Newbie Tubies turns TWO?!

In November we will hit our 2 year mark, I cannot believe it! We will also have sent out OVER THREE HUNDRED PACKAGES at that time! We have already had over 300 applications sent in and have filled at least 75% of those, how incredible is that? 

Unfortunately right now, Newbie Tubies has no remaining funds for shipping boxes or purchasing the extra items that aren’t donated, so in order to continue as we hope to, we need YOUR help to get there. 

We’ve had some incredibly generous donors who send us tubie pads, heating pads, supply bags, and other tubie products and we have shopping lists for amazon and etsy for easy online shopping as well as shopping guides for inexpensive items from target, walmart, & fabulous dollar store finds, but none of that covers the $14 shipping cost that each box costs, and I simply can’t afford to pay out of pocket for any more boxes.

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There are so many ways we can raise money, but I cannot do it alone! 

ALL of my artwork profits go towards shipping costs, so check out the shopping site as well as my facebook page to see the artwork that is available and supports this project! There are also vinyl bags, shirts, onesies, and decals that are made to support the project as well! I take commission for both paintings and vinyl so email me or message me if you have an order!

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True amazement and joy when the littles get a buddy, this single toy helps them feel confident and less “different” from others.

We hope to do a shirt fundraiser, so keep an eye out for that as well as for an upcoming raffle! Share our page and these posts so we can get as much attention as possible, every tiny bit helps.

If you are a recipient of a package share a post about what Newbie Tubies means to you, how it helped you and why it’s a cause to donate to. Hearing personal testimomy about what we do and why and first hand experience about the impact it makes can go far, so share that on your social media pages, email it to your doctors or family members and have them share it – let’s MAKE THIS HAPPEN TOGETHER! 

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My first package sent! Now I’ve sent over 20!
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A newbie tube with her matching, tube fed hedgehog!

I hate asking for monetary donations, but right now, I have to do so if I want to send out any more packages. If you have fundraising ideas or are interested in helping out in any way, I’m all ears. 

Thank you so much for reading, sharing, and helping in any way you can. We truly appreciate every one of you and you are making a difference for so many.

 

 

Information for donating and contact information:

Amazon wishlist: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1J7LHVRD4V3A6?ref_=wl_share

Paypal: rajinone@aol.com

Facebook: Newbie Tubie Care Packages // Positively Rachel

IG: newbietubies // positivelyrachels_art

Email: positivelyrachel101@gmail.com

 

The Rarest of Guest Bloggers: SMA Syndrome

My name is Danielle and I am 26 years old. Growing up I suffered with ongoing stomach issues and doctors just couldn’t seem to figure out a cause. These symptoms would come and go in waves and there were even periods of time where I would begin thinking I was doing okay! Sadly, those times were short lived and when my senior year of college came about, things took a turn for the worst.

In 2015, I became very ill. It began with my endometriosis creeping back in and that was followed with my gallbladder needing to be removed, and despite those things, I continued to progressively get worse – especially stomach wise. I was having severe abdominal pain when I ate, nausea, vomiting, early satiety (I would take a few bites of food and feel overly full instantly), bloating and weight loss. I was only 105 lbs to begin with so I didn’t have any weight to lose so things became critical rather quickly.

In February of 2016 I was hospitalized because at this point I was not able to keep anything down, not even water. I had dropped to 90 lbs rather quickly and we were very scared. My doctor had run so many tests but could not figure out what was wrong with me, until he happened to be in the right place at the right time. He was at clinic where he overheard a nurse, who isn’t typically at that clinic, talking about another girl who had just been diagnosed with this rare condition. He immediately thought it sounded very similar to me so as soon as he was done at clinic, he came directly to the hospital and went to the radiologist. He told the radiologist to relook at one of my CT scans but from a different angle.

They immediately saw the problem and he came up to my room where he finally looked at me and said “I figured out what is wrong with you. You have SMA Syndrome,” otherwise known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome.

This condition, SMAS, I’ve never heard of it, I don’t know what is hitting me and how it is going to change things, what my life will look like now, all I know is it is rare, and though it has terrible symptoms, it can be very hard to detect. I had numerous CT scans but until they specifically looked for the compression itself, they were missing it on my scans for the longest time even though it was right there. The compression can be seen on CT scans, angiograms and upper GI studies with barium.

