Tuesday, August 16, 2016

HEROES Magazine Cover

I’m not the best at keeping secrets – especially big and exciting ones, so I’m glad I can finally share this fun little project that we have been working on the past few months. We were asked to be the cover story for the Stollery’s HEROES magazine, which was finally released earlier this week! I’ve known for quite some time that our names were being submitted for a feature, but I had no idea we would actually be the COVER story (yes…. allow me to gloat just a little)! I actually didn’t realize it was going to be a cover story until the editor called me to book a cover-shoot weeks before the magazine went to print, so that was definitely another welcomed surprise.

The story somewhat focuses on our most recent Stollery admission (click HERE for my personal blog post on that event), but it highlights last years’ hospital stay and our journey thus far. We love the Stollery, so this was an absolute honour to say the least. The magazine circulates all over the Stollery (and magazine stands throughout Edmonton, as friends have already been sending me pictures when they spot the magazine around the city), so I’m thrilled at the thought of our Edmonton medical team seeing this cover, and hope they pick it up and can read how things have been going (though I send a Christmas card and yearly update regardless) since our mini spring admission.  

Click this link -- HEROES Magazine Summer 2016 to see and read the magazine and our little feature (our story starts on page 12)!

I've also been given the digital copies of the photos from the covershoot that was done by Brian Bushsdruecker of Bookstrucker Photography, and will share those very soon.

xo The Irvine Family

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

2016 Family Photos [Formal]

A final thanks to Jennie from Guenard Photography for another amazing family photography session. I’m glad we did it when we did, and before Calgary decided to be all rainy (seriously – what is with all this rain that Calgary is experiencing!?!). If you recall, I suffered a “chemical pregnancy” earlier this year – and my body still hadn’t miscarried when our photography appointment came up (and my clothes were getting a little tight). Jennie messaged me when I publicly posted about it (this session was actually suppose to incorporate a “pregnancy announcement” photo), but we decided to keep our appointment anyways. While I continue to make plans for the future, I’m aware that with Evanna’s medical condition, situations can easily arise and we are more prone to huge curveballs (ie.  a hospital admission), so I didn't want to move our appointment in fear of missing this opportunity. Though it’s natural to want to take pictures when everything is “perfect”, I view photos as a way to document life – and like I told Jennie, if I waited to take photos when everything was peachy perfect…. that could mean years before we ever take family photos again.

Our life is messy, but it’s so raw and real. We have been through so much, but it has been these moments that has shaped our family the most. While we may not be at our “best”, we have come such a long way since last year, and I can’t wait to compare things again next year. Besides, our “far from perfect” ICU photos from last year are some of my most treasured. 

To view part one of this photography session, click [HERE] to view those photos. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

2016 Family Photos [Lifestyle]

Didn’t intend to withhold these photos for this long (it’s been over a month since our photography session), but between summer plans and moving to our new house, I honestly haven’t had time to go through them all and get them posted. Essentially our session was done in two parts: a lifestyle shoot – giving you somewhat a real look at what our home life looks like on a day-to-day basis, and a beautiful outdoor session a few minutes away from where we live.

These photos were taken by our family photographer, Jennie of Guenard Photography. I call her our family photographer, because she has been taking photos for us since we’ve gotten engaged….and somewhat been there every step of the way. Last year, around Evanna’s birthday, Jennie messaged me wanting to do something special for our family. During our abnormally long ICU admission we have received many offers of such kindness, but a gifted photo session while in the ICU is something I will treasure forever. It’s an experience that truly shaped and changed our family forever, and so those photos will always remain extremely sacred to me. If you haven’t seen them (or want to view them again), click HERE and HERE to see them. The photos that were taken last month makes these two sessions just over a year apart, so it’s actually quite fascinating to see the vast difference between them, and almost serve as a marker as to how far Evanna has come this past year.

I normally don’t caption many of my pictures (they often speak for themselves), but because a few of these photos will show situations and items people aren’t familiar with, I will add some descriptions to help explain what you are seeing. 


