Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dear John

To: John Byrne,  Jack's nurse, my guardian angel.

Dear John,

I am writing tonight to thank you.  Thank you for helping Jack and saving me. I was watching the ceremony for the children in Connecticut.  Brought me back to when Jack was six,  and it was the holidays and he got sick.  The first time he was really sick.

Do you remember the first time you met me John? I do.  It was December 23.  Jack had finally been released from Columbia Presbyterian Babies Hospital.  On November 2 of that year we brought Jack to the emergency room, he was in so much pain, we had no idea what was wrong with him.  He has Cystic Fibrosis and I guess I always thought it would lung issues that would bring us to the emergency room.  This time it was Jack's pancreas.

If I knew than what I know now,  I  would never have survived those first days.  I was so naive. I thought we will be there for a couple days, they will fix Jack and we will go home.  I was so confident of this,  I told Jack he did not have to wash his hair till we went home.   Jack had dreadlocks by the time we left Columbia Presbyterian Babies Hosptial.

Eight weeks, two surgeries, a thousand blown IVs and one provac port later we were finally going home. It was not that Jack was better. He was not.  I think now I know that insurance companies do not want to pay the hospital bill.  So home we went with the promise that I would have nurses living with us, to care for Jack, around the clock.

They could not find any nurses so they sent you, John Byrne (my guardian angel) to teach me to care for Jack.  Remember coming into our kitchen, John? We had this huge island and you spread out enough medical supplies to keep a third world country going for months.  Than you looked over at me and said "this is what you need to learn how to do."

Tears streaming down my face I turned to you and whispered "I cannot do this, I will hurt him." You smiled, held my hand and said you are gonna be fine.  Everything is going to be okay.

You came everyday, until I got the hang of things.  You gave me your number and said call anytime of the day or night.  And I did.  You always answered.  Remember the time I unhooked the wrong thing, I was sure he was gonna keel over, I called, you answered, I think it was 3 am.  We fixed it and went back to bed.

I want to thank you John. Thank you for being Jack's nurse and for teaching me to care for him.  The last time I saw you, was right before Christmas two years ago. (I have a love hate relationship with the holidays.)  Jack was hospitalized three weeks this time. Seeing you when I answered the door, well I do  not think you will ever know how much you mean to me and Jack.  We have grown to love and rely on your caring and compassionate manor.  I have so enjoyed your Irish sense of humor. My favorite was the time I was going on and on about a mistake a doctor had made and you turned to me and said "Liz why do you think they call it practicing medicine."

I miss you John, you will always have a special place in my heart.  With your help, we are winning our fight with Cystic Fibrosis, me and Jack.

I am sorry for the families in Connecticut who were not even given the chance to fight for their children.   I am thankful my fight is not over, and that I still have my son.  I do not know that I could find a place for me without him.

Thank you John.

With love,


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Members of a Club

Tonight I met Lee Woodward. The evening, in honor of her new book. Evenings like tonight give me hope. It is so inspiring to meet a mother and wife who is a member of the club that no one wants to be member of, yet she prevails and makes sure others benefit. Her husband suffered a dramatic brain injury. With love and support, her family is in tact and she is making sure other families faced with the same injury have the support they need. Once Jack was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, I hit the internet, the same internet his doctor had warned me about. Most of what I found did nothing to help me. I was looking for a cure, a reason, an explanation. I was told "the lord only gives what you can handle". Clearly, that was a huge mistake. As my father, my mother and brother will tell you, I was the week link in our family chain. Then I was told, if the outcome was not in your favor, then they (your baby) was in a better place. What is a better place for a child than with their mother. Finally I read Alex, Life of Child by Frank Deford. His anger resinated with me. And it helped, it helped me to know that like me, he was so mad at this disease. Some think we have great health care in America, and yes if you are healthy we do. Healthcare is business. If someone can make money off of your child's disease, you are in luck, the odds are in your favor, if not, oh well. I had the honor of meeting Frank DeFord. His daughter died from Cystic Fibrosis at the age of seven. He took my hand and tried to put me at ease. He said "Liz your children have a much better chance. " I said "We are all members of a club that no one wants to be a member of." I thank Frank Deford for continuing to do so much for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Long after he lost Alex, he lost his fight, he continued to fight. And because of him my baby has a much better chance. I wish I could say I would do the same, I hope I would. I hope I would continue to fight after I lost everything that was important to me. I admire and I thank him for all he does for Jack and all the other children like him. I also know, every child born deserves a chance. No matter what the cost or how much that drug company is going to make. What is the cost of that one child? My dream is that every member of this club will get their the call. The call to say, your brother, your sister, your husband, your wife, your mother, your father, or in my case, your baby is cured. Your fight is over.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Happy Birthday My Beautiful Boy

