I kept begging God, "Please, just let him get well and come home!"
I knew I should be looking forward to our upcoming family trip to a hot air balloon rally in Albany, Oregon. My husband is a balloon pilot, and we spend many long, fun weekends on the road traveling to competitions and rallies. Our children could hardly wait to get to the rally, see the ocean, visit Keiko the whale, and spend time with the friends they’d met at other rallies. But, I wasn’t excited. In fact, I was almost dreading the trip, out of fear that the tragedy we had experienced last year would repeat itself. No, a balloon had not crashed, nor had one collided with a power line. In fact, the horror that entered our lives that day a year ago had nothing to do with balloons at all, but instead with something so seemingly safe as a glass of juice.
Last year as we left for a balloon rally on a beautiful Thursday afternoon, our three-year-old Chase, our youngest of four children was his happy, healthy, normal self. When we arrived in Albany, we had a nice dinner, walked around a park, and did a little sight seeing. That night in the motel, we all slept well. We awakened at 5:00 Friday morning to get ready for the rally. On the way out the door Chase threw up. At the time we thought it was just from the previous day’s long car ride, eating dinner late, or at worst: the flu. On Saturday, he was not only throwing up, but also had diarrhea. By Sunday, we realized that we had a very sick little boy. His diarrhea had become bloody mucus. He could not hold down food or liquids. We needed to make a decision on whether to take him to a hospital in Oregon, or get home quickly. We hurried back to Bellingham, still thinking that he had a bad flu and would bounce back soon. I called the doctor as soon as we arrived home, and he was very concerned. He informed me that there had been three cases of E. coli in the county, and that we should take him to the emergency room immediately. The bloody diarrhea and vomiting had continued and now Chase was becoming lethargic. My husband took Chase to the emergency room at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
That night, my dear friend Linda took our other three children so I could join Chase and my husband at the hospital. When I arrived at the emergency room the doctors told us that Chase could have just a simple bacteria, treatable with antibiotics. If that were the case, he’d be able to go home soon. “But unfortunately,” they continued, “your son’s symptoms are also very similar to the E. coli O157:H7, and that can make children very sick. We’ll just have to wait for the results to know for certain.”
At those words, I felt an icy sliver of fear in my heart as I recalled how three years ago here in Washington State, children had become terribly sick with E. coli after eating contaminated meat at a local fast-food restaurant. Some of those children had even died. I turned to my Catholic faith, closed my eyes and I pleaded, “Oh, Lord, please don’t let Chase have E. coli. My gracious God, I could not handle it! This is my youngest child, he is only three years old!” I kept begging God, “Please, just let him get well and come home!”
Chase was admitted to a room. Within 36 hours tests showed that he did have the dreaded E. coli bacteria. The doctor gave us information on hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a multisystem disease which is often a side effect of E. coli, which can cause severe kidney disease in children. The doctor felt confident that Chase would not develop this, but there was always a chance he said. Again I begged, “Dear Lord, please spare Chase from this terrible disease!” I knew I could not go through this.
But the next day, the doctor sat down with my husband and me and quietly told us that Chase had developed HUS. HUS is an illness that starts with a bout of gastroenteritis and bloody diarrhea, and ends up as a life threatening disease that can destroy the body’s organs. After hearing such disheartening news, I said to God, “Okay, God, as long as they can take care of everything here and he gets better fast, I can handle this. But I cannot handle him being transported to Children’s Hospital, away from all our friends, home, and other children here.”
Within an hour of that prayer, however, Chase was in an ambulance headed to Children’s Hospital. During the one-hour drive, I sat with my hands folded, and again I prayed: “O Lord, I cannot face the days ahead if Chase stops urinating.” I knew if this happened it would mean his kidneys were shutting down.
That evening, the nurse repeatedly tried and failed to insert a bladder catheter. She said it was the first time in 22 years she had failed on a boy. The physician, Dr. Tarr, was called in. Dr. Tarr told the nurse not to worry about the catheter since there was no urine in the bladder anyway. Chases’s kidneys had shut down.
He talked to us about kidney dialysis, but was still hopeful that Chase would not need it, and that the kidneys would start doing their job again soon. So, as I had done repeatedly in these past few days, I prayed. “Dear Lord, please let Chase’s kidneys function on their own, because I won’t be able to bear it if Chase has to go on dialysis.”