The first several photos of this post show Nick preparing Evanna’s feeds. The bag tubing is feed through a feeding pump which is hooked up to her GTube to administer Evanna her food. It currently takes about 30 – 40 minutes for the pump to run. 
A favorite toy of Evanna’s. 
Mortimer by Robert Munch is her absolute favorite book! She giggles so hard when Nick reads it to her (and it’s the cutest thing!). 
Suctioning Evanna through her little suction port. Suctioning can look somewhat different for many trach families – but this is how our setup. When Evanna builds up secretions and is unable to clear them herself, we have to use a suction machine. Connected to the suction machine is a catheter (we use a new one every 12 hours, and clean with an alcohol swab before each use), which we feed through the port to a set length (about 16cm), as it’s not good to constantly hit and irritate her carina at the bottom of her trachea. This allows us to suction Evanna’s secretions and clear her trach so she can breathe better. When we first came home, we did this at least once an hour (and up to every 20 minutes the first few hours after she woke up). We now only do this a handful of times within a span of 24 hours, as her body isn’t producing as much secretions, and Evanna is getting better at clearing them herself. 
Preparing a fresh oxygen tank and switching Evanna to her transport circuit for a trip out of the house. The difference between her home/stationary circuit/vent tubing and her transport circuit/vent tubing, is her home one encases a heated wire inside of it for the humidifier. When we take Evanna out, we use a “plainer” vent tubing and attach an “HME” between her trach and tubing that helps provide humidity instead. An HME isn’t has efficient as a humidifier, but once we start sprinting Evanna off the vent, we’ll be using an HME more and more. 
Switching Evanna over from her stationary vent + circuit to her transport one.

xo The Irvine Family

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Icing Smiles Canada

This is such a long overdue post that definitely should have been done eons ago, but I hope the Icing for Smiles organization can forgive and excuse my procrastination (this isn’t a requirement by any means, but I feel this is the best way for me to show my gratitude for everything they have done). If you can recall, back at the beginning of October we held a #EvannasHeartHospitalversary party at the Alberta Children’s Hospital for Evanna, to somewhat “celebrate” being one year postop from her 1st Open Heart Surgery, and surviving as a family of being in hospital for over a year (Discharge post can be read ---> here).

Icing for Smiles is an organization that started in the USA, and it matches talented bakers with medical families to create stunning cakes for any special occasion (obviously birthdays are the common request). It’s a still fairly new program here in Canada (about 5 years give or take), and so I hope this post will help get the word out to bakers looking for a way to give back/provide a volunteer opportunity that utilizes their incredible skills to well deserving medical family’s. I honestly can’t remember how I first heard about Icing for Smiles (whether it was posted in a Facebook support group, a fellow heart mama or the Stollery Social workers), but I knew about them for quite some time before finally utilizing their services. I originally was going to have one baked for Evanna’s 1st birthday but between the multiple unplanned transfers and her 3rd open heart surgery that occurred in April 2015, it became a huge logistical problem, as I couldn’t tell them which city we were going to be in for Evanna’s birthday (for the longest time we thought we would still be in Edmonton, but ended up being transferred to Calgary just 2 days before her birthday…and then ended back up in Edmonton 2 weeks later).

By October, things were much more stable with us finally transferring out of ICU, and with just a month away from discharge (at that time, we were still anticipating a “close to Christmas” discharge, but thankfully with Evanna’s recovery speeding up a little and busting my butt with getting homecare in place, we were able to discharge a month earlier than expected), I thought it was finally a great opportunity to have a cake made. You generally need to give a fair amount of notice to the organization so they can find a baker (however there are exceptions), but once they locate one, the rest is taken care of. You are allowed to have one ultimate “dream cake”, and yearly “fun cakes”. For this particular event, I felt a fun cake was appropriate, as I would like to save the “dream cake” for a future birthday.
Suffice to say, as you can see from photos, the “fun cake” that was made for us was just as absolutely amazing, and Nick and I were both blown away by our baker’s work. She went above and beyond for us and we were truly touched by her generosity.

So whether you are a Canadian or American baker, and are looking for a unique way to volunteer for an absolutely amazing cause – I highly recommend looking into “Icing for Smiles”. I want to point out that because this is a non-profit organization bakers are not required to have access to a licenced kitchen. Alberta has very strict laws about this particular thing, but it does not apply in this case. So if you are a baker, please know that you don’t necessarily need access to a separate licensed kitchen, and are absolutely allowed to make this within your private residence.

For more information (whether you are a baker or are a medical family wondering if you are eligible for your very own cake), please head to their website: http://www.icingsmiles.ca/

Finally, just a quick thanks to our baker Kelly for our absolutely stunning cake. We received tons of compliments on it, and it not only served all our party visitors, but many staff members at Alberta Children’s Hospital (I ended up taking some of the leftovers down to the PICU for them to enjoy).

