Kellers in Africa

our life in Zambia

Tag: family

Is Ian okay? What Just Happened???

Well, we are still figuring that out ourselves. And it isn’t over yet, but it is past time for me to acknowledge God’s amazing grace and provision…. And put together some kind of update before my mother stops speaking to me. That’s right. This has all happened so quickly and intensely that some of our family is still trying to figure out what is going on. (Sorry Mom!!)

The feeding tube made a huge difference

 

We have received so much support, many questions, and a variety of potential solutions from everyone who has been praying for us. We read and appreciated every single message- and replied to very few. (Blame stress?) But the encouragement meant So Much. In the interest of answering a broad swathe of questions, I am making this quite detailed. Please feel free to comment or message me if you have something to add!

Ian was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on July 26th. He was full term and did not have the potential abdominal complication that was a concern throughout the pregnancy. We will never know if it was bad radiology or God’s healing… Either way we are just so thankful. I know a lot of people were praying and let me tell you- we felt it. (So no, this issue is not related to the pregnancy concerns. Ian is just working on his Prayer Baby merit badge!!)

  

“I finally have my own brother.” And that is how Freddy sees Ian: HIS brother! 😛

 

After his birth we waited in South Africa just long enough for his travel documentation and returned to Zambia. Everything seemed to be going well. He was an interactive, perky little boy. He had a love/fear relationship with his siblings. He fed regularly, hated baths, and had an infatuation with 2am. Normal baby. Except that he wasn’t growing. We kept coming up with reasons like “It has been crazy hot, he is sweating out all his fluids” or “He is just a long, skinny, noodle baby.” However, people stopped saying “what a cute, tiny baby” and instead gave us scared looks when they heard his age. We knew it was time to see a doctor. So why hadn’t we taken him in? Well…. The problem was: in where? I was pretty sure it was a calorie problem but realized he needed to have some blood work done. And if there is one thing you don’t rely on in Zambia it is the lab work and the diagnostic ability of the doctors in the hospitals. Since Timothy needed to go back to South Africa anyway to get 4×4 kit done for the newly purchased field truck, we decided to go as a family and get a check up for Ian. From that point our entire life revolved around feeding him. We encouraged him to eat every 2 hours. I ate more calories and drank buckets of water. We were convinced that by the time we reached Cape Town he would pick up weight and we would feel like fools for worrying too much and feeding too little. (Why I thought that when we were feeding him every 2 hours…. Hey sleep deprivation is a dangerous thing!)

I didn’t know a pediatrician in Cape Town so I asked our friends Charl & Sonja if they could recommend one. I booked an appointment for the day after we arrived. We walked into the doctor’s office unsure of what to expect. Mostly I thought that I was going to get seriously told off for underfeeding him (naive much??) When the doctor saw us he was very kind and very thorough. Upon examination he told us that Ian weighed 7lbs 8oz. At 15 weeks of age. From that point on, our world started spinning at a whole new, horrible angle. We were whisked off to the lab for tests. I was referred to (a completely amazing) dietician who specializes in infants and breastfeeding. We spent most of that week talking to doctors, getting lab work done, and waiting. The biggest concern was determining if he has a genetic/metabolic disease. Apparently those can progress rapidly and cause permanent brain damage due to nutrient issues. Because he was feeding well and often but not growing this was a very real possibility.

 

3 months old- beginning to look physically wasted. His bones were so TINY.

 

By the end of the week (the longest week in my life) nothing conclusive had been found. In a last ditch effort to find a reasonable diagnosis (before all the scary genetic testing) the two doctors that were helping us decided to put in a feeding tube (breastmilk supplementaion plus extra nutrients). It was an experiment attempting to narrow down the possibilities. To everyone’s astonishment, Ian immediately started to gain weight- at an incredible rate. The doctors put him on a heavy feeding plan and began trying to work out what was causing the problem. Unfortunately, without a lot of testing- most of which is invasive and expensive- they couldn’t come up with anything definitive. After a few more referrals the best all around idea was to go in for corrective oral surgery and release his tongue tie. It was a small tie- really too small to worry about. But it was the only simple solution available. We had the weekend to weigh the pros and cons, deciding whether or not it was in the best interest of our drastically underweight baby to anesthetize him and start cutting up his tongue. We got advice from a lot of people and finally decided to go ahead with the surgery.

