Friday, December 30, 2016

my LaiLu

I had to say good-bye to one of the loves of my life today.

She's gone by a lot of names in her 14 years; LaiLu. Lodi dodi. Lala. Lollee. Piggie.

She loved to swim, eat sticks, run like crazy, bathe in the sun, slide down hills upside down on her back, attack swings, bark at balloons, dig in the sand for rocks, push her nose and fat head into her towel after a bath, burrow through the sand with her face & come up looking like a sand snowman.

She was only allowed on the couch when I took a nap (pre-motherhood, when napping existed).  As soon as I'd lay down she knew she could jump up and wedge herself between myself and the couch. She hogged the bed, until her arthritis got bad and I had to ban her from it so she wouldn't break a leg jumping off.  She prepared me to be a mom.  She kept me warm inside the bottom of my sleeping bag, camping in Washington's cool springtime. She was my companion each night and day, age 25 to nearly 40.  She was my office mate throughout most my art career.  She spent as much time in the car as I did until more recently.  She didn't need anymore cuddles than she wanted for the moment. But she was always there for me to hold when I needed to cry. I was never lonely because I've had her.  She gave me a desire to fight for justice for her breed. She proved to many that a pit bull is love. She was a big sister to Naya Rose. She let me dress her up every halloween. She was proud to show off her fancy boa.

Looking in the direction that she's normally sleeping breaks my heart. All the little things I did for her and because of her will be a reminder of her.

I'm thankful for her life and her love. I buried my face in her neck today and breathed in for the last time on this earth. And I know know know that she is waiting for me.  I can't wait to have her barrel her head into my lap again.

My irreplaceable dog, HalLailujah Barnes
August 5, 2002 ~ December 30, 2016

Friday, December 2, 2016

Generosity & Thankfulness

Thanksgiving was a week ago, but I still wanted to join in on the thankfulness!
Over the last 2+ years that we have been living with the difficulties surrounding Naya's brain injury, I have found myself saying again and again that I've learned about the generosity of people, which I didn't know existed so abundantly.  I've loved seeing how people use their interests and passions and turn them into a ministry for others. It's given me a deep appreciation for the people that think outside of the box of what are generally seen as the “most important” issues, and provide care, relief and FUN in the lives of people who have daily struggles.  I wanted to share some of the blessings we've received from others at little or no cost, thanks to their vision to make life a little easier for families like ours.  It's the things like these that help make our days less difficult, and more fun!

Beach Buggy - Stepping Stones for Stella 
Navigating the beach is going to be fun instead of a struggle!

OCs Special Spokes

Naya can cruise the neighborhood on her bicycle like the rest of the kids


A stroller like this makes getting in & out of a grocery store much
easier than needing to put the wheel chair together each time

Physical Therapy For All
We've got this high end mechanical wheelchair on loan indefinitely!

Cecily's Closet - Belly Bands 
A Hello Kitty g-tube coverup!

 Lend-A-Hand Therapeutic Riding Center
The owner of this center sought out a grant for Naya to get training weekly through 
the rest of the year. I love that Naya has her "thing" while all 
her friends are able to do gymnastics & soccer.

Ronald McDonald House Charities
From housing, to food, to haircuts, the RM House has
been a huge blessing to us multiple times.

Kimberlee Russell  & Riverview church 
Kimberlee puts on an annual Easter Carnival at the Ronald McDonald House
& creates dozens of Easter baskets for hospitalized kids

Caroline’s Carts
These are awesome to have available while shopping.  It's been a while
since I could cram Naya into the kiddie seat
of a shopping cart, and it's not easy to push a wheelchair AND
a shopping cart at the same time! :)
Inclusive Adaptive Parks have popped up all over, making it possible for Naya to swing, and even take her wheel chair up onto playground equipment.

And not to leave out my BIGGEST thank you to all of you, my friends & family, that have been there for us.  You helped me bring Naya home from China, cared for us through sickness & health, housed us, fed us, & loved us.  And Jesus, who is there for us every moment, who has done and WILL do miraculous things for my daughter. 

My DEAR family, and friends that are family, Naya's therapists, her school aide Marie, her teachers. All of you that donated money to our adoption fund, put on garage sales, created/obtained art for me to sell, sold t-shirts, made headbands to sell, threw purse parties, donated profits from business sales, massage therapy, sent gifts and sent meals and brought chocolate while we were hospitalized, and the list goes on, I wish I could remember every act of kindness as this moment to mention it!

