Wednesday, September 24, 2008

September 24th, 2007. The Day I Witnessed a Miracle

Do you believe in miracles???  Al Michaels uttered this phrase during the 1980 Winter Olympics as the final seconds ticked off the clock.  When the clock hit 0:00, the United States Hockey team had done the unthinkable.  The improbable.  They had beaten the mighty Soviet Union in the semifinals.  They then went on to win gold.  As Mr. Michaels pointed out, this was a miracle win.  A win that no one thought possible, except for the players and the coaches of that famed U.S. Hockey team.


Ladies and Gents, I have personally witnessed a miracle.  And as much as I love sports, the miracle that happened in my life dwarfs any accomplishment in sports.  Broadway Joe and the Jets knocking off the Colts in Super Bowl III?  Not even close.  Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson? Please.  Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 World Series? Whatever.  All of those moments are small potatoes compared to what Lisa and our family went through.


Most of you know the story about our daughter Elisabeth.  Lisa covers all of the comings and goings of our family over on her blog, so I usually don’t bother.  After all, she is the one that has the most viewers.  If it was on my blog, a lot of people would miss out.  But today I am going to take you back to exactly one year ago today.  The day that my 3rd daughter was born.


We had known since April 24th that our sweet daughter had serious problems.  Any time an Ultrasound Tech is speaking in whispers to the Radiologist that she called down to “just look at something” and you hear the Radiologist whisper back, “Have you told them anything yet” and she answers, “No”, you know in your gut that it can’t be good.  And then before being hit with a ton of bricks having her blurt out “It’s a girl” which is somehow supposed to curb our curiosity.  The words “water on the brain” and “Hydrocephalus” soon followed from the Radiologist. 


Our world started spinning out of control.  I had no idea what I was supposed to do as a Husband at that moment.  How do I go about comforting my wife when I have no clue what kind of medical jargon was just thrown my way?  The radiologist told us to go back to Lisa’s lady doctors’ office and talk to him.  Little did we know that this would be the start of 5 months of little to no information from the medical community.


The next month was hard.  We went to a specialist about a week later to have another ultrasound, and see what he would say about our situation.  What he said to us was some of the most crushing news that I have ever personally received.  He told us our baby was going to die.  That there was nothing we could do.  That her brain was so filled up with fluid that it would most likely crush her cerebral cortex, and she would die in utero.  And if by some grace of god she was able to be born, she would die right after birth.  Of course all of this was followed up by this “Specialist” pressing us not once, not twice, but three different times to just have an abortion, so this baby wouldn’t have to suffer.  It was at this point I lost all respect for this “Specialist”  He is lucky I didn’t punch him in the head.


We decided to keep the baby alive.  Not that we really had to think hard about it.  Abortion was never an option in our minds.  The next several months were loaded with Dr. appointments in Spokane.  I guess a good thing to come out of that is we figured out downtown Spokane, and it went from taking us 30 minutes to getting out of it down to about 5.  We also got to see my sister Heidi and her family more often.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the kindness of my sister and her Husband Jeff, this whole ordeal would have cost us even more.


Things started looking up for our little baby.  The amount of fluid in her brain was staying steady.  Every day that passed, it became more and more likely that she was going to live!  We didn’t care about the possibility of mental problems.  Just as long as we had a bundle of joy to take home with us, we would be happy.  Lisa had everything that we would need to accommodate a newborn in the house.  All we had to do was wait.


We had the name Elisabeth Elva picked out for a while.  Elva was the name of my Great Grandmother.  I have so many fond memories of going to her house on Smith St. in Richland.  Luckily before she died she made Heidi and I a tape of her talking to us.  I wanted to honor her sweet existence by using her name.  We both felt that it was a perfect fit.


The Doctor up in Spokane decided that Elisabeth would be delivered at 38 weeks gestation.  At first Lisa and I were thinking 36 weeks, since we had read online that is when a lot of hydro babies are taken.  Needless to say Lisa wasn’t too pleased having to be pregnant another two weeks.  But the day finally arrived. 


We checked into Deaconess Hospital that morning, and they prepared Lisa for the Caesarian that was scheduled for 10:00.  My family was up in Spokane for the birth, along with Lisa’s brother Michael, and her mother Holly.  Everyone was waiting patiently for the moment to arrive.  They pulled Lisa into the birthing room, and said that as soon as they were ready for me, they would call me in.  I was decked out in scrubs, waiting for the call to come out that it was time to go in the room.


