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Mitchell's Story

 

 

    In November of 1997 when we discovered we were expecting our first child we were thrilled.  I immediately began to imagine what our life would be like and what our child would look like.  I read all of the books, I took very good care of myself, and I said my prayers every night.

    I thanked God for blessing us with a child and prayed that our child would not only be healthy but also non-disabled.   For as long as I could remember I'd had a feeling that God would choose to give us a special child but I didn't think I was ready for that.  I've worked in the school system for years, much of my experience in special education, and I knew the challenges associated with special needs children.  I specifically prayed for a "perfect" child, rather than the strength and courage to be the best parent I could be to the child God chose for us.

    Our child arrived on Tuesday, July 21, 1998.  It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day and shortly after waking up I realized that "it was time."  I was so excited, scared, and happy that I had to ward off the giggles as I called for my husband Tim.  I couldn't stop smiling at the prospect of meeting my baby.  In the final weeks of my pregnancy I had become so impatient I thought this day would never come.  We arrived at the hospital around 9:00 a.m. and throughout much of the day I had intermittent contractions but was "getting no where."  It was decided to start me on pitocin at 3:00 p.m. and the rest of my labor progressed very rapidly.  At 8:51 p.m. that evening Mitchell Timothy Hansen was born.  He weighed six pounds, seven ounces and he was perfect.  The first words out of my mouth were, "Thank you God."

    The following day we spent calling friends and family with the wonderful news and enjoying time with our visitors.  Mitchell was very sleepy and didn't have much interest in eating but I was repeatedly reassured that many newborns react that way to birth.  Late that afternoon one of the nurses noticed that Mitchell was having difficulty regulating his temperature and notified us that he would have to spend some time away from us in the nursery where he could be warmed up and monitored.  I tried not to show it, but I was scared.

    Thursday morning, the day we were supposed to go home, a nurse brought Mitchell to me for his feeding.  I snuggled him close, so happy to have him in my arms.  It was then I saw him have a seizure.  My first thought was, "Oh God, No!"  I waited, hoping that what I had seen hadn't really happened.  My fears were confirmed a few minutes later when he had another seizure and I immediately called for the nurse.

    Mitchell was whisked away, a Neonatolotist was called, and a CT scan was ordered for that morning.  At 11:00 a.m. we found ourselves in the "special nursery" being told what might possibly be wrong with our son.  We were initially told it could be a congenital brain condition, an infection that has attacked his brain, trauma during birth, or an infarct (stroke) that has caused the brain damage in the right side of the brain.  The doctor went on to say an infarct could be caused by a blood clot or a piece of the placenta being lodged in the brain.  I tried to be strong but the only thing I was really comprehending were the words, "There's something wrong with his brain."  We were devastated and felt incredibly helpless.  The Neonatolotist said we should "wait and see" which of his theories proved to be the correct one.  In the meantime Mitchell had been given the "load dose" of Phenobarbital to stop the seizures.  The only thing we could do was pray.

    By Thursday afternoon our parents and siblings had returned to stand vigil with us.  As the day wore on we began to realize that our local hospital was best equipped for "normal births" but not a newborn in critical condition.  We spoke to the Neonatolotist and asked for an immediate transfer to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics which was seventy miles away.  The call was made and the nurses explained to us that the UIHC doctors determine how a baby will be transported, by ambulance or helicopter, based on the newborn's condition.

    I tried to console myself by thinking, "This isn't serious enough for a helicopter transport.  They'll send an ambulance and we'll all ride together."  Moments later a nurse got off the phone and simply said, "They're sending the flight team."  For the first time in my life, my knees went weak.  I spent the next moments trying to memorize every part of Mitchell.  If I curved my pinky it perfectly matched the contour of his ear, his feet were as long as my index finger, and his little arm was roughly the distance from the tip of my middle finger to the bottom of my palm.  I then watched helplessly as my tiny baby was placed onto an enormous gurney with an isolette, wheeled through the back halls and loaded into the helicopter.  I will never forget the terror I felt as I watched the helicopter go out of sight.

    It took us over an hour to drive the distance Mitchell had traveled in just nine minutes.  Upon arrival at the UIHC we were escorted through what seemed like endless corridors to get to the intermediate NICU.  It was well into the night so the room was dark, lit only by innumerable monitors and a few other lights.   Mitchell's isolette was surrounded by nurses and a resident whom I mistook for a welcoming committee.  At that moment Mitchell was having his first and only apnea  episode and I over heard one of the nurses saying, "C'mon baby.  C'mon baby, breathe."  There were wires covering his little body monitoring his respiration, his temperature, and the oxygen level in his blood.  Oddly enough it was then that my husband began to feel hope.  Tim knew Mitchell was receiving the best care he could get and he felt that we had made the right decision for our son.

    On Friday afternoon we, along with 12 of our family members, met with the pediatric neurologists to hear the diagnosis.  We were told that the CT scan definitely showed an infarct in the right middle cerebral artery and that it happened most likely during the third trimester of the pregnancy.  As for the prognosis, that remained to be seen.  We were told that Mitchell would most likely have difficulty physically on the left side of his body and that cognitively there was much hope due to the "plasticity" of the infant brain.  Rather than devastating, this meeting had been liberating for Tim and I.  This time we heard the word "hope" and we knew our son would survive.  Yes, there were many challenges to come but nothing we didn't think we could handle.  Again I thanked God and this time prayed for the strength we would all need.

    For much of the next week Mitchell was heavily sedated.  The loading dose of Phenobarbital had caused the level in his blood to reach the high thirties causing him to be extremely lethargic.  We waited anxiously for the pheno level to go down and for Mitchell to begin feeding on his own.  On August 2, 1998 (the day before our second wedding anniversary) all the conditions had been met and we were being sent home!

    We made return visits to UIHC at four and seven months for check-ups with the neurologist and developmental specialist.  We were able to wean Mitchell from the Phenobarbital in March of 1999 based on the good results from those visits.  At five months Mitchell was evaluated by an early childhood specialist and thus far appears to be developing normally in terms of his social, cognitive, and emotional development.  We intend to keep an eye on his speech development for possible delays but are pleased with the vocalization he has now.  Also at five months Mitchell was evaluated by occupational and physical therapists and has been receiving their services weekly as a result of the high muscle tone on his left side.  That is Mitchell's "medical description" in a nutshell but his mommy has another description.

    Mitchell absolutely loves to smile.  Matter of fact it is difficult for me to capture a somber moment or a different face because his smile appears as soon as he sees the camera!  He frequently lets out belly laughs from out of nowhere.  It could be the sound of tearing paper, his mommy's silly face, or a cold Popsicle  to touch that delight him.  He loves the sound of applause so he'll perform "so big" or "peek-a-boo" for any willing participant.

    Lately he enjoys "playing catch" (rolling a ball back and forth) and offering bites of his food to everyone.  He gets from place to place by rolling and sitting up, rolling and sitting up.  We're working on crawling and fully expect him to walk in his own time.  We are so impressed with his motivation and positive attitude.  He just keeps trying and learning new things.

    Mitchell will be celebrating his first birthday in two months.  In anticipation of that event we look back at what we've been through and are thankful for all that Mitchell has accomplished.  We rejoice in every new skill Mitchell learns, no matter how "small," and we recognize there is so much more to come.  I have learned to take my son's lead, to try and take each day as it comes and not to question what God's plan is for each of us.  I thank God everyday for the beautiful, perfect baby boy he chose for us and I pray each night for the courage and strength to be the best parent I can be.
 
 

-Tim, Staci and Mitchell
 
 

 
 

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This page last updated 12/31/2001