The next day a kidney specialist was called in. She felt Chase needed surgery to put in hemodialysis lines, because he was in acute renal failure.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and begged. “Oh Lord, I cannot put my littlest one through surgery, as I am so afraid he might die.” I was so weary, and had so little strength left, and I knew I could just not handle this.
But the surgery was scheduled, Chase had the hemo-line put in, and he pulled through just fine. He was on dialysis every day for the first week. The doctor said he was not out of the woods yet, and that the longer he went without urinating, the higher the risk of permanent kidney damage. We were also informed that if Chase was to have a seizure, we could be facing much more serious problems. Again I pleaded, although I felt I was batting zero by now in the answer department. “Gracious God, please don’t let little Chase have a seizure — it could cause so much destruction in his little body! Oh, my Father, I could not cope if Chase had a seizure!”
Chases’s kidney dialysis that day did not go well. The nurses said we would have to try again in the evening. They thought that maybe the dialysis line was no longer working due to a blood clot, and they filled the line with heparin, an anti-clotting drug. As I took Chase back to his room, he started to shake and shake. I wrapped him in a blanket to keep him warm. The whole time I was wondering if this was the seizure the doctors had warned us about. By the time the nurses got to the room, it was over. We never did know for sure if he had had a seizure.
I felt overwhelmed. Our troubles seemed to be getting worse every day. Even praying with our priest, Fr. Jim Lee, did not fully bring the peace it usually did. Chase had not urinated in seven days and was eleven pounds over his normal weight. The doctors told us this was a crucial date, as long-term effects are often more common with longer length kidney shutdown. After fourteen days without urinating, about 15% of children need kidney transplants.
I left the hospital that night to travel the few miles to my parents’ house to get some sleep. My husband and I were alternating staying all night with Chase. When I got to the truck in the hospital parking lot, I fell to my knees on the asphalt. I sobbed, not caring who saw the tears rolling down my face, as I had now finally accepted how very sick my son was. Chase was still suffering so much with the severe cramping, and diarrhea that he’d had since the onset. He had not had much sleep and was very lethargic. His kidneys had been shut down for a dangerous seventeen days, and he was puffed-up like a balloon ready to pop. His hemo-line for dialysis was failing and we did not know if heparin would help at this point. On top of that, he had developed a heart murmur due to the ravages of HUS. He had gone through numerous blood transfusions, and neither the doctors nor we knew if any of them were helping. His platelet count was still so very low. In spite of my many prayers, nothing at all was getting any better!
In my despair, I again turned to God in the parking lot of the hospital, which had become my home away from home. Through my tears, I looked up to the stars and I asked for guidance and direction. I was lost, and regretted my prayers over the last month. How many times had I said: “I cannot handle what is happening to Chase!” But that night I finally surrendered my fears to Jesus. I looked for the hand of God in all this and began to realize that I had handled everything I had said I could not. And once more, I prayed. But this time my prayer was different. “Lord, I can handle all things, as long as you are with me through this journey. You love Chase even more than I ever could. You love him, and you love me, perfectly. I will embrace this night, and I will let You take control. I will trust in Your love, and believe that Your grace will provide.”
Chase was still very ill and the situation grave. However, I felt that God had a plan for Chase, and I found the faith to carry on through the days ahead. Knowing I had found The Way in God, my strength was renewed. I had trusted my heart to God; He knew the burden I carried, and the trials I had to face, but no longer would I carry those burdens or face those trials alone. We would do it together.
The next day when I returned to the hospital I changed Chase’s diaper. Every other day, I had found the diaper dry. But this time, what a great joy to find half an ounce of urine! As the day went on, Chase had more and more urine output. His swollen little body began to return to normal, as the toxins and the urine miraculously found their way out. Eventually, the doctors pulled out the hemo-dialysis line and we were able to return home.
We still don’t know how much damage Chase will have to his kidneys, but whatever it is, I know I can handle it with my precious, gracious God. I have learned to give all my fear, control, problems, and turmoil to the Lord. I know he will hold my hand and walk the path with me. In this and all situations, I know God is always there.