August 3, 1997, that is the day Jack came into the world and set us on a course that would at times bring me to the edge. I would like to say his deliver was ordinary, nothing remarkable. Nothing would be further than the truth. I was past my due date so my doctor brought me in to be induced. A snobby resident from California started the Petocin. I have learned that if you are going to deliver your child at a one of the best teaching hospitals in the country you are going to have to learn to put up with overly confident residents and everyone coming in and out of your room, I do mean everyone. So Miss San Fran got everything started and then did a sonogram to see "how far down the head was". Well it was not down, not down at all, Jack had turned in the last three days and was breach. I started crying, the last thing I wanted was a C section. In walked my doctor (who I loved). She asked me the following: Have you had anything to eat? No. Drink? Yes Coffee. Cream in your coffee? Do they serve it any other way? She left the room, came back with the perky resident and said "We are gonna flip him" Then she asked Miss San Fran if she wanted the head or the butt. It was something right out of Alien, watching them flip him. But it worked. They flipped him and one hour later, bruised and battered, Jack came into the world. He was just a lamb of a child and I adored him from the start. If you have read my blog the beginning months were difficult. Jack was sick and his diagnosis took a blow to my family. Within a year, Jack was this blonde ball of energy. There were times I was convinced he had some battery back, he was always on the move. Jack did not limit this to our yard or even, like most children, within view. We lost Jack everywhere, Disneyland, Malibu Beach, The Westchester Mall, there was even a lock down at Khols. He was fearless and curious and nothing was going to stop him. The only thing that stopped Jack was the Hospital. And his only question for the Doctors during his stay "When will I be able to get back to the skate park?" So many people have said that Jack is lucky to have me. But quite honestly, I am the lucky one. He has taught me how to live life and live it well. So it is your birthday my beautiful boy. You are fourteen years old. I remember when you were diagnosed, Dr. Quittell told me many children with CF were making it to their eighteen birthday and going to college. It brought me to tears then. If that were still true, that was all the time I might have left with you, that would bring me to my knees now. Much has changed during your lifetime my darling boy. There has been so much progress and mothers are being told a very different story when their children are diagnosed. This wonderful progress is the result of the kindness of others, every dollar raised, every dollar donated gives me more time with you. I will never be able to thank the generous people who make your life possible, but I carry them in my heart with you. I once told by your lung doctor, after she had had enough of my endless calls, I will call you when there is a cure. As I have said before, I am still waiting for my call and I know in my heart I may never get it. But someday a mother will get her call and this fight will be over and we will have won. Happy Birthday my Beautiful boy and to my dream of many more.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Life With Jack: She is beautiful Mrs. Clark

My Life With Jack: She is beautiful Mrs. Clark: I have lost count of how many times during my stays with Jack at Columbia Pres I was told "she is beautiful". Jack dressed in a hospi...