SMAS is an extremely rare and potentially life threatening stomach condition in which the third portion of your small intestine (duodenum) becomes compressed between your abdominal aorta and Superior Mesenteric Artery.

In other words, part of your small intestine becomes crushed and food is not able to pass through, creating a blockage.

This can lead to severe malnutrition, sometimes resulting in death. The mortality rate for SMA Syndrome is so high (1 in 3) because it is so rare and often times there is a delay in diagnosis. As you can see from my story, I was extremely lucky that he found it when he did or otherwise I might not have been here typing this today.

So how is SMAS treated? There is no cure.

There are also 2 types of this condition. One being acute onset, caused by extreme/sudden weight loss often following something like scoliosis surgery. The other being chronic, meaning it develops over the course of their lifetime. Surgery can be done to relieve the compression, or sometimes gaining weight (usually via feeding tubes) can also relieve the compression and allow food to start passing through again. However the damage done before it is found cannot be reversed and often times the symptoms can still remain even after surgery or weight gain, which is why there is technically no cure. In acute cases, the prognosis is better and oftentimes weight gain is enough to correct it and relieve the symptoms.

Chronic cases are a bit different, these cases are where the symptoms can still remain even after medical intervention, they aren’t easily treatable and there is absolutely no cure. That was the case for me. As soon as I was diagnosed I was immediately put on TPN (total parenteral nutrition) to help get me stable enough and I had surgery within 3 weeks. Since then, I have continued to have an avalanche of problems and my symptoms have remained. I continue to have pain with eating, nausea, vomiting, bloating and severe motility issues. The damage done to my body from SMA Syndrome has caused the entire rest of my GI tract to slow down and not function properly, so I have developed other chronic motility issues from it as well (such as Gastroparesis and intestinal dysmotility), which sadly is often the case for many people diagnosed with SMAS.

After numerous attempts to try and get things under control, I had to get a feeding tube placed in my abdomen to help give me the vital nutrition I need to sustain myself. I had a surgical GJ tube placed a year ago. I also am currently on TPN through a central line (port) in my chest due to the severity of my motility issues at the moment and not being able to tolerate my tube feeds right now. So often times feedings tubes are needed even after surgery to help manage the symptoms that remain and to help sustain individuals with SMA Syndrome.

Getting a feeding tube can be very overwhelming. It isn’t easy to process what it is like to have a tube surgically implanted into your body and it is a huge adjustment.

But what made the transition easier for me when I had my surgery was Newbie Tubies. I came across Newbie Tubies on instagram (@newbietubies) and saw that they create packages for people who are getting feeding tubes that are filled with all sorts of awesome things to help someone recover from the procedure and different items for the new tube as well.

The goal is to make the transition easier for someone by sending them a package to brighten their day. You can apply yourself or you can nominate someone to receive a package.

 

When I recieved my package it had things such as a blanket, water bottle, socks, handmade heating pad, tubie pads to decorate and protect the tube, bath bombs and a coloring book. It also included a list of tips for living with a feeding tube for those who are getting their first tube. Also, everything was donut and dog themed to fit my personality, which can be noted on the application to make each package more personalized to the recipient.

I cannot express how much receiving that package meant to me when I returned home from the hospital and how much it lifted my spirits. Newbie Tubies is truly amazing and it is creating an awesome community of fellow “tubies” on social media. It is awesome to be able to connect to others who have feeding tubes as well because you can relate to them and also share tips and tricks with each other to help make living with a feeding tube more manageable.

So if you have a feeding tube, are getting one or know someone with one please go check out Newbie Tubies on instagram. Or even if you just want to help, you can donate money or items to go in the packages sent out. So please check it out!
I share my story and my experiences with SMAS with hope that it will help someone else find their diagnosis and know they aren’t alone in this journey. It can be incredibly hard finding any answers, and I know that if it weren’t for individuals working to spread awareness through social medias and the stories others have shared, I wouldn’t have been diagnosed, I would have continued suffering without answers for much longer.

SMAS is an extremely rare condition, and because of how rare it is it is and due to overlaps with symptoms of many other stomach conditions, it often isn’t thought of. Not a lot of doctors know much about this rare disease, most of the time they have only read about it in textbooks during medical school, but each patient, each case, is unique and complex, not one fitting the case studies or textbooks perfectly.

