A place we called “home”
— Bobby Ball
My job had me on a boat in Tortola, ready to set sail in the British Virgin Islands. Our crew was within minutes of pulling away from the dock when I got the frantic message that my 11 year old daughter in Colorado Springs was in coma.
Four flights through three countries in 12 hours gave me time to reflect about my beautiful daughter. If you knew Jackie, you would know her essence, personality and smile fill any room she has ever graced.
I feared what I would find when I got there. I hoped and prayed I would arrive in time. Family mobilized quickly, catching flights, jumping in cars and praying. Picked up from the airport by my Mom and Stepdad, I quickly joined everyone else at Jackie’s side at Children’s Hospital Colorado at Memorial Hospital. My envisioned fears had become a reality; Jackie’s vibrant smile was not there. Hooked up to 10 different machines, there was so little of her. She was motionless.
We learned her coma was the result of undiagnosed Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes. Sitting beside her, I felt helpless – watching and waiting as each minute was marked by the beeping machines.
‘Round the clock vigils were held in Jackie’s room. Holding our breath and each other’s hands, we learned, first hand, how exhausting a medical crisis is. Not knowing now how long she might be in the coma – where to go or what to do – we were blessed to learn there was a Ronald McDonald House just steps away from the hospital.
Staying at the House allowed us to be a minute away from Jackie if/when needed. The hot meals and warm atmosphere were so comforting and relieving.
Staff and volunteers at the House held our hearts with such tender care. There for us through our ups and downs, the Ronald McDonald House was a place of light.
A place we called home, it became our beacon of hope. Genuine care and smiling faces greeted us. No explanation was needed for our red eyes and weary spirits.
Ears to listen, arms to hug, warm meals and comfortable rooms awaited us, each time.
Doctors tried to be optimistic, but it was easy to see how they were feeling. We were six days without change when the doctors said the longer she was in the coma, the less likely she’d ever come out. We were told to come to terms with the reality that, most likely, Jackie wouldn’t wake up.
The bad news continued. It was December 18th when the neurologist stated that, for days, there had been very little brain activity. His prognosis was bleak; even if Jackie did awaken, there was a high probability of permanent brain damage.
I’ve learned that being both optimistic and realistic rarely go hand in hand. I was struggling. Determined to see Jackie through and remain strong, the reality was, it was day eight with no change. It was early when Jackie’s Grandma came to “relieve me”. It’s hard to know what to do or say when someone you love is without affect. Not knowing if she could hear or comprehend what I was saying, I leaned over and told her again how much I loved her – how strong she was. I kissed her and said I would be right back – I was going to grab a quick bite.
My spirit was weary, I was blankly staring at my breakfast when my ringing phone startled me. Jackie’s Grandma excitedly asked if I wanted to speak to Jackie. I mumbled, “What?” She exclaimed, “I’m serious! Her eyes are open and she seems to be waking up!” I ran as fast as I could.
What a difference a day makes! In a minute, I was at her side. My beautiful girl was looking around the room. Her eyes brightened when they landed on me. And, then, she squeezed my hand tightly. As long as I live, I’ll never forget that moment. Her simple gesture told me she would be OK. Recognizing everyone, Jackie whispered our names. And, then, to our collective surprise, she asked for a chocolate milkshake!
Dumbfounded, I had to steady myself.
I’ve lived a full life, without ever really believing in miracles. However, the events of that snowy December morning changed that. Doctors and nurses in the PICU didn’t try to hide their excitement, shouting out, dancing and proclaiming, “This is a miracle. Your child is ALIVE!”
Staying at the Ronald McDonald House for another three weeks, Jackie was relearning some basic skills – how to eat and digest; how to sit, stand and walk. Meeting with speech and physical therapists, doctors have no doubt she will soon be 100%.
Just as she has attacked every other part of her life, whether softball, rock climbing, middle school math or sailing, Jackie has attacked this disease and the remaining issues.
Working to heal diabetic neuropathy in her right ankle and foot, Jackie is in physical therapy three times a week.
On a recent outing to a local restaurant, Jackie ordered a sandwich and lemon bar. Plugging in the numbers of carbs, the formula showed how much insulin she needed (thank heavens there’s an “app” for that!) I was in awe as my almost 12 year made her way to the restroom to administer the needed shot in her stomach.
Jackie has grown up, taking charge of her health and her life. I trust her outlook and sunny disposition will get her through anything that comes her way.
I truly believe part of her healing came from having her family with her. That was made possible by the Ronald McDonald House. Staying there for a month taught us so much about this organization, learning firsthand what they do and where donations go. Our family and friends made donations to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Colorado. We remain forever grateful! I know even if I donated as much of my time as possible, I still wouldn’t feel like I’d given enough to cover what we received – our daughter, looking up through her bright blue eyes, smiling the smile of recognition and squeezing my hand.