After what seemed like a very long time, a nurse came to the double doors and said that it was time.  I turned at waved to my family one more time before I stepped into the room that dear Elisabeth was going to enter this world in.  When I walked in the room, I couldn’t believe how cheerful it was.  It was filled with the late morning sun streaming through the windows.  Classical music was playing in the background.  The windows took up the whole wall, and below you could see the beautiful courtyard that separated the Hospital and Lewis and Clark High School.  I went behind the curtain, and held Lisa’s hand.  My wife had never looked so at peace before.  I could tell that the spirit was with us that day.  I knew that everything was going to be OK. 


Then we heard it.  A baby crying.  Those final seconds before they brought Elisabeth around for us to see her, many things went through my head.  What did she look like?  Was her head going to be all deranged because of the hydro?  Is she really going to be OK?  But once I saw that beautiful being, all of those thoughts went away.  She was amazing, even with all of the blood and guts covering her.  I started snapping pictures like a madman.  It was easily the most exciting moment of my life. 


After a few minutes of them cleaning her off, they realized that she wasn’t breathing right. They had to get her to the NICU right away so they could get a breathing tube in her.  So I went with Elisabeth, while Lisa had to stay behind and get put back together.  The next few minutes are kind of a blur to me.  When we made it down to the NICU, I went out and told my family that she was here.  People were allowed in one at a time to have a look at her.  Since she was in the NICU, the visits had to be short.  But everyone was able to get a look at her.


I also had something very important that I had to do.  We were saving her cord blood so we could ship it off to Duke University for the stem cell infusion that we were planning on doing.  It was pertinent that this was done ASAP, because if the blood took too long to get back to North Carolina, it would be no good.  I packaged it all up the way it was supposed to be, and drove to the closest UPS drop off site.


The next day her brain surgery was scheduled.  They had to place the shunt in order to start draining off the excess fluid, but they had to make sure she was stable enough for them to do it.  At first they thought they would have to wait a couple of days, but Elisabeth was strong enough to do it sooner.  The surgery went off without a hitch.  Dr. Gruber, the Neurosurgeon, was amazing.  How he was able to do her surgery with only a 1 inch incision on her head, and a ½ inch incision on her belly blows my mind!


The hardest part of all of this for Lisa is that she was not able to hold Elisabeth for several hours after she was born.  In fact it wasn’t until that night that Lisa was OK’d to go down to the NICU and hold her.  And even when she did finally get to hold her, she had so many cords and wires coming off of her, it was hard to really snuggle her.  But when Lisa did get to hold her for the first time, she just glowed.  They could have cut the power to the building, and the light coming off of Lisa’s face would have lit up the whole NICU. 


Elisabeth ended up having to spend a week in the hospital.  That might seem long, but they had predicted that it could be anywhere between 2-4 weeks that she would have to be there.  The day that we brought her home was great.  We bundled her up inside of her pink car seat with baby blankets rolled up on both sides of her.  Her newly placed shunt was still very pronounced, and with the stitches still in her head, it made it look even stranger. 


We knew that the next few months would be filled with ups and downs, Dr. appointments and picture appointments, but we were ready for every minute of it.  While it might appear to the outside world that all of our ordeals with this sweet child are hardships, they are not.  Not even close.  Lisa and I both believe that the Lord does not give you anything that you can’t handle.  Elisabeth has been the biggest blessing for our family ever.  Our little miracle baby.  To steal a line from Harry Potter, she was “The girl who lived!”


Happy 1st birthday my dear sweet Elisabeth.  Many people in this world love you.  People that you have never met, and probably never will meet love you.  Your family loves you, as well as friends and neighbors.  But most of all, your Mother and I love you.  Our lives would not be complete if we had not been blessed with you.  You will have many other birthdays, but this one is the most important.  It is the one we were told you would never have, but you defied the odds and made it.


Do I believe in miracles?  Yes.  I do.


Janice said...

This is a wonderful post.

Stephanie said...

You got me all choked up. You have meet my definition of a real man.One who can be strong, yet kind and loving. Thank you for sharing your heart.

Heather said...

This really is an amazing story, and I liked hearing your perspective.

Happy Birthday Elisabeth!!

MSB said...

First your wife has my crying... now you.
She really is a miracle and she has touched way more people than you will ever know.

Em and Ms said...

This was so beautifully written. It's so nice to hear your perspective and express your love for your beautiful daughter. You're right, many people love that sweet little girl! We've only met her once, but we love her and feel like we're a part of her life. Elisabeth is definitely a miracle and a blessing!

The Soldatke family said...



I am one of Lisa 'friends' and have read your blog for a while now; but this post has made me delurk :) You are an amazing man-and a lucky one too :) Your wife is pretty awesome. Your dedication to your family is a rarety these days and we need more men like you. You have such a beautiful family; God bless you!


meohmyers said...