I had no idea what it was until I was diagnosed, so I hope that reading my story can help someone else out there and just educate more people about this condition. For more information about SMA Syndrome, you can go to https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/7712/superior-mesenteric-artery-syndrome.

 

Post by Dani Fantaskey — guest blogger and newbie tubie package recipient


 

Thank you Dani!! Your post is fabulous and I am SO glad your package made such an impact on you – seeing your positive remarks truly inspires me to keep working hard to individualize each package. I love doing it, so I’m glad it doesn’t go unnoticed 🙂 So happy to have you, keep in touch and I’d love to have you back involved with the project anytime! Lots of love!

If anyone has questions or comments for her, comment below or contact me and I will get you in touch with her 🙂

xoxo

Rachel

Delivery Day

Ice ice everywhere! Our first bout of winter weather came to town this week, and it was enough for two snow (ice) days for the kiddos, pretty much the most exciting thing back then. Sadly, I’m no longer an exited 6year old whose biggest worry is whether or not there will be school tomorrow, and though I still love waking up to a winter wonderland, snow days are a lot different for me now.

I live in the woods, and my driveway is a gravel mountain itself, so when the weather is bad, we are often stuck here for as long as the ice is. This ice storm came through on a Wednesday night/Thursday, which of course, with my luck, is the day my medical supplies are sent out (Wednesday) and delivered (Thursday). I rely on all of these supplies to stay alive and out of the hospital. My entire week’s worth of food (tube feeds), hydration (IV saline), and the medications and supplies that are vital for keeping me going are in one, very heavy, box.

My home health/ pharmacy does everything they can to make things run smoothly, but they can’t/won’t send packages early, so during a winter weather storm like this, things can easily get lost or delayed. I received an email from my pharmacy saying the supplies hadn’t gone out on time and weren’t able to be delivered on Thursday, so it became a question of how long would it be until our driveway would be passable, giving us the chance to go and others to come.

That said, it doesn’t necessarily all ride on them, my network goes much further that that, and in ways some may not have ever thought to take time for Before. I received an unknown call on Thursday, and I was surprised when it was my delivery driver from FedEx! He called me to let me know he wasn’t running his route today due to the weather and the road conditions, but he saw my box and knowing how important it is, he called me personally to see if there was any way for him to get it to me. So even though he wasn’t working his normal delivery route, he took time to call and was ready to put forth effort to get that box – filled with those important medications and fluids to me in any way we could. How incredible is that? Just the offer was so genuine and an incredible inspiration, a true member of my team.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, because this isn’t the first time I’ve had interactions with him—always positive ones. This man has always been incredibly kind to me. I’m almost always home alone during the day, he sees me hooked up to my IV pole and a total mess lookin’ straight out of bed, always trying to control my crazy dogs, but no matter what the chaos is, he is always smiling and helpful. You don’t come along delivery drivers who are always ready to do more, to push the job requirements and just be compassionate and accommodating, but anytime he sees an opportunity to be helpful, he is there.

Putting for that effort without being asked to is such an incredible gesture, I know not everyone would do that. I feel incredibly grateful to have such caring and empathetic people in my life, even someone who just knows I’m young and sick and get weekly medical supplies. There’s no limit to who can share and spread love and support, and I couldn’t ask for a better reminder of that. There are so many members of my medical “team,” and you probably don’t automatically consider a delivery driver to be a key member, but in bad weather, lost boxes, damaged product, etc., you better believe that these individuals are key to your treatments, your well-being.

In a time during which I am feeling a bit lost when it comes to doctors and support (aside from my fabulous parents <3), having these individuals who really do care and put forth such effort is an incredible blessing. This week I was reminded of that, reminded to appreciate everyone who puts forth effort into my journey, some of whom don’t even know they are participating while others are doing work behind the scenes that I don’t know about.

I urge you all to think about each member of your team, including all of your (kind/helpful) nurses, the x-ray /IR techs, and your pharmacy or delivery service, home health, etc. Think it through, make a list if you are as forgetful as I am. And then let them know you’re feeling appreciative! Bake cookies or write a thank you card, you never know who might be in need of a little appreciation.

Spread the love, and never underestimate the impact someone can have or how much just one small act of kindness can change the course of someone’s day.

 

Good News– About time!