This is starting to sound like the end of an academy awards speech or something. But anyways, though I complain regularly, I know in my heart that we have SO MUCH to be thankful for!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Latest Good & Bad

School is back in session for Naya, and I will be back in school also in a week. It's the last semester to earn my bachelor's as I progress towards working in the field of speech therapy, so that is exciting!!

Today I was pleased to realize that over the summer I have become a little more capable of "living in the moments" of mom-life.  As summer was about to begin this year I worried that my fuse might not be long enough.  I live in such a strange harmony of utter thankfulness for each moment I have with Naya, as well as the rejoicing in any flash of me-time that I'm able to secure.  The summer's daily run-around was still ridiculous by my old standards, and at the end of each day I still had to breathe a sigh of relief, but with God's help it's actually been pretty enjoyable! Despite the circumstances I know I am so blessed to have all this time to grow closer to her.

I wanted to share how Naya has been doing physically. While she still has a long way to go to be able to walk or write on her own, she has come SO far from when we were discharged from the hospital two years ago. Cognitively she is doing REALLY well... she still experience some learning challenges, but works hard to keep up with her 2nd grade classmates.

Almost 2 months ago now Naya had heart surgery.  Her heart function had decreased significantly since her heart surgery in January, so pace maker wires were moved around in hopes of making the ventricle pump blood more efficiently.  It was expected that it could take weeks to see if this surgery worked. We were hoping at 6 weeks to see some significant improvement, but her recent echocardiogram showed none-to-slight improvement, which was very disappointing.  Her cardiologist has not given up hope that it could still improve.  If it doesn't, the medical team still has some ideas to try, but it seems there are not a lot of options between here and heart transplant.  People with Naya's type of heart disease know that a transplant is where they are headed eventually, but the hope is to put it off until their 20's, or even 30's. Having to get a transplant as a young child is scary.  Being eligible for a heart and finding one can be difficult.  I know of children that haven't made it through their transplants because of organ rejection.  I know that all the post-transplant drugs one has to take can take a toll on the rest of your body.  And I know that new heart usually only has a life of up to 20 years if all goes great.  So if she needs a heart one day and gets one, I would be eternally grateful for another child's sacrifice and gift.  But it is not my hope for Naya.

While this is all disturbing, I can thankfully say that most of the time I'm still living in peace.  Back when I discovered the severity of Naya's condition, I believe God gave me this verse for her, which I go back to for comfort. I believe God has big plans for her life.
"I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done."  Psalm 118:17
And I'm forever thankful for my family & friends, and the community of supportive friends online that Naya & I have.  Knowing you all are praying for or thinking of her gives me peace as well.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

NYE in the ICU!

I'm watching Ryan Seacrest's countdown to the new year (on television, unfortunately) and am not sure why I don't know any of the songs that the musicians are playing.  I'm going to blame it on Temecula's lack of clear radio stations versus me being lame.

New Year's Eve has always been one of my favorite nights of the year.  Usually my friend Melissa & I start planning 6 months in advance to know where we are going and what we'll be wearing.  So to be sitting on a hospital bed with Naya knowing that I may not make it until midnight (for the first time as long as I can remember) feels out of character.  Hopefully I'll make up for it next year with a babysitter and some high heels.

Naya had her 5th open heart surgery 3 days ago on December 28th.  It's been a year & a half since we checked out of Rady Children's Hospital after our 5 months stay.  It felt way too soon to come back, but we needed to as a blockage to Naya's aorta had formed, impeding the blood flow.  In Naya's heart the aorta is the only way blood gets out, so it needed to be addressed. 

Her recovery has gone REALLY well, I'm so thankful.  There is one big issue that the doctors say may or may not resolve itself, which is the heart is pacing too slowly.  If that doesn't resolve that means she'll need another surgery and pacemaker (and recovery period) before we can leave.  I'm really praying God will jump start that heart and get us out of here with a heart that beats well on its own.

I was so happy for 2014 to end. 2015 hasn't been awful but also has not been awesome.  If I have a new year's resolution it could be to try to enjoy something about each day of 2016.  I'll definitely start with the blessing of Naya making it through surgery and laying here next to me right now. 