 

a very nervous and worried Daddy

 

That made Tuesday the longest day in my life. Ian wasn’t allowed food after 2am. You can imagine how that went down! Checking him in and handing him over to the surgeon was the hardest thing I have ever done. The relief when they brought him out was intense and helping him cope as he surfaced from the anesthesia and became aware of the pain…. agony. The whole situation is something I hope never to repeat. His extremely low weight and emaciated state made every moment of that surgery and recovery absolutely terrifying.

Amazing how quickly they recover – mama is still traumatized!!!

 

We had follow ups the next day and all looked well enough. They left the feeding tube in as we can’t risk him losing any weight in recovery.

Complicating the situation, our visas were due to expire within the week. Ian had the surgery Tuesday, follow up appointments on Wednesday, and we headed north on Thursday! We stayed just inside the country (with the Le Roux family- some amazing people!) until our last day on the visa. Then the long road home.

As of this writing I would say that Ian has made a good recovery from surgery and it is just too early to say if this is the solution or not. We chose not to stay in South Africa on a medical visa because Ian would just be fed and monitored for a few weeks anyway. We might as well do that from home. If (please Lord no) this is not the solution…. We move on to the genetic testing. That would be expensive, potentially invasive, and none of the options are nice at all.

In the 5 weeks following his surgery he gained another pound. We are extremely grateful for that growth! It is a very good sign! As of today Ian is up to 9lbs 6oz!

 

He hates the feeding tube. HATES it.

 

We want to thank so many people-

The amazing doctors and dietician who have helped us so much

The van Wyk family for giving up a whole week to watch our other kids while we went in and out of hospital

The families who put us up with all our kids in tow

The many people who encouraged, prayed for, and supported us through this

God’s amazing grace, without which my brain would have stopped functioning from stress weeks ago.

 

 

FAQs:

Does he need to go on a special formula?

– No, at this point they are still figuring out if he has a metabolic problem. The supplementer tube with breastmilk worked well and eventually we were able to switch to bottle supplementation of breastmilk. Pumping and feeding is extremely draining… but it is the best solution for him right now.

Will you be bringing him to the USA?

– No, we are very, very happy with the doctors who are helping us in South Africa. At this point there is nothing else that can be done. It is wait, watch, and feed for a while.

Have you done any genetic testing?

– Yes. We had the most common/best fitting tests run. They came back negative. He doesn’t have enough symptoms to justify the cost of any further genetic tests at this time. The doctors have advised that until/unless he develops more symptoms, it would be like shooting in the dark.

Is there anything you need?

– Yes. Lots of prayer. We received financial help with the surgery expenses and that was a huge blessing. If we are able to do any of the blood tests here in Zambia it will be very costly… but cheaper than flying to Cape Town. We will have to see how that works out. But the main thing is definitely prayer for strength and growth and health.

Is his development on track?

– Yes. He is a bit behind in some areas.. and ahead in others. Pretty much a normal baby (which is very good!!)

IMG_3104

I might be skinny, but I have big plans!

 

Please feel free to comment or message me! We have been SO BLESSED with all the prayers and support!

 

Where the Rubber Meets the… Runway

After a very busy two months in the States we traveled back to Zambia on January 12th. We had separate itineraries flying back to Zambia (because we had to travel separately to the USA). And let me tell you, traveling while 11 weeks pregnant with a 5 year old and 2 year old is a WHOLE different game!! Baby 4 was NOT fond of landings. (very thankful for flight sickness bags and very kind flight attendants). We had a one hour layover in Dubai and only made it because I basically had a mental breakdown and told the stewardess I could NOT NOT NOT miss the flight.  🙂 I must have looked desperate enough because we got a private shuttle directly to our connection… which was waiting for us! Sadly, 3 of our bags did not make it and were delayed 48 hours. Timothy and Monica traveled well on their route and arrived ready to help a very tired mama and two SPENT little kiddos. Our bags turned up several days later… one of them, sadly, was pillaged. We didn’t lose anything “life ending” but it was a frustrating experience nonetheless.

Tip for traveling "long hauls" with small children: sleep when they sleep!!

Tip for traveling “long hauls” with small children: sleep when they sleep!!