Well y’all, I have some great news. About time, right? Let me start by saying that I’m thrilled with this news. It’s incredibly exciting for me as well as for my family, but, I am writing this post and explaining this news to you because although it is wonderful news, and it is what I’ve been waiting for forever, it’s not going to be a walk in the park, piece of cake, cure all for me… it’s a complicated treatment that is not widely used for my condition but nonetheless, my best shot.

A couple of days ago I got the news that my IVIG has finally been approved, and not just for one dose, but for 13 rounds.  We’ve waited over a year and seen 3+ specialists in order to make this happen, it’s been a crazy battle to get to this point. On Monday 2/19 I will have my first round!

IVIG is IV immunoglobulin therapy. Essentially it is meant to reboot your immune system and help alleviate or reduce the symptoms of autoimmune or immune conditions. For me, the catch is that I do not have the typical conditions that IVIG is currently used to treat. There are many trials going on with how IVIG can help different conditions, gastroparesis included, but there’s no FDA approval for IVIG as treatment for it yet. That said, this is my only viable option left and because I do have an immunodeficiency, I was finally able to get it approved.

Throughout this process I’ve heard a lot of “slim possibility,” “doubtful,” “statistically…” “honestly…” “be prepared for disappointment…” and all of the other phrases doctors use to tell you they don’t think things will work…

BUT, we heard someone say, “it’s worth a shot,” and here we are today, after a long fight, ready to start a new trial.

IVIG is something my family and I decided was our best chance for change. Not all of my doctors agree, but when do they ever? It’s not a treatment widely used for gastroparesis or EDS/Dysautonomia, but because my immune system is involved, there’s a chance my GI system could respond in some way to it. My motility specialist is the one who suggested it as one of my last 3 options for treatment; today, this is the only one of those three options that I have left.

We don’t expect miracles. In fact, I try not to make expectations at all. I hope it works. It would be incredible. But if it doesn’t, I don’t want to be crushed. I’ve been warned by doctor after doctor that it is likely not going to help, so I’ve pretty much got that in my head, but I also have my own hope and positivity in there thinking maybe this is going to be it. I’m not a blind optimist, but I do have hope. It may be hard for some of you to understand that combination of emotions and feelings, but I’m glad it is, because it means you’ve never had to be this sick, and for that I am thankful.

I wrote this update because I know you all care, I know you all want and deserve an update, but I also needed to share with you how this process is going for me. It’s not going to be an easy treatment. It’s not a miracle drug. It’s not a guarantee of success or relief. It’s a treatment that is extremely hard on the body. It has major side effects. It’s a long shot. But it’s my only shot.

IVIG is what I’ve been fighting for and waiting for for a year. I’m so, so relieved that the fight for approval is over, but that doesn’t mean my battle is over, it’s onto the next step now. My family and I have worked so hard for this; hours of phone calls, emails, paper work, doctor visits, denials, tears…what a journey it has been, and now the journey continues. It will take at least 3-4 months to see any results even if this treatment does work. All great things take time.

What I need in this time is for my support team to just be here for me. I will update if there are any improvements or changes, I will update on how the treatment is going and if I am having any side effects or complications, and I will do my best to post regularly so you know whats happening in general. Try not to set expectations, have no disappointment, no pity or sadness if I see no results, no explanations of why it hasn’t worked or reassurances about when it will, just be here for me.

All I need is love. Support. Laughter. Company. Friendship. Exploration. Care. Distraction.

I’m sick and treatment is hard and unpleasant, but I have my ways of coping and I am still a person and sometimes I just need to be Rachel.

 

xoxo

The Significance of the Holiday Spirit; Spreading Love and Generosity

The holidays are my favorite time of the year. Once we pass Halloween and get close to Thanksgiving I know it’s (basically) an acceptable time to bring out all of my Christmas leggings, shirts, tubie pads, and of course, the hippo who sings Christmas carols.

It’s kind of funny that this is my favorite time of the year since health wise it’s often the most challenging. I was diagnosed with gastroparesis in December of 2013; this will be my 5th year not eating a Thanksgiving meal, my 5th year without any pie or turkey, my 5th year not having any snacks or candy in my stocking, my 5th year not eating our traditional Christmas brunch, and my 5th year seriously struggling with my health during the holidays.

