Thursday, December 10, 2009

Family Thankful For Best Gift Of All, Part 2

By Gary Jaramillo
(Continued from last week)

As time grew closer to surgery day, so grew the anxiety and intense mixed feelings in the Crespin family. Would it all be OK at the end of the day? Could he take his daughter and wife home with him after what will have been the hardest and most trying day of his life? Will he ever be able to talk with them again?
Daddy and husband - Shanon must become two distinct and different people in and of himself for two of the most important reasons to live, his daughter and his wife.
He must also continue to be that pillar of hope and strength for his youngest daughter Nicole and eldest child Joseph who are sitting in the sterile waiting room scared beyond words and living with their own frazzled internal emotions.
He must find a way somehow to be with both as they wheel them to separate operating rooms at the very same moment.
Something I just couldn’t imagine going through and surviving as we spoke. Faith and love do bring strength. How else do people get through such difficult times?
Shanon miraculously kept his wits about him through all of the turmoil sweeping through his mind. I didn’t ask Shanon to tell me what he said or did before they took his sweet little girl and beloved wife away on that morning, but I can imagine he gently placed his hand on each of their heads, kissed them both and bravely smiled and said to Janessa, “you’ll be just fine and momma will be fine”, and to his wife Jenny, “you’ll be fine, and our baby will be fine”, we’ll all be fine. See you in a little while. And I’m sure to both, “I love you”.
Shanon spent what seemed an eternal surgery time pacing and waiting for word from hospital staff. What made all of the Crespin’s family trials so much easier on that day and the months before were the wonderful people at the University of New Mexico Hospital. All of the Crespin’s agreed that without the hospital staff, doctors, nurses, techs and other UNMH employees adopting and treating them as their family, they would not have been able to cope with the flood of emotions, treatments, tests, trips and every other hard hit they had to endure along the way.
Finally, word. Momma, Jenny had made it through donor surgery just fine and finally came out to recovery where Shanon was able to visit with her, but he still hadn’t heard anything from Janessa’s surgical suite. He began asking how Janessa’s surgery was going and was sent to the Intensive Care Unit where nurses told him Janessa had been taken back to surgery because she was bleeding. Still another kick in the stomach for Shanon. How many more downs can come with the few ups so far, he thought. Shanon went from his feelings of elation on what was supposed to be the day where everything was finally normal again, or at least as close to normal as life had been in the past 10 months, to square one and worried sick once again about what the days final outcome would be.
After an excruciating wait the doctor finally came out and explained that Janessa had not been taken out of surgery and rushed back in, but she was still on the operating table when doctors noticed that a stitch from the main artery to the kidney had not sealed and they quickly re-stitched and saved the kidney and Janessa in the process.
Shanon’s emotional roller coaster began to move again as the doctor told him that re-stitching and saving the kidney and Janessa was the good news, but the bad news was that momma’s healthy new kidney wasn’t working and they could not tell him when it would begin to work.
It’s at this time in the story that Jenny suddenly stood up and walked around behind me to the kitchen to get me a glass of soda and ice. I knew she had to move and do something to keep all those feelings and raw emotions from exploding from within her again. We paused again as I thanked her and everyone took another deep breath and continued. What the family didn’t know was that I was working as hard as I ever had, to keep from breaking down myself.
To be truthful with the readers of this story, I was not looking forward to sitting again and writing the finish to the Crespin’s story. Honestly, just writing the words to this story that were given to me by the Crespin’s a couple of weeks ago is much harder than I thought it would be. I think it’s only natural that little pictures of my daughter, grandsons, nieces and nephews pop into my head as I hear Janessa’s story. Somehow that mechanism works the same on all of us. I think that’s why everyone in Socorro and the world, is so ready to help anyone of their neighbors when such a scary and unsure things happens to a friend just down the road. It’s about all of us and those we dearly love in these little towns and villages in Socorro and Catron counties, and all over this great big country. I think we all know we’re one street address away from something like this happening to us. It can be a tough place, this journey we call life.
It turns out, what happened was when the main artery had to be clamped off in order to fix the faulty stitch, Janessa’s new kidney was traumatized and perhaps even put into shock because blood flow had been stopped for some time during the repair procedure. The doctors called it “sleeping kidney” syndrome. Shanon was, once again, crushed.
After seeing Janessa and somehow getting through having to watch her lying asleep and back to square one in Intensive Care, Shanon had to dig deep to summon the courage and put on his “it’s going to be fine” face again while finding just the right words that would not totally devastate Jenny who was lying in recovery just across the way by herself. This was certainly no time for some funny little “I have some good news, and I’ve got some bad news” conversation. I didn’t ask Shanon and Jenny what was said, and I can’t imagine the deep sadness that engulfed them as they consoled each other at that moment.
Perhaps the hardest thing of all to deal with for the Crespins was when the doctors told them she was just as sick after her surgery as the first day she was flown in from Socorro months before. The doctors told mom and dad that Janessa’s youth would play a big part in her recovery. In the meantime, as Janessa fought her battle for life, momma was able to be released within a week and was sent home to continue her recovery.