Once we got home, unpacked, and got over jet lag we got back to work. As it always happens with a long absence we found that both cars needed some maintenance, some house issues had come up, and a whole bunch of paperwork was due at about 12 different government offices around town… and around Lusaka (2 hours away). America has NOTHING over Zambia when it comes to a love of bureaucracy!! Timothy was thrilled when all that got sorted out and he could get back to teaching and working with teachers from the local schools. He had several extensive trips planned in various areas of Zambia. He couldn’t have been more excited- the man was born for Africa!

Shortly before his first, big outreach we heard that his mom in Arizona was “failing fast”. Within 6 hours she was on a ventilator. We have been prepared for this news for a while so we immediately booked a plane ticket for Tim to go back to America and say good bye.  Sadly she passed away before he could even get on the plane. We were happy for her that her suffering ended… but it was very difficult for Timothy.

Happy wedding memories, 2007

Happy wedding memories, 2007

Cheering Grandma through cancer, 2013

Cheering Grandma through cancer, 2013

Another series of plane trips, another round of jet lag, an emotionally exhausting first week back in the USA with funeral arrangements, family reunions (somehow it’s always at funerals, isn’t it?) and wrapping up his mom’s life. He was asked to give the message and eulogy at the funeral which was both an honor and a very difficult task. Now he and his siblings are closing the final pages of their mom’s life and spending a few days together before they all go back to their separate lives.

Timothy will be in the States for another week or so, finishing some ministry issues that we weren’t able to complete last year. Please continue to keep him in your prayers as this has been a difficult time for him. His heart is in Africa with his work and his family. His body is in America….

The kids and I are “holding down the fort” and keeping each other distracted while we wait for Tim to come home. I am thankful for them… never a dull moment, I can tell you!

Another prayer request is for funds for a replacement field vehicle. While we knew it was at the end of “bundu-bashing” trips into remote areas, we didn’t realize the extent of the wear and tear on our Toyota Surf until we got home and Tim started overhauling it for some of his “tamer” trips. It still has a little life left for basic road journeys, but it really is no longer strong enough or reliable enough to take out to the field. This puts a major hamper on the work he does in remote areas.  Thanks for your prayers!!

On the road again... I just can't wait to be on the road again.....

On the road again… I just can’t wait to be on the road again…..

Grow Carrots They Said…

It’s easy they said!

Before I tell you my sad tale, there’s something you should know about Africa.  Everything is bigger here.  The trees are bigger.  The animals are bigger.  The insects are bigger.  Everything that can be bigger IS.

Then there’s something you should know about me. I can’t grow anything. At all. Horticulture hates me. Bring me the vegetables and I’ll give you an entree that Jamie Oliver wouldn’t turn down. Bring me the plant and it will shrivel on the way in the door, begging for mercy all the way.

In case you thought I was exaggerating.

In case you thought I was exaggerating.

However, I firmly believe “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and this last year I determined to conquer my nemesis: the vegetable garden. After talking to a variety of home gardeners I found a general consensus: Carrots. Anyone can grow carrots. After considering the fact that preschoolers even grow carrots from carrot tops, I decided even I could not screw this up. I sallied forth with seeds: carrot, onion, and cauliflower (because I am a masochist at heart). I cleared, mulched, and tenderly planted those tiny seeds in the soil. I’ll confess that I was skeptical. After decades of failure (my preschool carrot didn’t survive the week) could I hope to see those seeds germinate? Survive??  Produce some FOOD?!

While I waited to see if Tim’s fond epithet “the Minus Touch” might be overcome with a little care and patience, Monica planted some flowers. Apparently the plant kingdom does not hold one’s unfortunate genes against them.

white fluffy flowers and pink puffy flowers. I am such a horticulturist. Ok, Monica grew these.  I had nothing to do with it.

white fluffy flowers and pink puffy flowers.
I am such a horticulturist.
Ok, Monica grew these. I had nothing to do with it.

With time, water, and sunshine my carrots did grow.  And much to my surprise they actually looked… great.  Lacey green fans promising a juicy, crisp harvest before long.  As the carrot tops began to expand I decided to take a little sneak peek at my gardening victory.

Frankenstein's salad.

Frankenstein’s salad.

Apparently the nematodes are bigger in Africa is well.

Freakiest carrot I have ever seen and apparently NOT edible (unless you like ingesting nematode egg sacks).

Freakiest carrot I have ever seen and apparently NOT edible (unless you like ingesting nematode egg sacks).

 

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. At least we have flowers!!