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Our favorite gifts… donut pillows and blankies 🙂

But really, these holidays don’t have to revolve around food. I have much more to be thankful for even without eating. I have so much beauty and love in my life and I’ve found new passions and hobbies that not only bring me joy but help distract me from pain, hunger, and other symptoms as well as from the thoughts of all that my illnesses have taken or changed in my life; I prefer to focus on all that I’ve gained, all of the positive changes, and all of the things I’ve learned about myself and about life just from becoming so sick and being homebound.

The Christmas spirit is such a beautiful thing. I’m not even sure I loved it so much before being sick, but now I appreciate it endlessly. Even for people who don’t really like Christmas or don’t celebrate it, there’s just a contagious feeling of joy, love, generosity, and comradery that we lack during the rest of the year.

As I’ve gotten older it’s become less about gifts and food (obviously #tubiereality) and more about sharing that joy and love with others as well as finding joy in giving.

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Baxter stayed up for Santa 😉

I love finding special gifts for my loved ones but also finding ways to share with the less fortunate; sometimes this means giving money or gifts, sometimes meals or just festive cookies, or othertimes it is giving other gifts that I can make like simple cards with meaningful words, a painting, or a simple necklace or bracelet that I have made. In the past we have given gifts and food to local families or children who were in need, sent boxes of gifts to children in different areas or countries, and this year I’ve started a new nonprofit called “Newbie Tubies” for other individuals who are getting feeding tubes for the first time! I’m setting up both an online wish list and will eventually be asking for monetary donations for extra supplies and shipping, but I’m also selling my paintings in hopes to raise money to send out these packages to help ease the transition for new tubies.

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Breaking out the festive tubie pads 🙂

The holidays are a beautiful and special time. It’s filled with love and joy, gatherings with friends and family, and the gift of giving. If you’re able to give, I suggest finding a way to give to someone who is in need, whether that be an individual person or a family who could use some Christmas cheer, volunteering at the food bank or soup kitchen, or donating to an organization of your choice that is donating to those in need; ‘tis the season of giving and spreading the holiday spirit. <3

Lots of love and an early wish of happy holidays! 🙂

Adventures of a Tubie

Have you ever had to make a decision between what may be smart or practical vs. what would make you happy or what would be fun? People often make these choices in small ways every day when it comes to choices about what’s for dinner, whether to study or go out with friends, what to wear, etc. One of the biggest lessons I have learned in my journey with chronic illnesses is that life is short and sometimes it’s worth a little bit of impracticality if you’re just in need of some fun.

I spend a lot of time taking care of myself and majority of the time my health comes first. I have a lot of doctors appointments and I spend anywhere from 16-20 hours a day hooked up to my IV pole on various tubes for infusions and feeds. I take countless daily and as needed medications and require a great deal of rest due to chronic fatigue and pain. That said, after a rough recent admission—which you can read about in a recent article here—my parents and I decided that I am in need of some fun.

I have some fabulous friends who live with similar health conditions that I do, but most of them live hours, states, and even countries away! Taylor is one of my best friends and she lives in Texas; she has two or three of the same conditions I have and has a feeding tube! Taylor came to visit me and our other friend, Macy, last summer and we had an amazing time! We have had two other trips planned but both fell through due to our health at the time.

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You’d never know each of us have tubes, central lines, and a handful of chronic illnesses! This time together was so precious.

Well, even though my health is not currently considered “good” or even stable, I’m going to go visit Taylor! I will fly to see her and spend a week with her in Texas! Considering most days I hardly leave my house right now, this is a huge undertaking for me, but it will be so good for my spirit. And although we are both in our early/mid twenties, Taylor and I are both quite sick and have similar restrictions so we will be good company for one another 🙂

I am so excited for this trip. I do have some anxiety about flying and traveling by myself and I know that I will need a long time to recover when I get home, but it is totally worth it. Although I can’t escape my body and my illnesses, I can take a small break from all of the stress that comes along with appointments, phone calls, insurance, etc. (or at least I can try!).

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Sometimes you just gotta pretend you’re a normal 21/24 year old and duck face it out 🙂

This trip does not mean I’m feeling better or I’m recovering, it just means I’m doing something that is fun and something that will make me happy. I’m taking time to be young and savor this part of my life as much as I can. We don’t have time to waste, so even if all Taylor and I do is watch movies and talk and nap, it is so worth it. Even if it takes me two months of sleeping when I get home, it is so worth it.