I'm so glad you detoured from your regular posts to share with us your perspective of this whole experience. A miracle indeed. I hope you all have a wonderful day celebrating this incredible milestone. Happy 1st Birthday to your sweet baby girl!

Brooke said...

What an incredible story- a miracle indeed! Your girls are so blessed to have you and Lisa as parents. Have a wonderful time celebrating such an amazing milestone with Elisabeth!

Marilyn said...


You made me cry. This is a beautiful tribute to sweet Elisabeth and proof that modern miracles do exist! You have one living in your own home.

Thanks for sharing it today.

Mike Brinkerhoff said...

It's an amazing day for sure! Congratulations to all five of you for what you've been through this past year, and always finding the blessings wrapped up in it all.

Lori said...

Your story is so amazing - thanks for sharing. I wish that those who support abortion could read your blog and learn more about Elisabeth and the blessing that she has been to your family. What a gift she is!

Kristen said...

Look at your number of comments!! Especially from us women. If you're ever feeling "comment" deprived now you know what to do...just turn up the emotion and you will have all of us reading, sobbing, and commenting. Us women LOVE reading stories about daddys loving their little girls. And you are a perfect picture of love for all 4 of your girls. What a gift!! Lisa is amazing and you two compliment each other perfectly. I think a book or a TV series should be written about you and your family. This world could definitely use more of what you all got!

Happy Birthday to your miracle girl!!

Lori said...

PS - Sorry, maybe I shouldn't have gotten all political re: your touching post. Don't want to take the focus off your sweet girl! :)

SuzanSayz said...

Donald, it is so hard to believe it has already been a year since we met our precious Elisabeth. I will always remember going into the NICU to see her for the first time. Walking past the teeny, tiny, little preemies, to get to Elisabeth. She was already such a beautiful and filled out little chunk that I am sure the other parents wondered what she needed the NICU for. I think we can all say that it was love at first sight. This was a beautiful and touching post Donald and I am so proud of you both for the loving care you have given this little angel every single day of her life.
Love Mom

Lisa said...

OK made me cry!!! That was beautiful!!!

Aren't we just the luckiest parents in the world? Sometimes I am just in awe. She is ours!!!! Oh how I love her!!!!

And oh how I love you!!!

Amy J. said...

What a beautiful story. I hope you and Lisa don't mind but I used your story of Alexandra telling Lisa that she would have taken Elisabeths place in my talk on Sunday. It was on hoe the gospel blesses families and I thought it fit perfectly.

Alicia said...

So Sweet! I love it!

KaTrina said...

Oh man, you made me cry...Not even Lisa's post made me cry! What's wrong with you!? ha. Just kidding. I loved it.

The Yancey Family said...

Happy Birthday Elisabeth! Donald, What a wonderful description of your sweet girl and her birth. I can't wait to meet her!

Mandi said...

Donald - I am so touched and so blessed that you shared this story with me. I have not read Lisas blog (why???? I didnt know about it, will add her shortly!!!).

What a beautiful gift you both have.....not only in her but each other.


Courtney said...

oh how i love your baby girl and her amazing story :] what a fighter, what an angel. this birthday is very special because she has come so far and defied her odds. life truly is amazing! happy first birthday baby girl... i love you so so much. and you have made such a huge impact on my life that i cannot thank God enough for the opportunity to witness your strength and beauty. auntie courtney loves you always and forever. i can't wait to come to the party so i can kiss your cheeks!!! :]

and donald... such an amazing writer you and lisa are. it is beautiful how you and lisa have documented your daughters' lives. you are the most amazing family i know. i love you!

Cindy Brinkerhoff said...

alright Donald, you made me cry, I am NOT a crier. Elizabeths story is so sweet and I am so thankful for the bravery that you and Lisa showed to stand up and take the chance for her. She IS a blessing. You both are great parents, she is lucky indeed.
Happy Birthday Sweet Pea-

Jan said...

Wow Donald. You really know how to get everyone all choked up here. That was awesome. I really do think you are an amazing husband and father. And your daughter is a miracle. And yes I am most certain that you do believe in miracles.

tharker said...

Elisabeth is such a beautiful little girl. I am so happy that I finally got to meet her, even if only for a few minutes that afternoon when I dropped off the c-rolls. She is amazing!

Thank you for sharing your story with us. There are parts of your story that I could have written myself.

You and Lisa are such wonderful parents and Elisabeth is a blessing to anyone that meets her.

Happy Birthday sweet little Elisabeth!!!

Kristi said...

Just a minute, let me get another kleenex.... Oh! I loved this post. I love how you write of the tender yet fierce love you have for your beautiful daugher (and for your lovely wife). Thanks so much for sharing about her birth. You two are high quality people, indeed.