Monday, June 29, 2015

June 29 - Dear Nicholas Sparks (Guest Bloggers Charlene and Jody Gartman)

Dear Mr. Sparks,

It's been almost a year now since my baby Steven Tyler Gartman has passed away, so I have decided to tell his story. Not that the pain is any less, just that I want everyone to know what a sweet baby he was and how much he was wanted. In July of 1998, I found out I was pregnant. It was a BIG shock at first, but the more I thought about having another baby to cuddle and play with, the happier I became. Even though I was only about 7 weeks pregnant, we bought the baby his/her first toy. A soft, cuddly white puffalump. I couldn't wait to have my first ultrasound to see what we would be having. But my first one would not be until late October. It seemed like an eternity, but it finally arrived. My husband, my youngest son and myself would see our new addition today.

We found on the ultrasound that I wasn't as far along as first thought, so they couldn't really tell the sex for sure, but they thought it was a boy! I was so excited I barely heard her mention something about his heart, but she said not to worry because I wasn't far along enough to see anything clearly, to come back about around 24 weeks gestation and they would have another look. I wasn't worried, everything seemed routine to me. (BOY WAS I EVER WRONG). Everything was pretty quiet after that until my next scheduled ultrasound appointment, which was January 5th. This time it was only my husband and I. They confirmed on this one that it was a boy. And also briefly mentioned something about his stomach being high. I questioned her but she was all smiles, I guess she knew what was wrong, but didn't want to tell me. So she just kept smiling and said she would have me come back on the eighth so a specialist could have a look. So my husband and I were sitting in the waiting area while our next appointment was being made, and I noticed a group of doctors gathered around talking, and I was sure they were discussing my baby! I voiced my concerns to Jody (my husband), but he told me I was being paranoid. I had a regular maternity visit on the seventh, so I asked the receptionist for my ultrasound results to give to my OB/GYN, which they have always in the past let me take them myself. But on this day I thought it was very strange for her to say she would fax them herself.

We left there very confused but didn't know what we were confused about! So we decided not to worry until we were sure we had anything to worry about. So two days later, I go to my regular OB visit. I had wanted someone to go with me, but my husband had to work and my mother was already taking her neighbor to the doctor. I was so uneasy and nervous, I didn't want to get any bad news alone. For the first time EVER I was taken in promptly. I swear people were acting so strange! When the receptionist walked away to make copies, I glanced at my chart and my heart began to beat out of control! All I seen was a little postie note saying, "Patient is unaware of findings." I knew it was going to be awful!! And it was. The OB sugarcoated everything for me, but the specialist confirmed everything for us the next day. I could not believe the words that were coming out of that woman's mouth!! How could my baby have a life threatening condition? And what was a Diaphragmatic Hernia anyway?? Jody and I were so numb! And all the stats she gave us for his chances of survival were very grim. And I am so grateful she knew of CHERUBS, It was our only sanity in an insane situation. Next came the task of telling our families. This is only my feelings, but I wish our families could have been more supportive. I guess they didn't believe how serious our baby's condition was. We even had one family member suggest getting an abortion!! And I was 7 months pregnant!! Those words hurt me so bad. But as I have come to learn, a lot of people say a lot of things out of ignorance. We had an appointment to go to Birmingham, Alabama to consult with Dr. Georgeson, because that was the only place equipped to handle a CDH baby fully in our area. But because of conflicts in their ideas of treatment and our ideas of treatment, we decided to have our baby close to home, here in Mobile. I spoke with the Pediatric Surgeon, Dr. Beals, and he made me feel very comfortable leaving my baby in his hands. I had started steroid shots on the advice of Dr. Georgeson. All we had to do now was wait. My due date wasn't until March 28, 1999. In February I had my baby shower. It really felt weird, because I didn't know what the outcome would be. I remember when I got home and put the things away I got at my baby shower, I just sat in the middle of the baby's room on the floor and cried my eyes out! Wondering if he would ever use the things received. On Wednesday March 3, I was admitted in the hospital for Pre-eclampsia. Within the hour I was surrounded by very close friends and my sweet husband Jody. About four o clock that evening I was given a pill in my cervix to loosen it. I had a few contractions here and there, but nothing to write home about. In fact I was pretty comfortable. I don't remember the exact time Jody's parents arrived from Georgia, but I do know they stayed in that room with me just about the whole time. That was something new for this hospital, (to let family be with you through thick and thin). I'm not really sure how I feel about that yet. But I was so glad my husband was there, he was a really big help. Even as far as retrieving my bedpan when needed. (now that's got to be love!) The pills they were using was not working. I was not dilating as I should have been. I was starting to have some good contractions but that's all. My cervix was not opening. About three o’clock Thursday afternoon (March 4) the doctor wanted to insert a balloon in my cervix to try and open it, I had never heard of such, but by then I was in some kind of pain!!! And all I wanted to do was get this over with! Well wouldn't you know it, it didn't work! By that time I was screaming for an Epidural.

