeling things in her chest and her heart that she’s never felt before. While she was matter-of-fact in her explanations, it became clear last night that she was terrified (more on that later; probably in a separate post).

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Charlotte watches “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” during the echo. The technician (whose face I have inexpertly hidden per her request) had to keep asking Charlotte to stop laughing. Laughing, apparently, works well for photographs. Not so much for images made from sound!

 

After reading the tests, Dr. Young came in to tell us what she saw: Charlotte’s echo and EKG did indicate that the blood flow velocity through her pulmonary artery is limited and that there might be increasing stenosis. (There is more technical explanation to do with gradients and blood pressure; maybe we can get Dr. Young to post a comment and explain.)

We’ve been here before and we know the drill. This time Dr. Young is recommending more imaging prior to consulting with the cardio team, so we are waiting to schedule an MRI with contrast as well as an exercise test. Once those results are in hand, Dr. Young will conference Charlotte’s case with the whole cardio-thoracic team, including Charlotte’s surgeon, Dr. Backer; Dr. Jeffrey Gossett, the interventionist who performed the last angioplasty; doctors and nurse practitioners from cardio-thoracic surgery, cardiology, and cardiac critical care.

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Before they could get to the consultation, Charlotte and Dr. Young played Spelltower. Doc was quickly addicted and started batting Charlotte’s hand away from the screen. There’s a reason we love our cardiologist.

The bottom line, however, is clear: Charlotte will need an intervention. She will either have angioplasty or a full open-chest repair to replace the Dacron conduit, and probably the valve.

I’ll update more later with a compete download of the blood draw drama as well as Charlotte’s day of terror (from which she learned to put the iPad down and ask questions while mom and dad talk to the doctor).

I want to end on a personal note and congratulate Dr. Luciana Young on her promotion to full professor. If anyone has worked hard to earn that title, it is our friend and hero Luciana.



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Cardiology Update: Lung Perfusion

Charlotte had her lung perfusion on Monday.  The lung perfusion is an imaging test that uses a contrast dye to track the how her blood is pumping from her heart through her lungs. It measures, as I understand it, both velocity and concentration. Drs. Gossett and Young will use the readings from this test to determine what to look for with the cardiac catheterization and, after that, as part of a totality of evidence from which to decide next steps in general.

The picture looks like uncharted stars on a night sky.  Dr. Jarrod Green, the radiology fellow, explained that they would create mathematical measurements to understand the volume and velocity of blood pumping to her arteries.  Jamie, the nuclear medicine technologist, explained that once the photos were all taken, she would center and arrange them so that each showed the lungs in the identical place in the image, which would also match up to Charlotte’s other lung perfusion tests.  The idea is not only to get a picture of current conditions, but also to tell a story and see how today’s picture fits in.

We scheduled the test for first thing in the morning with the intention that Charlotte would go to school afterward.  For a week leading up to the test, Charlotte was quite nervous. She swung between asking a lot of questions and asking me not to mention it. But, yesterday morning, she got up, ate breakfast, and went chatting to the car like it was any other day. I was quite struck that she had few “game day” jitters, to be honest.

We arrived at Lurie Children’s at about 8:10 for our 8:30 appointment.  We were taken back to the imaging lab within minutes and the whole process started early.  First, Charlotte had to be weighed so the nuclear medicine lab could concoct the dye.

Emily, the wonderful child life specialist, and Jackie, the nuclear imaging technologist, set about explaining the test to Charlotte–the numbing of her arm, the IV and medicine, and the lying still for 45 minutes while sandwiched between two enormous cameras. Charlotte only wanted to know when they could get on with so she could start her movie (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).

Bubba checked out the gamma ray imaging machine. He thought it was pretty comfortable.

Charlotte barely noticed the IV being inserted. She was too busy playing left-handed Brave Temple Run on Emily’s iPad. Once the worst part–the IV–was over, Charlotte was eager to get to the test.

We haven’t heard the results yet. We’ll hear more about the findings when we go for the cardiac catheter next week.

And if there isn’t enough going on, we move to our new house tomorrow!

Charlotte is a serious trooper.