As time went by, doubt began to rule the long, slow days. Although doctors assured the family that she would be fine, time began to work against their hope for a good outcome. The sleeping kidney refused to wake. With all of the weight of the world on Shanon and Jenny’s shoulders, they told me that they felt helpless and at the brink of losing all hope. So completely worn down physically, mentally and with virtually no sleep in weeks, the word finally came. The sleeping giant in their lives had awoken. The gift from a mother to her daughter was now beginning to clean and pump the lifeblood to every vital organ of Janessa’s starved body. Two weeks seemed an eternity for the family, but maybe now, just maybe the roller coaster would begin to slow and roll to a stop so the Crespin’s could finally step off and begin to walk through the rest of their lives together. Perhaps little sister Nicole could come home at night from Grandma’s and Grandpa’s and sleep in her own bed more often. Maybe now she could get back to being the good student at school again and concentrate on things like math, science and her friends. She knew things would change if big sister was finally well again. Big brother Joseph could finally get back to the path he had chosen in life without feeling terrible and afraid that he could possibly lose his little sister. The fight for all of those things, for the whole family, was now up to Janessa.
The days of Shanon going to work and trying to concentrate on his job and still know that his daughter lay in a bed 75 miles away fighting for her life could only be described as excruciating and heart wrenching. Shanon told of a time where he had to lock himself in a room at work to sit and cry. He had to have those moments alone to survive.
He could not show any signs of emotions or let his family down. Dad’s do that when times are toughest. Jenny and Shanon said that there is no way in the world they could have lived through this if not for the people in Socorro. When I asked them about what kind of help they received, tears welled up in their eyes and it was hard for either of them to speak. I had my answer. I’m 55 years old and I’ve witnessed a multitude of kind acts from this town when one of its neighbors is in need. It’s tradition here. And yes, the translation for the Socorro really and truly is “help”.
There is not a better place on the planet to live, nor are there kinder, gentler or more caring people in the world, than in Socorro, New Mexico. The Crespins told me that they still feel so bad because there is no way they can ever repay the kindness shown to them throughout their ordeal. Janessa said that she received visits, cards, posters and tons of love from students and friends at school. They are still stunned at the unconditional compassion their hometown so freely gave to them despite the seemingly insurmountable odds they faced each day.
Although Janessa’s new kidney began to steadily improve, she still had to endure two more dialysis treatments which worked as a kind of primer to help make the kidney grow stronger day by day. After weeks of continued care at UNMH, Janessa came home with her family to stay. Perhaps the most touching moment in my interview with the Crespin’s is when Janessa quietly said that she feels like she should somehow pay her mom back for her kidney, “I feel like I owe my mom something”. At that moment Jenny couldn’t speak and just nodded her head “no” as another tear rolled down her cheek. She just smiled at her little girl. I told Janessa that I thought her momma had already been paid in full, and she flashed that great big beautiful smile of hers.
Janessa has steadily improved since coming home and grows healthier with each passing day. She still takes up to 30 pills daily which includes rejection medicine. She takes the first half of them each morning and the other half exactly 12 hours later, for the rest of her life. It’s a very small price to pay for such a wonderful gift. Her mother is doing great as well. And dad? Well, he doesn’t have to say much. His eyes say everything as he gazes at his girls.
I was invited back to the Crespin home today because the family wanted to share some wonderful news with me and everyone in Socorro. They received a letter of release from the doctors, and Janessa can get back to conditioning and working out in order to play softball come springtime. With a slight grin, she told me in her shy, quiet voice that she would probably be playing volleyball too.
Mom and Dad said it’s a great feeling to see her bound through the front door, drop her gym bag, get cleaned up and disappear right back out that door to go meet friends in town and live the life of a normal teenage girl in a normal little town. She doesn’t have time for the kind of sleep that once ruled her world, and she certainly doesn’t have the time nor the interest to look back. She’s got her mom and dad, her big brother and little sister, and a big bright future that had been in doubt for too long. Vanessa enthusiastically told me that she is going to be a pediatric radiologist. How cool is that!
I asked her if I could take one more photo of her, and then asked if I could have another photo of the family in front of the family Christmas tree. I didn’t have to ask them to smile. Just before I took the photo, I noticed through the camera’s eye that there was not a single present upon the traditional floor covering underneath.
I tried to re-focus my camera and attention on the Crespin’s standing there in front of that beautifully decorated Christmas tree, but couldn’t help thinking how delicate the balance between life and death can be. Janessa made it while so many other children and adults run out of time because the perfect kidney is nowhere to be found. I guess all we can do is continue to tell our kids, family members, and friends too, that we love them – every day.
There is no reason why anyone should be embarrassed to say I love you to anyone they truly care about. No one should have regrets about not using those words enough after someone has been lost.
The Crespins found their way through all of the darkness and doubt by using their love for each other and the love they received from the people of our wonderful little city. For them, this Christmas will be especially wonderful as they count their blessings. All of us should count our blessings and give thanks for the little everyday things in life that bring comfort to our hearts and minds.
We’re always looking for that simple great day with family and friends. No worries, no problems. Without fail, love has always been the compass that leads us back into the light and makes those very hard times in our lives so much easier to bear. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to tell the Crespin’s story. Their hope is that it will help other families, should they have to face such a challenge.
I took my last photo, then heard the last words that the Crespin’s said to me in unison as I walked to my car - “Merry Christmas”.

Photo: Janessa and Jenny Crespin stand in front of the Christmas tree.

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