Somewhere in between the pain my mother came in. I was so glad to see her! I had a contraction that started and never stopped until I got my Epidural. (NOT A MINUTE TOO SOON!!) Finally at 8:05pm March 4 Steven was born. And all the pain and trouble I went through delivering him was nothing compared to the fight he was to have for his life. He was being bagged on the other side of the room while I was being stitched up. It was so sad not to ever hear him cry, but at least I got to see something no one else seen. That was his beautiful eyes! There were black as coals, but also so bright and beautiful1. I think he would have ended up with brown eyes later on. We knew what to expect when he was delivered because we were very well informed beforehand. We all hoped for a quiet time until his surgery date the following Wednesday. After Steven was born he was taken to I.C.U. right down the hall from my room. And family was allowed to see him if accompanied by Jody, but they were told no loud talking and no camera flashes, well this didn't seem to set well with some family members, but they should have been putting Stevens needs ahead of their own.

All day Monday we waited on any word of Steven's condition, but were told nothing because they were too busy working trying to save his life. We would walk back to the I.C.U. but couldn't see him for all the Doctors surrounding him. Then about 10:00p.m. one of his Doctors came to my room to tell me they could do no more for Steven. All their efforts were in vain. He did not even expect him to make it through the night. They would keep him hooked up to everything and continue his medications and painkillers, so we would have our chance to hold him and spend time with him before he passed away. So from 10:00pm til about 7:00am the following morning Jody, my mother and myself got to hold Steven, talk to him, sing to him, take pictures of him and just enjoy his very limited time with us. It was strange though, I had called friends and family to tell them about the baby's declining health, but no one was able to come that night we had a terrible storm. Driving visibility would probably have been zero. Even the hospital parking lot flooded. So only the three of us got to spend those precious hours with him. It was quite in there except for the beeping of the machines keeping him alive. I am so glad the three of us got to be the ones to develop a bond with him (even though short). One of my most dear memories is of my mother holding him and singing to him, every time she came near him his vitals would go up, I know in my heart he knew when his Maw-Maw was holding him. I don't want to leave out the doctors and nurses who took care of him. They were wonderful. When no one was in the room with Steven, his caretakers would hold his hand and sing to him. It really touched me and I will always be grateful to them. Especially Amy Schaepen. She was his primary caretaker, and she could not have been more caring to our son. She and several doctors and nurses shed a few tears when he passed away. So I know he had the best possible care. About 9:00a.m. Tuesday morning the rest of family and friends arrived to say goodbye to Steven. They were allowed to hold him, but I know it couldn't have compared to the time we shared with him the night before. Our precious baby had started turning black from lack of oxygen and he also started swelling. So my husband decided to remove his life support to spare him any further suffering. But on his way to the I.C.U. with the doctors, our precious baby passed away on his own, sparing my husband the pain of unplugging him.

I thank Jehovah for giving me the strength to cope with this. And there are so many people here on earth I want to thank, but I would never have enough paper. So I will name just a few. Thank you Mom and Dad, CHERUBS, Amanda and Mark, all my brothers and sisters from the Kingdom Hall, all the people who took care of Steven, and the understanding people at Valhalla. We love you Steven!! (P.S.) He was laid to rest with the soft, cuddly white puffalump we bought him.

Anyway, I mostly stayed in my room, because my blood pressure was dangerously high. I have been criticized by some for not spending more time in the I.C.U. with Steven. The truth is, I regret now not doing just that, but at the time it hurt me so bad seeing him laying there with tubes running all through his body, he looked so helpless. And my arms ached to hold him but I wasn't allowed to even touch my precious baby. I thought he would stabilize enough for surgery, but early Monday morning one of his doctors phoned my hospital room to tell me Steven had a very rough night. I knew then my baby wouldn't live much longer. For one thing, the I.C.U. staff never called my room with good or bad news, so I knew it must be serious. I called my husband and my mother because I couldn't bear to be alone.
Steven's parents, Charlene and Jody Gartman (Alabama)

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