Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dear family and friends,

Thank you for your continued interest in Antonia’s progress and for visiting the website.

In June, I had the great blessing again of visiting my sister, Antonia and her family. It was a wonderful trip and I was there about 9 days. Antonia has made a lot of progress since I was there 2 years ago, especially in her ability to speak and be understood. I enjoyed many hours sitting with her and talking about memories that we share from the past and having a lot of laughs together. She continues to have a great sense of humor and likes to make other people laugh as well.

I brought my 2 children with me to visit and my older sister Melanie and her 2 children were also there at the same time. We decided to rent a house for us to stay in during our visit because 6 children and 7 adults in one house generally is quite crazy. The house we rented was very close to Dean & Antonia’s house and one night we took Antonia over there with us to hang out. The house had about 8 stairs that lead up to the bedrooms and restroom. We had not really thought about Antonia needing to use the restroom while we were there and how we would get her up the stairs in her wheelchair. Well… problem, we just helped her sit down on the bottom stair and, with some help balancing, she pushed herself up with her good leg, one stair at a time. The same on the way down. She was determined to do it and she did. She loves any challenge and really thrives when given one. She also made her way down the hallway of their house using the support bar and with me helping her left leg forward as well as giving her support. We had a race one day at the pool and she swims really fast for only using one arm and one leg. I don’t remember who won, but we had a lot of fun.

Antonia is a very attentive mother and really listens to her children when they are telling her something. I was thinking that sometimes us “able-bodied” mothers can be very busy sometimes and not listen as we ought. She encourages them in what they are doing and admonishes them if she thinks they are doing anything wrong.

I believe she is really trying to love and serve God with the abilities she still has. And although her short term memory is not that good, she remembers scripture and is quick to hold the children accountable to God’s word. She still has her outbursts of anger but they seem to be less often. She responds very well during these outbursts to someone gently speaking to her from scripture and what the Bible has to say about the situation that has upset her. She is also quick to repent when she is wrong and quick to forgive and forget when someone has hurt her.

Her short term memory seems to have improved somewhat since my last visit. There were several occasions when I realized that she remembered something that was not prior to the accident but that had happened recently - like a persons name or something we did, etc.

She really enjoyed playing with and talking to her nieces and nephews as well as her own children. She loved to sing along when they played the piano and cheer for them when they were through. As always, she still loves to sing and joins her voice with whoever is singing.

I couldn’t believe how much Isaiah and Azaleah have grown in 2 years. They are very smart and it is so hard to believe that only 5 years ago they couldn’t speak a word of English. Isaiah can recite Bible verses from A to Z with no problem. They are both reading and memorizing all kinds of things and playing the piano a bit. The children all got along well and really enjoyed being together.

I think the most necessary prayer needs for Antonia and her family at this time would be:
1) Continued progress and healing for Antonia
2) God would provide an additional suitable caregiver for Antonia. Mary is still caring for her but needs assistance. It is a very physically and emotionally demanding position. They are having a difficult time finding someone who works well with Antonia and who is dependent and kind and who is looking for a long term situation.
3) Strength and wisdom for Dean as he cares and makes decisions regarding the needs of his wife, children, family and the church.
4) Strength, health, love and patience for all those who care for Antonia and her family in so many different ways. May they not grow weary in doing good.

Lastly, thank you to all of you who continue to pray for Antonia and her family. God has done so much and continues to answer our prayers.

May we all be like the “persistent widow” and keep asking God to do what ONLY HE CAN DO.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Family and Friends:

It has been a couple of months now since Antonia had her stem cell treatment. It was pretty discouraging at first when the two to three weeks passed that the doctor said would be the main time frame for seeing improvements, and we didn't see much of anything.

However, since that time, we have seen some encouraging signs of improvement that have not been huge, but significant enough to notice. There are four main areas that seem to be standing out to us. One of them is her short-term memory. There have been several occasions when Antonia has remembered things that completely surprised us. There are people in our church whose names Antonia never seems to remember. One person in particular was Merilee Sindlinger. Merilee would always come up to Antonia and greet her at worship and Merilee would always have to tell her who she was. A couple of weeks ago though, when Merilee asked Antonia if she knew who she was, and Antonia said, "Merilee!" Of course we were all very happy. And then the next week Antonia not only remembered her name again, but also remembered that it was only the second time she remembered Merilee's name.

There have also been several occasions when Antonia held a thought for several minutes before she was able to speak and then when it was her turn, she remembered. The is very significant because normally she only has a several second window before it is gone forever. There have been several other stories I could tell that cause us to look at one another as if to say, "Now... I have never seen that before."

