On the morning of July 1st while on furlough our family experienced the biggest scare we have had since the day the twins came into the world.
Our trip has been a dream. The boys have played extremely hard, run, swam, ridden bikes, and enjoyed the fresh crisp and clean air. The travel went well and the first 7 days of our trip were wonderful. We saw our kids beaming from ear to ear and we felt that this break is just what our family needed to fulfill us for the remainder of our time in Liberia.
About this time into the trip Isaac began to complain of stomach pain. Stomach pain is not an uncommon complaint from our kids after living in West Africa and having running tummies often. He was still playing hard, eating, and drinking even though we noticed a slight change in his appetite we chalked it up to hard play and the heat during the day. In the months we have been in Africa we have not had any issues other than a day or two of runny tummies, some slight temperatures here and there, and routine cough/colds. Max had his one clinic visit for the minor cut above his eye. But that is it. We have been truly blessed in this aspect. We have known missionary friends as well as other expats who work there that have been medically evacuated from the country due to lack of care there. It is something that made us hesitant to move there with 3 young children, but at the end of it all we put our trust in God and He has taken great care of all of us while in Liberia. We are extremely grateful for this.
On the morning of Monday the 1st Isaac awoke feeling a little sluggish. He was not interested in eating and was taking a few sips of water here and there. We could tell he was not 100%. Around 9 am he was chewing his daily Juice Plus gummies while sitting on the kitchen floor and I saw him spit them into his hand and describe them to be “yucky”, he gagged a bit, and I picked him up to run him to the restroom as I thought he was going to get sick. After holding his little body over the toilet for a couple seconds his body went completely limp in my arms, he could not stand, he could not speak, he was barely opening his eyes, and his head seemed to be too heavy for his body to hold up. His face was white, his lips were white, and his extremities began to feel cold. I ran his body through hall yelling for someone too call emergency and an ambulance. Zach took him from me and ran out of the gate screaming for a doctor. God answered that prayer with the first person we encountered being a doctor and then another running up being a pediatric nurse practitioner. This helped to calm our nerves as they kept an eye on his vital signs and assured us that if he needed CPR they were there. For 20 minutes our child was unresponsive, extremely pale, and cold to the touch. Until we encountered those two people my faith wavered and as I held my sweet boy in my arms I feared he was going to take his last breath. It was an extremely long period and time stood still, until we heard the faint sounds of sirens in the distance, immediate relief came to both of us.
When the ambulance got there they put an IV in his arm and his eyes immediately began to flutter, he answered a couple of questions the paramedics had for him; his name and age. He was very tired, and could not keep his eyes open. They put him in the ambulance and we were off to the hospital. As time went on in the hospital and he got more fluids he began to feel much better, so much so that I chalked the entire episode up to severe dehydration, exhaustion, and just overall negligence on my part to his complaints for three days.
After some time at the hospital and fluids the doctor was waiting for him to have a bowel movement to explain the stomach pain. They did an ultra sound and saw what they thought to be an infection. Immediately I felt relief that we may have an answer as to what the stomach pain was. But there were more questions, why did he have the episode? His blood work came back and his red blood cell count was very low, as well has his hemoglobin, hematocrit, and ferritin levels. The blood work explained the episode as he was very anemic and the response to the fluids helped to combat that. But the question of why he was so anemic was still not answered and more tests were necessary.
At about 8:30 pm that evening he had a bowel movement. Standing outside the door I immediately was taken aback by the odor. I knew it didn’t smell “normal” and when he got up it was extremely bloody. I hit the call button and the nurse came in and immediately turned to get the doctor. She came in, took one look, and said that it explained the anemia and stomach pain. She said that we would stay and see if he had another movement, if it had more blood than we would need to start thinking about a transfer to a bigger more equipped hospital to see where the blood was coming from. He slept well that evening and awoke the next morning hungry. Shortly after a little bread for breakfast he needed to use the restroom again about 9 am. I immediately noticed that distinct odor and knew there was more blood in his stool. He got up this time and the stool was extremely bloody and very very dark, meaning a bleed somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract. This can be extremely severe and his condition became time sensitive at this point. Zach was not there as he was with our other two, when I got in touch with him about the transfer he hurried down to the hospital, he ran in to give me a way to pay for the treatment there without parking and went back out to park, as soon as that was done they rushed me back up where paramedics were ready to take us by ambulance. As soon as I got down to ambulance I lost WiFi and could not contact anyone. The drive to the next hospital took about 40 minutes, Isaac slept and looked very peaceful but his lip color was beginning to get white again and I feared another episode would come but we made it and were immediately seen by a doctor who specializes in GI issues that had a plan and had already ordered more tests for him to have done before going forward. He had another ultrasound which showed the same issues as the day before but the issue had slightly grown. We got back with the doctor after the tests and more blood tests showed his levels were staying the same. The doctor then explained a condition that happens during development in utero called Meckels Diverticulum (https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=meckels-diverticulum-90-P02010).