Olivia takes time to smell the... whatever those flowers are :)

Olivia takes time to smell the… whatever those flowers are 🙂

Please share your gardening failures so I don’t feel like such a loser.  You know… unless you don’t have any of those stories… in which case you can just go away and enjoy your garden.

Home again, home again, jiggity- uh… wait, diarrhea doesn’t rhyme



We are finally back home in Africa! After a marathon container pack and load in March and April, we packed our THIRTEEN suitcases up and headed home. (Don’t even ask me how I ended up with that many check-ins after we shipped an 18 ton container. Life happens!) 😛

Plus three car seats, 6 carry-ons, 3 children, a stroller, and about 6lbs of snack food (who likes airplane food??).

The flights went much better than expected. Frederick (now 3) had a meltdown or two, but for that little OCD monkey… that’s not too bad! Fortunately his “blank-let” was along for the ride and totally saved the day (and the sanity of a few hundred haggard passengers) 😀 Olivia did GREAT. She didn’t sleep much for 30 hours… but she did great nonetheless! One of the kind and attentive flight attendants said to me at about 3am, “My. She doesn’t stop moving, does she??” Nope. I’m very thankful the check-in lady was kind enough to get us as many bulkhead seats as she could manage (God bless British Airways)!

You aren’t tired, are you?

Frederick in Heathrow (after 5 hours of being force-marched up and down the length of the terminal). We were tired… but more importantly… so was he!!!

We arrived bright and early and our friends brought not one, but TWO cars to pick us and our luggage up and transport us all back to Kabwe. Driving home was a little strange- Lusaka has such a burgeoning economy that even in our absence much had changed. Most noticeably: the roads were even more congested. Ah well.

Our first day home was great (if exhausting). We kept the kids up late so they actually slept pretty well (midnight to 9am!) Friday morning all seemed well….. then Olivia seemed to be melting. I mean we’d set her on the floor and she’d just kinda slump over. :L I called it jetlag and carried on. By bedtime a fever set in… and I spent half the night nursing, jiggling, patting, walking, and cleaning up diarrhea diapers and puke. You know, for a 15 month old, she has GREAT projection. Just sayin’. But that was only half the night, right? Good catch. You see, the other half was spent with Olivia AND Frederick. Who also has projectile vomiting down to an art from. Who knew? Our family is so talented.

This was Saturday morning. It was a full 48 hours before he would eat a single mouthful of food. Poor kid didn’t have much weight to lose. Imagine this minus 5 lbs 🙁

Saturday and Sunday are now kind of a blur. I remember changing about 2,465,894 pairs of diarrhea pants from Frederick and another few million diarrhea diapers from Olivia. Oh, did I mention that we hadn’t gone shopping yet?? Praise GOD we had left a bunch of wipes in the cupboard and the cloth diapers were ready to go!!! I did NOT have enough disposables in the diaper bag to get through that putrid marathon! I would have been resorting to desperate measures like wash cloths inside ziplock baggie pants! And yes, I have really done that. (Desperate times, desperate times!) 😀 I’m also incredibly thankful for our neighbor, Christel, who had the food basics waiting for us in our kitchen (and a camping fridge for us to borrow since ours somehow broke while it was turned off!) And for water kefir! I had NO yogurt, NO probiotics, NO dry toast for these poor diarrhea bellies. But I DID have all my precious cultures, packed with TLC (by another amazing friend, Joy) and carefully transported all the way to Zambia.

Three cheers for probiotic home brewing (NO, not THAT kind of brewing!)

It’s amazing how God supplies, though. In the last week I’ve probably averaged 3-5 hours of sleep a night. Any one who knows me will tell you that I do not function on less than 8 hours. 9 is better. 10 is awesome. (How am I surviving motherhood???) 😉 But I am really feeling ok. Now, I’m not volunteering to add anything to my to-do list… Fred and I are still dashing to the bathroom every 45 minutes or so… but I’m very thankful for the energy needed to take care of my babies. (And Timothy… who’s also sick. But he takes himself to the bathroom.) Then there are the little big things like there being an ample supply of wipes in our cupboard. Seriously, I would have been outside hosing their little butts off at 2 am if not for those precious packages of prelubricated, disposable convenience!!

Oh, one last thing. Our sewage pipes are blocked. Diarrhea goes down and………..

welcome back to Africa!!

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