Pain killers help to make a happy new year!
My sister is across the street after puking all day, with dad & my mother with her broken wrist/ribs.

Let's end with a more flattering moment of the year.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Moment in the Life of a Special Needs Mom

I know I'm not the only one who identifies with this mug. 

Over the last 10 months I've stepped into the shoes of a mom with an obviously 'special needs' child.  Although Naya will always be special needs due to her heart condition, the experience of daily life with a physically handicapped child has been different, and so unexpected.

My first recognition that Naya would be seen as one of 'those kids' was while we were in the McDonald's at the hospital one morning.  It was the first week she was allowed to be taken out of our ICU room without a nurse, so we strolled her to the McDonalds to get some fresh air and coffee.  At that point she was unable to hold her head up, or focus her gaze very much.  While we stood in line, a well intentioned mom pushed her little girl towards Naya's wheel chair and smiled big, prompting her to 'say hello'.  I smiled back, but saw that it wasn't because Naya looked like a fun, cute girl in line.  It was because she wanted to show her daughter how to be kind and friendly to 'those kids.'  Naya then threw up... the latest issue we were having trouble resolving.  Eek.  My heart caught in my throat as I realized who we now were.  And truthfully, I wouldn't have wanted that mom to do anything differently, and I'm pretty sure I'd do the same. It just sucked to recognize.

Her first day in Kindergarten this year was a similar experience.  I feared what the kids would say to her, how they'd relate to her, if they'd make her feel inferior, or like something was wrong with her.  She sat at the end of her group table in her wheelchair, unable to talk very coherently, and crying at times when she was upset about something.  The kids quietly stared at her....not sure what to make of her. Maybe a little scared of her.  I hated that... though I knew they weren't responding any differently than Naya herself would have a year earlier.  A 5 year old will be curious and maybe a little scared about things they're not familiar with. 

In the past, when I've seen a mother out with her handicapped child, I just thought of that being their life.  Something hard, but something they were accustomed to living with.  Now when I see them, I think of the tragedy that brought them to that life, the moment a pregnant mother hears that her baby is going to be born disabled, or the moment an accident turned a healthy, running toddler into a little boy that can't color or feed himself anymore.

And now I also have an idea of how these special needs moms go forward with life.  For me, what's kept me 'okay' has been God, then family and friends, then just taking each day one hour at a time.  And though it breaks my heart at times, Naya's perseverance and positive attitude show her mother that she is going to be okay, that she enjoys her life, and that she doesn't see her special needs as who she is, but as a challenge that she conquers a little more each day.  

And the reality of daily life is that Naya is so loved by all around her. Those kindergartners that stared at her and asked what was wrong with her quickly grew to love her to pieces.  They're constantly shouting hello to her across the classroom, asking for high-5's, telling her how pretty she looks...her sweet teacher has even created a waiting list for kids that want to be her buddy each day!  Each morning the first thing I hear them ask when we arrive is whose turn it is.  Everywhere we spend much time she becomes a favorite.  Her personality shines through her disabilities.  

Clearly the one with the biggest hardship to overcome here is not me, it's Naya.  But I know it can be hard as a mom....and spending a moment in that mom's shoes gives me a new appreciation for and understanding of those families whose lives are effected by special needs.  I say a 'moment' because I do still have hope that's what it is.... that she will be healed of the brain damage and her abilities will all return.  Only God knows the future, I guess I've learned He equips us with what we need to live the moment we are in.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


It feels really great to be home and sitting on the couch with my computer, as Naya is tucked in bed sleeping.  It's our 3rd night home, after 5 months of hospital living.  Naya is happy.

We're hitting the ground running with all the unpacking, re-organizing for new needs, and zillion follow up appointments Naya has for PT, OT, ST, Pediatrician, Cardiology, School Evaluation, and on & on.  She'll be back to Kindergarten on August 13th!  Navigating each day with the new physical challenges she faces has been harder, but we're figuring it it out.  And I know her recovery is no where near complete, thank you Lord. 

I realized I hadn't posted any type of summary of what she's been through these past five months, so wanted to do that now for anyone who was wondering what the details have been.