Another area where we have seen some improvements in is Antonia's energy and mobility. She has often had days where she is extra ambitious and will do things she has never done before. We have often gone in the bedroom the past couple of weeks only to find her sitting up in bed all by her self. Because she can roll over and sit up by herself now, she will often do it when we are not in the room. And sometimes this mean getting herself in trouble. We will sometimes hear hoots and howlers from the bedroom, run down the hall, look through the door, and there she is, laying or sitting on the floor laughing.

Antonia has also been controlling her bladder much better. She is able to hold going to the bathroom for some time now, and can even laugh and keep it under control. She was getting much better at this a few months ago, but recently we have noted even greater improvements.

On a couple of really good days Antonia's speech has been exceptional. This of course depends on the kind of day she is having. If she has a bad day it is no better than it has been in past couple of years. However, on some good days that she has had in the past couple of weeks, she is speaking so clearly that she is even able to say "S". This is remarkable for her because no matter what she tried in the past, she was unable to create any "S" sound. You only realize how amazing this is when you try to say an "S" while letting all your air go out your nose. It also involves putting the teeth together and the lips held back, which take a lot to coordinate all at the same time in a middle of a word.

It needs to be noted as well that all of these improvements are not consistent every day. She continues to have bad days when nothing seems to have changed. However, what has changed is that her good days are better than they have ever been. So for this we praise God!

Thank you for your prayers and all your support.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Dear family and friends:

Thank you so much for praying for Antonia and me during our trip to California. It was adventurous to say the least, but all went well in terms of safety during the trip. We found ourselves trying to navigate all the details of life without any of the usual help and amenities. So instead of a "normal" trip to the grocery store, it became an "adventure."

First of all, we are traveling in a car, which meant taking apart the wheelchair, once Antonia was safely placed in the front seat, then it meant putting the dismantled chair in the trunk. Once we arrived at the grocery store, we then had do repeat the manufacturing process of the wheelchair (which isn't that difficult, it is merely tedious). So once we were on our way into the store, it just then occurred to me that we needed to have somewhere to put the items we wanted to purchase. What I decided to do was place a small hand basket on Antonia's lap, while putting her arms through the handles.

We were then on our way, piling the groceries up to Antonia's face. But the real trick came when we were finished shopping and had our items placed in grocery bags. This became interesting because we could not put all the groceries on Antonia, so I had to carry some. But when you are pushing a wheelchair, there are big wheels with spokes that come back near the person who is pushing, and this becomes interesting when you have bags in your hand. So a couple of feet from the register and I am soon finding out that plastic bags and spokes aren't good friends.

I remedied the situation by putting the bags into one hand, and pushing with the other. Oh ya, you are probably wondering why I didn't ask for help. Well... because I am ignorant and a male, I didn't think I needed help. But I quickly found out that help would have been a good option. So here I am pushing and maneuvering her wheelchair with one hand, and carrying grocery bags with the other.

We get to the car, I unload the groceries, I unload Antonia, I unassemble the wheelchair, put it in the trunk, and off to our room we go. Five minutes later I reverse the process and try to maneuver our way to our room with a couple extra bags hanging off me that carries my computer and books... because I can't make a second trip and leave Antonia alone.

So here you have a snapshot of how all the details of the trip went in terms of the procedural "issues." However, all went well and we enjoyed ourselves once I accepted the fact that this trip was not going to be anything for me but work.

Antonia had a full check up on the Monday along with a couple of treatments, which open up the blood vessels and allow the stem cells to have better access to the needed areas.

On Wednesday we drove down to Mexico where she received her umbilical stem cells. That went very well and there was not much to the procedure. They drew four vials of blood from her, spun it at high speeds in a centrifuge (which separated the platelets from the rest of the blood), then the platelets were put back into her through the IV, and then the stem cells were place in through the IV. About 40 minutes later after the procedure was over we then were on our way back to our hotel room.

On Friday Antonia then received a stem cell transplant from her own bone marrow. This procedure was much more involved. First of all, Antonia needed to be sedated a little bit in order to make sure she stayed calm, however, she wasn't very affected by the sedation. The doctor couldn't believe her tolerance level and joked with me that she must be an expensive date. He believes it is because the high levels of Depecote she is taking which has her liver working hard and having the ability to detoxify the drug. After extracting five syringes full of her bone marrow blood from inside her hip, the blood was then mixed with a few different stem cell enhancers, and then it was intravenously placed into her blood stream.

After receiving the stem cells we are now in a waiting stage for them to go to the areas of need and then begin to attach themselves so they can repair the damaged cells they are able to get to, and the cells they can become. This process normally takes two to three weeks before results are seen. However, there are cases where affects can be seen earlier, and there are cases when affects are seen later. There are also cases where no improvements were noted.

Please pray with us that God will greatly use these stem cells in order to repair damaged areas and improvement will be noted, so that Antonia will be able to advance in her recovery.

Thank you all for everything,

PS-Look for new pictures soon coming. Click the "pictures" link.