She is beautiful Mrs. Clark

I have lost count of how many times during my stays with Jack at Columbia Pres I was told "she is beautiful". Jack dressed in a hospital gown, with long hair, gorgeous eyes and ever present smile was beautiful. My regular response "thank you, he is my favorite". Of course immediately the nurse, doctor, intern, resident who said it apologized. No apologies necessary, Jack is beautiful. Over the years Jack's hair has come into play in many discussions. Jack has a gorgeous head of hair. When he was younger I worried what Sam's reaction would be when she figured out Jack's hair was gorgeous. Sam, my oldest, tall, athletic, smart, never lets anyone get in her way. It took a while, I think she was teen when it finally dawned her that her brother had the hair the family. My brother Rob had the hair in our family. Jack has his hair, beautiful, dirty blonde, thick, just the right curl. That was not all Rob had. Once his closest friend Thatcher asked if it bothered me that Rob got all the brains in the family. I looked at him and said "No, what bothers me is he got the great legs." I wanted those. I knew that from my history, my brother's hair was a huge bone contention with my father. It seemed no matter what he accomplished, his hair was always on my fathers mind. I am not sure how many time he said, "You need a haircut" Rob took course at PU, when he was in HS. My father said "You need a haircut". My brother was PG a Lawrenceville, two were accepted that year, my father said "you need a haircut". Apparently, he was offered a scholarship at the Stratton Mountain School. My father never told him that, but he did tell him "you need a haircut." Early on, I decided my children will chose the length of their hair. Yes I decided that after my son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. At seven months, I would hold him and rock him to sleep, not knowing what was in our future, how long my beautiful boy would be with me. I held true to my hair promise. When Jack was hospitalized, just after his sixth birthday, just after halloween, I told him "you do not need to wash your hair or get a haircut until you come home". I was told he would be home in three days. It was eight weeks, and he came home sick. He was not better, he was not cured. They gave up and sent home, with a provac port from which I administered medication and food. I was now in charge of Jack's life. He came home looking like a hippie. He had dreadlocks. I stayed with my promise and he had not even washed his hair. The day before he left, the day before Christmas, Jeter came to the hospital. He brought gifts for each child. He knew their names and their stories. Jeter stayed for hours. The clip that made the news was Jack with his dreadlocks sitting on Jeter's lap. I do appreciate Jeter. He is a very compassionate man. I for one appreciate what he did for all of those sick children at Columbia that day before Christmas. I have gotten off track here. Jack is my beautiful boy. I love him with all my heart and all his hair. I feel everyday I have with him is a gift. I think he is beautiful. To all the nurses, residents and doctors at Columbia who looked at Jack and said to me "she is beautiful". Thank you. Thank you for taking care of my beautiful boy. More importantly, thank you Jack for helping me find my way in this world. You see, you are my beautiful boy, you are a gift. Our babies, these children, they are ours for a bit. Sometimes they are with you longer, sometimes not. Love them.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Here Comes the Sun

It's been a long cold lonely winter.

Jack and his two friends from High School and I just got home from the US Burton Open at Stratton. I am not sure what I was thinking tossing three HS boys in the car, loading up the Thule and heading north. Normally I would not take that crew to Jerry's (the local Rye spot where everyone knows your name). I did it and I am happy I did.

Jack is home, he is not in the hospital, he does not have a picc line, he is not heavily medicated. I made up my mind early on in this fight, when he was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, that we were going to live life well when we had the chance. The snow was outstanding. The boys spent most of their time in the terrain park. You needed a special pass and I was so not invited. We all watched the top snowboarders from around the world compete.

It was the 30 anniversary. Burton is sick. Burton the founder of the US Open, the founder of Burton boards, native from Vermont. Everyone came. Kelly Clark, Gold Medal winner. Hannah Teter and Shaun White. Now it's been a while since Shaun has come to the open. Some at Stratton say he commits, gets hungover and backs out. I just think he has a jet, homes and better places to be (although I cannot imagine anywhere in the world that is better than Stratton). He came. They came to thank the Burtons for all they have done for the sport.

I came because we could. When your child has a terminal illness that they have yet to find a cure for, you live differently. We do, we live for today. We make it count. We go to the US Open. I think I enjoyed watching Shaun White more than Jack. I stood at the bottom of the half pipe simply shocked by magnitude of his talent.

Now my son Jack has been on his board since he was 5. He started skiing at four. This because one weekend we took Sam and Jack to Vermont, checked them into ski school and for the first time in so many years, I was free and I skied. That weekend I rented a house for the following season and enrolled all three in the seasonal program at Stratton, the Mountain I skied at since I was 8. Jack at the beginning of the next season announced he was a snowboarder. Tears tumbled down my cheeks as the dream of my spending the season skiing at Stratton seemed to fade. I called the ski school and told them the news. Jack wanted to snowboard. Now this was ten years ago and there were not that many little kids on boards. Happily Cindy, head of the program said "Mrs. Clark whatever you bring him on, we will teach him on."