Don’t forget to choose the option that will make you happy sometimes, even if it may not be practical.

Thanks for reading.

xoxo

Happy Birthday, Mom!

I’ve always been told that I’m a lot like my mom. We are both strong willed (maybe stubborn), hardworking, and loving women. My mom is more free spirited and outgoing than I am and loves to be spontaneous; while I tend to like to have a plan, she’s always up for adventure. Although I’m slightly more “rational” as we put it, we both always look for the positive in the situations we are in and help each other hold on to hope.

I am so blessed to have a mother who not only went above and beyond in my childhood but who continues to care for me today– in my adulthood! Not everyone is lucky enough to have even half of that.

My mom goes above and beyond each day to help me and my sisters be as healthy and as happy as we can. She works a full time job and parents full time for 3 of us! Having a grown child who is as sick as I am is more than a full time job in itself, yet she manages a job and my sisters as well. Of course having a wonderful husband and father helps, too 🙂

Although my mom never planned for it, she has become my at home nurse. She overcame her squeamish side and learned how to change a port needle, prep feeds and fluids, handle all of my feeding tube supplies, deal with my fainting, and so much more. She’s incredible.

My mom is also one of the strongest women I know, both emotionally and physically! Neither one of us is great with expressing ourselves emotionally, but she’s been through so much yet remains so strong. She supports me and the rest of our family through everything and always advocates for us without hesitation.

I could go on and on about my mom and all of the amazing things she does, but this is a post to celebrate her birthday! So, happy birthday, Mom! I hope your day is fabulous. I love you so much. I wouldn’t be able to do this without you. Thank you for fighting beside me every day❤

My Little Sister

The day my little sister was born, two days after my 4th birthday, was one of the most exciting days ever – okay maybe just the most exciting I’d experienced so far in those four years, but that’s still pretty exciting. 😉 I loved dolls and dress up, so getting a baby to bring home—a real, live baby — was a dream come true!

I practically lived in Laura’s crib. I loved cuddling her and helping mom get her dressed, fed, and bathed. She was super exciting, even though she pretty much just slept, cried, ate, and pooped. (Sorry, Laura 🙂 ) I did, of course, have a little jealousy since I wasn’t the baby any more and I had to share everyone’s attention, but in general I loved the new baby.

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To the point, Laura’s all grown up now and today is her 17th birthday. I can’t believe what an incredible person she has become. If you know Laura, you know she’s full of spunk and passion. One of the things I admire most about Laura is that she is totally confident in who she is. She likes to be appreciated and recognized for what she does, but she doesn’t need approval from others to feel good about who she is. I wish everyone (including myself!) was that comfortable in their own skin. She also has such an incredible view on the world and always stands up for what she knows is right. Whether it is to a friend, a stranger, a teacher, or a parent, Laura always speaks her mind and she does so with great passion and articulation. She is brilliant with words and is strong enough to speak out—something else I, as a huge introvert, greatly admire about my younger sister.

Laura is beautiful both inside and out—she takes kick ass selfies, something I’ve always envied. 🙂 She is also full of compassion and love. Laura has grown up as the younger sister of a “sick kid,” which is an extremely difficult role to play. Since Laura was in middle school, she’s had to watch me be passed from doctor to doctor and grow sicker and sicker all while she is trying to live a normal life. The stress that puts on her is huge, but she handles it with such a great attitude.

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Because of my illness, my needs are often the priority in our family. My parents have to focus a lot of time and energy on me. They spend a lot of time taking me to appointments, helping me with medications and tube feeds, and doing other things that are required because of my health. Although my parents are incredible and juggle having both of us here at home so well, it is still really difficult on Laura. However, you hardly ever hear a negative word about this situation come from her.

Laura was supposed to be the only child left in the house when I graduated from high school 3 years ago, but instead, I got extremely sick (again) half way through my first year of college and had to come home. Since then, I’ve been at home and my illnesses have gotten progressively worse. For Laura, this means she has watched my health deteriorate over the last 4 years while she is just trying to make it through the crazy high school years.