xo The Irvine Home

Friday, July 1, 2016

then and now

I’ve had Canada Day on my mind for months, and it’s because last year, it was the scariest day of our lives (thus far…). It was the day that Evanna went into complete Septic Shock, and we were informed that we were most likely going to lose her by the end of that day. Septic Shock is extremely fatal for healthy individuals, and so when you consider how sick Evanna was to begin with and her “sucky heart and sucky lungs”, Evanna should NOT have survived that ordeal. Thankfully with the incredible ICU team at the Alberta Children’s Hospital (particularly Dr. Mahoney and our nurse Jeremy), a mixture of modern medicine and countless prayers – by some miracle, Evanna pulled through that day. I can’t even describe what it feels like when you are preparing to spend your last moments with your child and thinking that you were going to walk out of the hospital childless. It’s often the moment I still cry about if I ponder about it too much, but it’s also a moment that Nick and I learned so much about ourselves. I think the major lesson we learned was what our “limit” was – while it was implied often, it was literally asked of us about how far we were willing to go and how much we were willing to put Evanna through. Suffice to say, that as much as Nick and I are “willing to go to the ends of the earth” for our child, we also know when enough is enough, and that if Evanna tells us it’s time, we would be willing to let her go for her sake. That day will forever be etched into our minds and it truly has impacted us for the rest of our lives.
Back in May, when were back in the PICU at ACH for out bronchoscopy admission, both Dr. Mahoney and Jeremy got to see Evanna, and I think it was such a sweet moment for them to see how far Evanna has come since that day (10 months later), and I know it made them feel that their efforts were completely worth it. Those two will always remain so special to me, and I always get excited when I run into them and get to show them updates on how Evanna is doing today.

So I felt this was a great opportunity for a “milestone” update, as a way to see just how far Evanna has come over the last year. Well, since coming home in November (we’re about to hit our 8 month mark!!), Evanna has continued to just THRIVE! Next week we will finally discontinue her Lasix, which means for the first time in 639 days (exactly 21 months || October 6, 2014 – July 5, 2016), Evanna will no longer be on diuretics. We will now be down to our “base level” medications, which essentially are all supplements (ie. Iron, vitamin D, aspirin, etc), and just can’t believe how far we have come when you consider all the medications she use to be on (the amount of sedation medications would make your head spin!).
From a medical standpoint – we are currently enjoying some stability. Like I mentioned earlier this week, we have two minor check-ups this whole summer, and nothing major until September. I’ll be pressing our cardiologist about getting better imaging of Evanna’s collaterals this fall, and seeing where Edmonton (Dr. Rebeyka) would like to go from here.  We then have our “Combined Clinic” with our ENT and Respirologist at the end of September which should hopefully shed some light on what the next year will look like from a trach/vent standpoint.

Lately our concentration has been PT/OT/ SPL and Evanna’s overall development. She sits up extremely well (however even though she doesn’t need it, she likes the comfort of the nursing pillow behind her), and can pretty much twist her body all around to look back at us if we’re talking to her. She can express to us when she wants her soother, reach for a particular toy that she wants to play with (and books for the matter), when she’s excited and happy, and has started to show normal toddler attachment to Nick and I. She loves playing with her feet all day long, claps and plays with her hands all the time and continues to be a very mellow and content child.
Her stamina had vastly improved, and can tolerate somewhat long trips out of the house. When we first came home, a quick trip to the pediatrician was just an absolute nightmare – full of puke and desats. We only went to church for just an hour a couple of times between November – February, but since Easter we have now been able to attend church almost every Sunday for the first part. Since the end of June we have now increased that to 2 hours (our church consists of “3 blocks” that total 3 hours) every Sunday, and we’ll see what the end of the year brings us. I would love to get to a place where we can take her to nursery, but I personally want to wait until she is somewhat standing/walking on her own. Either Nick or I would obviously have to stay with her the entire time (not about to put the responsibilities of a trach child on the nursery leaders lol), but I have a feeling Nick won’t mind the excuse to skip his classes and hang out with Evanna. Honestly we haven’t really talked about how we would like to see this unfold/transition take place, but it’s probably something we won’t worry about until after Christmas at this point based on her rate of development.

Evanna’s core and arm muscles are definitely getting stronger and stronger every day. She is so close to pushing herself into a sitting position on her own, does “push ups” all the time and somewhat can put herself into the “4-point position” for crawling. I feel she will be crawling sometime between late summer/early fall – which will mean all sorts of busyness for us. She can handle the standing frame for over an hour every day, but still refuses to put weight on legs on her own. She will do it while sitting in her exersaucer (use her legs to bounce around like crazy), but if hoover her above the ground, she basically keeps her legs in front of her and won’t put them down – something I am personally working hard at with her (Nick tends to concentrate on her arm exercises, while I lean towards her leg ones).

When it comes to eating, we’re still in a “holding pattern”, as we are very limited on what we can do for safety reasons, but we do our best with oral stimulation to rectify her oral aversion. We’ve noticed an increase in Evanna putting things into her mouth, and so while improvements to her oral aversion have been minimal at this point, they are still improvements nonetheless!

Overall, we are very thrilled with how far Evanna has come over the last year, and it’s been amazing to watch her soar since coming home back in November (particularly this spring). We were prepared to bounce in and out of hospital a lot, but have been pleasantly surprised to enjoy a little break from hospital life and stability since November.

xo The Irvine Family