So his boarding career began. And my love for skiing is stronger than ever. I have so many memories of that mountain and the times I spent up there. And now I am building even more.

When your child is sick and in the hospital you sit and wonder, will he go to Vermont again, will he skateboard again. Am I gonna walk out the doors of the hospital with him?

My fear is that I just do not think I will ever be able to go back there. Back to a place I love so much and feel I belong without, him. Because now all my memories there are tied up with Jack.

I was told today I was ruining Jack. I was not hard enough on him. How can I be? I have watched this child spend nights in the ER, weeks in the hospital, Picc Lines, IVS, No Food, stuck everywhere, stuck 15 times in row to get an IV going, put under four times. I could go on. I have watched him fight, fight for his life. I am in awe of his strength and courage as I am Shaun White's performance in the half pipe.

He is my son, and I love him with all my heart.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Everything's Alright

My brothers and sister and I are all named after saints. Kathrine, Elizabeth. Robert and David. Raised a Catholic, I went to church every Sunday. I never ate meat on Fridays during lent. I was baptized, had my first holy communion and of course my confirmation.

I believed in God and Jesus Christ. When I was ten my parents took me to see the opening of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar. I loved it for many reasons. It was familiar, it was what I knew. I believed it. My favorite song was Everything is alright, everything is fine.

I believed in heaven, I believed that everyone was good. I had a lot to learn.

When Jack got sick I started to question my religion. Over the years, I have spent days in babies hospitals watching my baby suffer and other babies suffer. I had to ask myself "where is God?".

I have had friends who have lost their fight, their children are gone. What God would let that happen? Some say they are in a better place. What better place than here in their mother's arms.

From the time Jack was first diagnosed, seven months old, he would sleep soundly in my arms, while I told him "everything is alright, everything is fine."

Now he tells me that. He assures me that "Everything is alright, Everything is fine." Go to sleep Go to sleep, let the world rotate without you tonight.

I once ha a vision. This little girl dressed in white came to me, and said, I am fine and I will be back to get Jack.

I know now that everyone is not good, the world is a dangerous place. But I believe that Jack is right. Everything is alright, everything is fine. Tonight.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It's Been One Year

One year ago today, after four days of fever, I reluctantly took my beautiful boy to the Emergency Room at Columbia in the city. Jack had spent three weeks there in December with Pancreatitis. Some who develop this with their CF spend a couple days in the hospital rest it, no food or water and go home. Sadly for Jack, this is never the case. Jack's is unforgiving. And after ten days in the hospital, I was told Jack needed a Picc Line.

Picc Lines provide a way to give medication or food to a patient. What I do not like about them, they require a lot of work. They are prone to infection and extremely invasive.

This particular hospitalization had been so hard on me. It had been almost four years since Jack had been in the hospital. During that time, my brother died. I realized just how devastating that was and feared it more than ever. How does a mother follow her child's coffin out of the church?

My friends and the girls never let me down. There were emails and phone calls and facebook posts. I will forever be grateful for that. My girls, strength, beauty, love and compassion, the words I use to describe them. They have their own story to tell.

However, Jack's father was not in a good place and unable to help the way he had in the past. I was alone in every sense of the word. My girls were struggling without me, Jack was struggling with me.

One year ago today, I was headed back to Columbia in complete denial. I was so sure that Jack's fever had nothing to do with his Picc line that I told the girls we would be home for dinner.

I could not have been more wrong. The girls did not see me for four days. When I came home for a change of clothes. The emergency was packed and pretty quickly I was told that not only was Jack's line infected, he now had a life threatening blood infection. He was hooked up to every monitor and that ER sprang into action. I thought at least we will get a room. Wrong again. we spent the next 48 hours in that ER. Jack almost died that first night. I had never seen him so sick.

My friends called and that helped. Having said that, the one relationship, I had but so much time and effort into, well I would rather not say what happened. Just know you find out what someone is made of during a time like this. I was alone. It was just me and Jack and we were fighting like hell.

Jack is my hero. He not only survived but at one point turned to me and apologized for me having to sit all night in a chair. Can you imagine. Where did this child come from?

It took a while, but our family has never been better or stronger. My children are thriving, their Dad is very much a part of their life and I have someone in my life now, someone who cares.