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Laura has traveled to different states with me for doctors appointments, stayed with me countless days while I’ve been inpatient in the hospital, laid with me in bed when I was in too much pain to move, and literally picked me off the floor when I’ve fainted. She also regularly brushes and braids my hair when I’m too weak or tired to do it myself, she (and her boyfriend, Sam) pick me up or drive me places when I can’t drive, she gives me piggy-back rides to help me save my “spoons” (aka energy), and she is always looking out for me and making sure I’m as comfortable and cared for as possible. Laura is one of my biggest advocates and supporters through this crazy journey. She’s always spreading awareness and reminding people of how lucky they are to be able to eat or go to school or work when some people can’t do any of that because of illness. Laura has let this situation shape her into such a wise and mature person and I’m so proud of who she is becoming.

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Being the sister of a sick kid isn’t easy, but Laura is incredible and I’m so lucky to have her. Laura is often greeted with things like, “Hey! How is your sister?” or “Is Rachel feeling any better?” Although Laura knows why people so often ask about me, she struggles during my hard times, too. Being a loved one of someone who is so sick is extremely taxing, so I encourage everyone who knows Laura or anyone else with a sick sibling or child to ask them how they are and express interest in their lives before asking about the other person. Laura has a passion for animal rescue and regularly fosters dogs, she is a great artist and writer, and she loves her criminal justice classes and is looking forward to a career in that field. Laura is so smart and has such a great perspective on things; if you get a chance to have a real conversation with her, definitely take advantage of it.

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I’m so grateful to have Laura as my sister. Although my illness causes us all great stress and worry, it has also brought us closer as a family. Laura has become one of my care takers, my biggest support, and a best friend. Happy birthday, Laura! I love you to pieces!

Upcoming Birthday

As my 21st birthday approaches (less than 2 weeks away!), I have been reflecting a lot on all that has changed this year and how crazy my journey with chronic illnesses has been. My life is so different from what I used to imagine it would be at this “milestone.” I never could have predicted the many things that have shaped me into who I am today, but I’ve made it another year and that’s something.

When I was younger, I always imagined my 21st birthday would be celebrated with food, friends, family, and of course, my first legal drink. I figured at this point in life I would be in college studying and living like a college student. I got one year in at UVA before taking medical leave; I am still working on getting back two years later. A part of me still feels like I am a first year at UVA, yet I see all of my friends getting ready to finish their third year! I can’t believe it.

This year, my illnesses have progressed to the point where I’m not able to intake almost anything orally, I have trouble even tolerating my tube feeds, and most days I spend much of my time in bed. My migraines make me extremely sensitive to sound and light so I get over stimulated very easily. I am 100% dependent on my feeding tube and my port for nutrition and hydration and I am on around the clock medications to try to control nausea and pain. My symptoms and lack of energy make it hard to plan ahead and make it so that I’m most comfortable just being at home.

My 21st birthday won’t be celebrated with food or alcohol. I likely won’t see friends or have any sort of “party.” My mother does like to try to be sneaky, so if you hear of any secret plans, feel free to inform me. I’m not a huge fan of surprises 😉  My birthdays now are usually a quiet affair celebrated with just my family. I don’t tell you this to complain, this is just how it is; for me, simple and peaceful is usually just right. Since I can’t eat and my energy levels are extremely low, I don’t require much. Chronic illnesses steal a lot from you, but they don’t have to prohibit you from having fun or enjoying special events.

Although my 21st birthday is not what I would have imagined it to be, and my life has taken some unexpected turns, I feel blessed just to be here and to have an incredible family here to help make the day as happy and celebratory as possible. My illnesses have taught me to be so appreciative and thankful for all of the small things in every day, and I know my birthday will be wonderful, even without cake or alcohol 😉

My Feeding Tube Journey

This week is Feeding Tube Awareness Week. As part of that, I decided to write a blog post about my journey as a “tubie.”

I got my first feeding tube in March of 2015. I had been battling with gastroparesis for just over a year at that point and was in my first year of college at UVA. Although typically you try a feeding tube before you resort to TPN (total parenteral nutrition—IV nutrition), I had already been on TPN for three months before this. Because I was hospitalized in December right around final exams and was supposed to return to school away from home, my doctors had placed a picc line in December in hopes that it would be short term and it would allow me to remain at school. However, when that line got infected in March and TPN was not working well, we decided to go ahead with a feeding tube.

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Picc Line AND NJ tube! Ick!