Taken from the article referenced above:
Why is Meckel’s diverticulum of concern?
When the intestine develops an ulcer, significant bleeding can result, causing anemia (low numbers of red blood cells in the bloodstream). If enough blood is lost, a child may go into shock, which is a life-threatening situation. A serious infection may also occur if the intestine ruptures and leaks waste products into the abdomen.
The doctor laid out a plan for me. He spoke wonderful English which was such a blessing as the other hospital did not, rightfully so, we are not in America or the UK. Without ability to contact Zach, and with the time sensitivity of the situation I made the decision to go on with the surgery to remove this part of his gastrointestinal tract along with his appendix which was showing some slight signs of swelling. We were taken to a room to prep for surgery and I begged the nurses to tell me how to connect to WiFi, many things are a process here and free WiFi is not available everywhere like in the states. Before I could blink I was speaking to the anesthesiologist about that part of the procedure. We walked to pre-op and he was given the medicine to begin, he thought she was his Grammy as the medicine started to hit his system. She had short gray hair. Before I knew it he was getting wheeled down the hall and to surgery and I was told to wait in the waiting room.
During this time I needed to go find WiFi. It was a process but I figured it out so I was able to get in touch with family and keep them updated.
The surgery lasted about 2 and half hours and I was able to go into recovery room with him as he slept off the anesthesia and then began to stir. We will be at the hospital for 3-5 days for recovery. He is doing very well. His pain levels are normal for the type of surgery, and he is beginning to drink water and tea today and will begin to eat soft foods tomorrow if all is going as planned.
It is with a heavy heart that I begin to write this part. After the first episode and the stay in the first hospital before the first indication of what was happening in his stomach we had full intention to return to Liberia. We actually thought we would keep our original flight back to Liberia on Sunday the 7th. As time went on and the blood did not stop it became apparent that our son needed much more care than we originally planned. We prayed for an answer and are still praying for one. From the direction that the doctors we have spoken to here and back home are going it is best for Isaac to return to the states, to his doctors that know him, his history, and can speak our language.
We have missed flights, changed plans, and the entire situation has been extremely stressful, but Liberia is on our hearts. I cannot wrap my head or heart around not returning for the rest of our commitment. In my human ways I feel like we have failed. But deep down I know that is not the case. I am saddened that my children do not get closure from a place that they have made friends, seen, and learned so many things. I am saddened that I don’t immediately get to say goodbye to the wonderful and beautiful people that I have met and become friends with. I know I will return again and be able to see all of these people and that gives me comfort.
Zach will return to Liberia to finish some things. He will pack up many of our things and leave many many of our things behind as every extra bin checked on the plane costs hundreds of dollars and with less people traveling means less free checked bags. Parting with these material objects will not be an issue, we know they will go to our friends we have made and people who need them.
This was not the plan. But we have no control over our plan. We give all thanks to hGod that Isaacs issue flared in a place where he could get care, we give thanks that the first people we encountered during his time of need were in the medical field, we give thanks to all of the medical personnel that have been so gracious with us and our understanding of this process from the language barrier to so many other things.
It will take time to process all of this. We ask for prayer during this time. Specifically for Isaac and his healing, our family and the processing of returning to the states before our original commitment was, and for our Liberian family and some of the most wonderful people we have met, that they will understand that we want to come back, but at this time it is not in the best interests of Isaacs health.
We have looked at it from all angles and thought of specific circumstances, but plainly said if Isaac had another issue in Liberia like this he would have to be medically evacuated from the country to get care.
Thank you all for all your support and prayers. We will need time to begin to process this. Zach will be able to keep everyone updated as he is going back to Liberia to finish some things. The Best Version Project will continue, Zach will continue to make trips to and from the states and Liberia as he has done in the past. Our time in Liberia has made him feel completely comfortable navigating the country and doing things he never dreamt he would have done had we not lived and began to learn the culture and ways of Liberia.
And although our family’s current commitment has seemed to come to an abrupt halt, our overall mission to be ambassadors of the poor is just beginning. There is still much work to be done, and we don’t believe Christ will ever ask us to be finished. Our lives have been transformed in Liberia and our goal is to live out his command to serve the least of these wherever we are in this world.
We love you all.