Today’s blog post is part of a bi-monthly feature called Mommy of A Miracle written by our mommy and caregiver blogger Kristin Olliney, the mother of seven-year-old Isabella, who suffered brain damage from sudden acute encephalitis at just four-and-a-half. In today’s post, Kristin shares her greatest fears and joys of what she calls hers and Isabella’s “Second Chance.” To contact Kristin, tweet @KristinOlliney.
The day that Isabella came down with sudden acute encephalitis became the defining moment when our lives were forever altered. Prior to that day, I spent my entire life going through the motions and living as best I knew how. Since Isabella’s ABI (Acquired Brain Injury), life is defined as “before she got sick” and “since she got sick.” That one moment changed everything about us. My world as I knew it came crashing down and I came so close to losing it all—Isabella is my life. It is a miracle that she survived. This second chance we were given gave me a new appreciation of life—one that most don’t understand unless they have been through something similar.
When Isabella was born, she didn’t cry like most babies. Isabella wasn’t breathing and she was quickly whisked out of the room before I got to hold her. Isabella was put under an oxygen hood and I didn’t get to meet her until the next day. I had toxemia and I couldn’t get in the wheelchair to go down to see her. I just physically couldn’t get up. To this day I still beat myself up about it. I think I should have tried harder or I should have done something different. Parental guilt (“did I do enough, I should have done more”) started right from the beginning. As my baby became a toddler and then a “big girl” she met all of her milestones. Isabella often met them early. Hitting milestones for the first time was exciting but also expected. The first smile, the belly laugh, hearing “Momma,” sitting, standing, walking and eventually writing her name, starting school, playing soccer, riding a bike, etc., were all great moments. I enjoyed the moments the way most mothers do.
As Isabella lay in a coma, fighting to survive, I thought about our life. I wondered if she knew how much I loved her—did I tell her enough? Did I kiss and hug her enough? Did I make her happy in life? I couldn’t even allow myself to accept that Isabella wasn’t supposed to make it. I couldn’t wrap my head around walking out of the hospital without her. After several days in a coma Isabella started to breathe over the vent. We decided that it was time to take Isabella off of the vent and see if she could breathe on her own. As the vent was pulled out I heard Isabella’s little voice crying out, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” and it was like she was born again.
Isabella was still in a coma but she was able to cry out for me. I cried tears of joy. I was able to lay in bed with Isabella and hold her. I knew from that moment forward that this was a new beginning for us both. I vowed to never take a single second for granted and to truly appreciate our lives. When Isabella finally awoke from her coma she was in the state of a newborn, except a newborn could move his or her arms and legs and Isabella couldn’t. Her fight and determination are like I have never seen before. In those first days out of the coma, Isabella would lay in my arms trying to gain neck control so she could hold her head up. When Isabella mastered that, she wanted to sit up in bed. Every time Isabella tried to sit up she would fall over. Isabella spent the entire day pushing herself up only to fall back down. Her determination was such that, by the end of the day, she was sitting up.
Since Isabella’s ABI, she has hit so many milestones again. She’s learned to stand, walk, run, kick a ball, throw a ball, ride a bike, talk in sentences, write her name, draw, etc. This time around, milestones have been accomplished through hard work, determination, tears, sweat and a fight to keep on going. When your child isn’t supposed to make it through the night and yet defies the odds, every milestone is an emotional moment—a happy victory on this journey to recovery.
Knowing firsthand how fragile and uncertain life is can be a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because I learned to appreciate the small moments in life that most people don’t know they are even missing out on. I hug Isabella just a little bit tighter. I make sure I tell Isabella how amazing she is and how much I love her. Knowing what I do about the uncertainty in life is also a curse because I learned the hard way that in an instant it can all change and be over. This knowledge can lead to guilt and fear that I didn’t do enough. There are days where I wish I did more, played more, cuddled more and enjoyed every moment just a little more. I try to remind myself that I am human and I can’t be perfect. I have been given the biggest blessing of all: a second chance. There will always be days when I wish I could do more. I thank God every night that I was given another day with Isabella. Before I close my eyes I pray that I will be blessed with another day tomorrow.