My hospital does a short-term trial run with an NJ (nasojejunal) tube before placing a long term GJ (gastrojejunostomy) tube surgically. For me this meant a two hospital stays, one for the trial run during which I had my NJ tube, a tube placed through my nose and down past my stomach into my intestine where we hoped I could tolerate feeds. Having this tube placed was one of the most uncomfortable procedures I had experienced up to that point. I was not sedated or medicated at all aside from some lidocaine ointment and they stuck the tube down my nose, past my throat and into my esophagus while I was choking and gagging, my nose bleeding, tears streaming down my face, and they kept telling me to sip on water and swallow and just hold on it’ll be over soon. Some people tolerate it fine, especially people without gag refluxes, but for me it was miserable. I could hardly talk or swallow for the two days they made me keep it in. So shout out to my many friends who have multiple, long-term NJ tubes, I don’t know how you do it.

The second hospital stay was for my surgery. They decided to place a low profile, mickey GJ button tube. I was lucky that I still saw my pediatric doctors, because they use these tubes on children and I am small enough to fit into them. Often, adults get long, dangling tubes called PEGJ tubes. My surgery was able to be done laparoscopically, but they placed the wrong size tube so the pain was much more than anticipated and we stayed in the hospital for a five days to try to manage that. I had to keep that tube in for 6 weeks for the tract to heal before switching it out for the right size and finally getting some relief.

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Tubie– this is about one year post op. I actually continued to lose weight for awhile.

I stayed in school for that semester anticipating that my feeding tube would improve my quality of life; in many ways, it did. However, my gastroparesis continued to progress and I had to make the decision to take time off from UVA and stay home the next fall. Although my feeds did help me gain some of my strength back, I didn’t end up tolerating them as well as we had hoped. It’s been quite a journey.

For a while I was able to get in almost 1,200 calories by tube every night. Because of my chronic fatigue and the amount of time I spend in bed, that was almost enough to get me by and I was still able to take in a few hundred calories by mouth. Over the first year or so, my tube feeding rate slowed down by about 40% and it took me much longer to get in what I needed and I often wasn’t able to finish feeds over night. But still, I was able to supplement some of what I needed by eating a few of my “safe” foods—potatoes, squash, simple carbs.

Other parts of tube life include daily maintenance like keeping drainage clean, flushing the tube every couple of hours so it doesn’t clog, and changing tubie pads or gauze. I deal with bloating, pain, and changes in how my tube has affected my self confidence and body image as well as adapting to how little control I have over what goes into my body.

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This is where I get my tube swapped out!

I also have to get my tube changed out every 3-6 months or every time it flips into my stomach or clogs. I can tell my tube has flipped into my stomach when my medications and feeds make me sick. When this happens, I have to schedule a time to get my tube fixed. When it is clogged, I have to call UVA and ask them to order a new tube. Sometimes it takes up to a week for them to get a new one and I go that long without receiving my feeds. (That happens to be the case this week!) I don’t get sedated for these tube swaps– some doctors use sedation, others don’t, mine just happens to be one who doesn’t. I get them done in radiology under imaging. They know me pretty well down there. It is an uncomfortable procedure but usually only takes between 30-60 minutes.

I’m about to hit my two year mark with my feeding tube and I now only tolerate a rate of 50ml an hour. That is almost half of what my goal rate was when I got my tube. My original diagnosis was gastroparesis, or paralysis of the stomach, but now my diagnosis has changed to Digestive Tract Paralysis (DTP) which means my dysmotility has moved into my lower GI system which makes tube feeding much more difficult. My colon is now greatly affected and my intestines are also delayed.

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This is the smart pill– a pill I swallowed and it tracked the movements of my GI tract and told us how each part worked (or didn’t 😉 ).

I recently switched formulas to a blended food formula in hopes that I will tolerate it better and it will make my body feel more human-like than my old formula that was full of preservatives and sugar. Sadly, I am not able to get in enough formula to gain weight. At this time, I also do not have any “safe foods” that I can intake orally to use to supplement my tube feeding. Because of this, my doctors talk about alternative options that could be in my future.

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My tube and my port peeking through!

My tube saves my life every day.  I rely on my tube and my port for 100% of my nutrition and hydration now. I can’t say I’m always thrilled about tube life, but I wouldn’t be here without it and I am so thankful for it. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask!