September 8, 2012

A Chance to Thrive (Part 1)

The Dilemma
“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else we can do.  Our goal now is to make him as comfortable as possible until the end.”  The doctor stood at the child’s bedside, uttering the words as gently as possible, terrible words that no parent ever imagines hearing.  The tiny, frail little boy had just celebrated his first birthday  - if you can call lying in a hospital bed hooked up to monitors and tubes a celebration – and had long ago been labeled “Failure to Thrive.”   The disease that raged through his fragile body during his first year of life had simply been too much of a struggle for him to continue fighting.  He had given up on his desire to live, and now, apparently, the doctors were giving up as well.
In a perfect world, the doctors would have, without hesitation, applied for a place on the organ transplant waiting list, giving his body a fighting chance.  Giving him hope.  Physically, he met the list of requirements:  his organ was damaged enough to qualify for a transplant, while up until recently he was healthy enough to endure the major surgery that the transplant would require.  However, the unfortunate fact is that he wasn’t born into a perfect world.  He was born into a world of broken relationships, skewed priorities, and selfish pursuits.  He was born to parents who couldn’t quite understand the seriousness of their child’s health condition, nor the significance of their role in caring for him.

The harsh reality is that for every organ that becomes available, there are ten people who desperately need it.  In fact, every year, thousands of people die while waiting for a transplant.1  Consequently, the doctors and transplant team must prioritize the few organs that do become available, giving them to recipients who have the best chance of thriving.  In the doctors’ words, “We can’t, in good conscience, waste a valuable organ on this child.”  Ironically, this precious little boy was currently lying in a bed in a world-renowned hospital in one of the most medically advanced countries in the world.  But because of his parents’ unwillingness to commit to his care, the doctors’ hands were tied.  They were unable to allow him access to the one thing that could possibly save his life.

The Search
As the doctors arrived at the end of their available options, they realized that they did have one small ray of hope for this child.  If the Department of Social Services (DSS) could somehow find a family who would be willing to invest in this child’s life, who would be willing to commit to his pre- and post-transplant care, then maybe, just maybe, the officials at the transplant organization would allow him to be placed on the waiting list.

The team of social workers and medical professionals convened as quickly as bureaucratically possible, and decided that there had to be some very specific qualifications for the family who would care for this little boy:

1.     Because DSS now had legal custody of the child, the family would need to be licensed foster parents.

2.     Because of the complicated nature of this child’s health, the family would need to have experience caring for medically-fragile children.

3.     Because an organ for transplant may become available at any time, day or night, and because the post-transplant risks were so unpredictable, the family would need to live within close proximity to the hospital.

4.     Because numerous appointments with medical professionals would be required, because it would be impossible for this child to go to day-care, at least in the foreseeable future, and because the hospital stays could potentially be lengthy, the family would need to have at least one stay-at-home parent who would be dedicated to caring for him.

The list seemed completely out of the realm of possibility.  It would be like searching for a needle in a haystack, and most likely there would be no family who would meet all of those qualifications.  However, since it was the only hope for this child’s life, they had to at least try.

The Call
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, my husband and I were recovering from a long-term foster placement that had left us physically and emotionally exhausted.2   Still “licking our wounds” from that difficult experience and trying to regain our equilibrium and reconnect as a family, we had pretty much concluded that our journey as foster parents had come to an end.  After 14 years of serving and giving and ministering, it was clear to us that the cost of caring for other people’s children had taken its toll on us.  It was time for someone else to step up to the plate and take on those burdensome responsibilities!

Doesn’t God just have a sense of humor?!  Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”  We were planning our new course with anticipation.  Our proverbial bags were packed, we had mapped out our route, and we were ready to drive down the highway called Normal Family, leaving the foster care system in our rear view mirror.  We were just strapping on our seat belts and starting to get comfortable when we received The Call, which caused our plans to come to a screeching halt. The social worker on the other end of the line began to describe the dire situation in the hospital just down the road, and we couldn’t help but be touched by this little boy’s brief, albeit courageous, life.

She began to list the requirements for caring for this child:

1.     Licensed. Of all the tens of thousands of compassionate adults in our state who may have willingly cared for this child in need, this requirement instantly narrowed the field to several hundred.  Foster care licenses are actually valid for two years in our state, so although we hadn’t planned to take any more placements, we were still officially licensed with our agency, and the records showed that we had “an available bed.”  Thus, the phone call.

2.     Experienced.  Of the hundreds of foster homes in our state, very few are willing or able to care for a child with special needs.  Oh, wait.  Hadn’t we just spent the past 2 ½ years caring for a medically-fragile child?  We had gone through the boot camp version of medical school:  learning how to suction and change a trach, give g-tube feedings, attach a pulse-oximeter and administer oxygen when needed, and to navigate the sometimes complicated world of medical professionals.  Without our actually being aware of it at the time, we had slowly but surely, one day at a time, become “experienced.”  

3.     Proximity.  What are the chances of finding licensed, experienced foster homes near the hospital?  As it turns out, there were less than a dozen, including us.  Ten years ago, when my husband was offered a position in this state, and during the week-ends we spent looking for a new place to call home, somehow we thought that we were making decisions for our future.  Indeed we were, but God, in His sovereignty, was also leading us to the location where He knew we would need to be.  We just “happened” to live within a short 20-minute drive to the hospital that now sheltered this very sick child.

4.     Stay-at-home parent.  The recent “Mommy Wars” surrounding this year’s upcoming election has catapulted the role of stay-at-home moms into the limelight of controversy.  It’s a role that isn’t always recognized as legitimate, and it certainly is rarely glamorous or exciting.  But I say without shame that I feel incredibly blessed to be a stay-at-home mom.  That it is a true privilege to declare “raising my children” as my full-time career choice.  I am so thankful that my husband has a stable job and a healthy work ethic, enabling us to manage on one income.

However, I know that many parents are not fortunate enough to have that option, and must work outside the home in order to make ends meet.  In fact, out of the eighty-plus foster homes that our agency licenses and oversees, we were shocked to learn that ours is the only one with a parent who does not work outside the home!

As the social worker and I continued our conversation, it quickly became clear that it wasn’t really a decision at all, but rather a foregone conclusion.  God was calling us to say “yes” to this precious child.  He had reached the end of the line and the doctors were left with no more options.  How could we possibly give up on him?  How could we say no to the only opportunity he may have to thrive?

(Please continue to Part II)

2.              I shared about that previous foster placement in “The Race”, Parts I, II, and III at

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