Guest Blogger, Kristin Olliney, is the mother of 7-year-old Isabella, who suffered sudden acute encephalitis when she was just 4. Kristin’s bi-monthly blog, Mommy of a Miracle, talks about the trials and joys of raising a brain injury survivor.
On November 25th, 2010, it was a regular Thanksgiving. We visited with our family and friends. Isabella and I planned our Thanksgiving weekend. We were so excited to have 4 days off and we couldn’t wait to decorate for Christmas. My best friend lived next door so we stopped by before going to our home. We arrived at 7pm. By 7:10pm Isabella was screaming that her head hurt, her throat burned and seconds later the vomiting started. I brought her home, cleaned her up and laid her down beside me. By 10:35pm Isabella was confused, disoriented, dehydrated and she said “I just want to go home Mommy”- we were home. I knew at that moment that something was not right. I called her pediatrician and we were off to the emergency room. I had to pull over several times to help her because she was vomiting so much. We walked into the emergency room at 11:58pm. I did not know that our lives were about to change forever. That is how our journey began.
It was eventually figured out that Isabella had sudden acute encephalitis. Words cannot express the horror that I saw happen to my baby. I held her in my arms at one point and she was stiff as a board. Her body was distorted, she made these awful sounds (that still haunt me) and I remember thinking, God she doesn’t deserve this. I remember pleading to God that this is not how I wanted my baby to live. I watched Isabella crash before my eyes. There were tubes going everywhere, she was hooked up to 19 machines and a ventilator. I was told that I needed to prepare myself that I probably wouldn’t be walking out the door with Isabella. I was told that Isabella was gravely ill and I needed to understand she wasn’t going to make it. I couldn’t even process what was happening. There are sections of the first few days that I don’t even remember. I want to remember them but I am told that it’s my brain blocking it out because it’s so traumatic. It could also be that I didn’t sleep for 74 hours and I eventually collapsed outside the MRI. How could I sleep knowing that I only had a precious few hours with Isabella? I didn’t want to waste one single second sleeping.
The days went on and Isabella was still fighting. Isabella eventually woke up and it was the happiest day of my entire life. See the picture below. I was told that Isabella is that one in a million to survive what she did. Prayers, our special angels and a miracle saved my baby. Little did I know that the next few weeks, months and years would never ever be the same. We were now on a different journey, one that was unknown and at times scary.
Everything in our life is defined by that one day “before Isabella got sick” and “since Isabella got sick”. It is that one moment where everything changed. That first anniversary was a sad one. It was hard reliving every single moment over again. Isabella and I snuggled, watched movies and played. I decided that I would allow myself that first year to be sad. After that I couldn’t anymore. I decided that instead we would celebrate Isabella. Isabella knows that she has a “boo-boo” in her brain. I have been very honest (in an age/cognitively appropriate way) about what has happened.
As the second year approached I planned “Celebrate Isabella Day”. She quickly changed the name to “Mommy and Isabella Day”. I asked her therapists, providers and others that love her to send her a card (to be opened on 11/25) with well wishes and words of encouragement. Isabella and I planned the day out. Crafts, movies, snuggling, make a cake and have balloons with party hats. Anyone that knows Isabella knows how important party hats are to her. We sang “Happy Mommy and Isabella Day” and we made wishes on the candles. We also opened the cards that were sent. Isabella looks forward to this day every year now.
You are probably wondering what most people do, why celebrate such an awful day? I choose to celebrate this day because I have to. This day forever changed our lives. Instead of looking at it as the day I lost my old Isabella, I choose to look at it as the day my Isabella was born again. She is a miracle and she amazes me every day. Isabella is my hero and I want to celebrate all that she has accomplished. After all this was a child who wasn’t supposed to make it through the night never mind reach 3 years post Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). When I look back on the last three years, we have had many highs and lows. Isabella’s strength, bravery, determination, courage and fight have gotten us through this. I don’t want to mourn who she was and what was lost, I want to celebrate the amazing person she is.
With each anniversary we have the power to choose how that day will be remembered. We can long for what once was and be filled with sadness or we can chose to celebrate the survivor that is here with us. I chose to celebrate my amazing survivor Isabella. Happy Mommy and Isabella Day!
“Nobody said it would be easy they just promised it would be worth it” Anonymous