Naya & I became family on January 21st, 2013.  I knew she had congenital heart disease when I adopted her.  However what I found out at her first cardiology appointment once I got her home was very much a shock.  Instead of the quick fix I'd been told would get her to healthy, it turns out her condition is much more serious, with no current long term 'fix.'  Her diagnosis is hypoplastic left ventricle, mitral atresia with double outlet right ventricle, and multiple ventricular septal defects.  Basically she has one ventricle instead of two, pumping blood to her body and lungs.  There are a serious of surgeries that children with this condition usually get.  I learned she could get these in the near future, they would hopefully keep her heart working for a decade or two, and then we hope that there have been advances in medical science to create an option for her other than a heart transplant.

After being home a year, on February 24th 2013 Naya went in for a Fontan surgery.  This surgery would result in the final outcome that 2 or 3 surgeries normally result in.  While it would be a more difficult recovery, the idea of one versus two open heart surgeries made sense.  

The first couple days were very rough, but her little body pulled through and started to recover.  After this first week of watching her struggle and go through torture, I know why people call these children Heart Warriors.  She is so strong. 

Several complications occurred over the next couple weeks, including another open heart surgery, and an abdominal bleed where she lost 80-90% of her blood.  Her body couldn't recover from the surgery with the mounting setbacks.  She was put on ECMO, a life support device which the thought of makes a parent shudder.  That was the hardest day of my life, knowing how close she was to death.  She went in for a third open heart surgery and the Fontan was reversed, leaving her with a BT Shunt, which was essentially the original functionality she began with.  Thank the Lord, she was able to be taken off ECMO, and over the next couple weeks began to improve.  At this point she had been unconscious for around a month.  Over the next couple days the doctors started to fear that she may have suffered brain damage during one of the dangerous points where she'd been deprived oxygen. As we waited for her to come out of sedation, hoping for response, it didn't come.  A CT scan revealed severe brain damage with a "poor" prognosis. Hypoxic-ischemic brain injury.  This was terrifying and heart breaking for me, imagining that I had lost Naya as we all knew her, even though her body remained here.  My family & friends got me through that time with their hope and faith that God was going to restore her. 

After a three day treatment and induced 'brain coma', the sedation was turned off and we waited. Waiting to see if she was going to open her eyes, see us, breathe on her own, or be able to squeeze our fingers.  That kind of waiting makes you want to put yourself in a coma and not wake up until you have answers. 
She DID breathe on her own, as the breathing tube was removed. Thank you God.  She opened her eyes. She didn't respond to our requests, and only looked through us. The next several weeks were like walking around with a knife in your heart. Seeing her in this state was unbearable at times. We kept reminding ourselves to 'Walk by Faith, and not by Sight.'  And 'sight' did not feel good.  The first time she smiled is when my hope returned. We were joking with a nurse, calling my mother 'Nana banana', and a slight smile crept across her face. She was listening to us...and understood a joke. She was still here.  Once Naya stabilized heart-wise we were able to leave the Cardiac ICU.  Our next 3 months were spent in the hospital's Rehab unit.  When we entered, Naya couldn't hold her head up, talk, or move her body parts much at all.  Medical staff have told us she is a miracle; seeing where she started to where she has come.  She continues to improve daily.  She can now sit up, eat with her fork, talk talk talk, and is her old self.  Praise God, our faith finally became sight.  She still has a long road of recovery ahead of her, but I am so grateful that she continues to improve.

We finally left the hospital July 26th and went straight to Seattle where Naya strolled down the aisle as my dear friend Ryan's flower girl. She is a true miracle that I am so thankful for. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Good-bye to Sony...

It seems like the last day of my career as I know it... I've been working in the video game industry since 1998, sixteen years!!
Though I have not been in to work for the last five months, when I walked into my building today it felt like I was just there yesterday morning.  Drop off my purse, log on, go grab my coffee, sit down and start checking email.  And it's the best day of the week, bagel & donut day.  I guess that's how it feels when you've spent half your time somewhere for the last 8 years. The days (and sometimes nights) at Sony Online have meant a lot to me. Time here gave me skills that I am proud of and friendships that will last.  This company and it's management have been a huge blessing to me.
February 11, 2006 - July 18th, 2014, thank you SOE!

My cleaned out desk & chair. I can't imagine any one
else's butt will put the time in that mine has on it.