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Uh-Oh

For the past couple of days Slugger has been taking a hesitant step or two. Usually she’s near the couch or near an adult and she’ll slowly venture out and take a few steps. Sometimes she makes it and sometimes she drops to her butt and sits down. But either way, it has just been one or two steps.

That all changed Tuesday night. For the longest time, we were both eagerly awaiting the day when Slugger would walk and not just take a few steps, but we were also somewhat reluctant to know that our little girl would be walking. In fact, we knew that once she started walking the game would change forever. I don’t understand how someone learns to walk as it has been a while since I’ve been anything but bipedal, but I assumed that she would take a few steps, followed by three or four steps and then she would gradually build up. I totally did not expect her to go from two hesitant steps to confident walking overnight! Now, that’s not to say that Slugger only uses walking to loco-mote but she is a lot more surefooted than I would have expected. In other words, watch out! Things are going to get a lot more hectic in our home.

Our friend Gina was on hand the other night to capture her walking on her phone. Click here to check out her video.

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Heaven is For Real

Today, Slugger and I spent the morning together. Keao had to work for a few hours, so it was just me and her at home. Most of the time, Slugger is pretty content to just kind of cruise around and play with her toys as long as she knows you’re nearby. Every now and then, she will come over and want to be carried or want to sit in your lap, but for the most part she knows how to entertain herself.

Last week, Debbie, another staff member at church, gave me a book called Heaven is For Real. It’s the story of a little boy who briefly went to Heaven and returned back. It’s a fairly short book and it’s an easy read, so this morning, while I was watching Slugger I read the book.

In the book, the little boy, named Colton, describes going to Heaven and meeting Jesus. He also mentions over and over again that Jesus really loves children. He really, really loves children. Colton also goes on to tell his parents that he met his sister in Heaven. The strange thing is that before Colton was born, his mom had a miscarriage and they never told Colton about that. He met his sister that he didn’t even know he had!

In case you didn’t know, today is a special day. Five years ago, July 28 was just another day on my calendar, no more special than any other day. Four years ago on this date I got married. July 28 now had a very special meaning because it was one of the happiest days of my life. One year ago on this date I became a father. I became a dad to three teeny, tiny girls: Astro, Gizmo and Slugger. July 28 now had even more significance.

But July 28 also carries sadness as well as elation and joy. Although we brought three girls into this world, we lost Astro too. What should have been our happiest moment also became one of unimaginable grief as well. As if anything else couldn’t go wrong, a little over two weeks later, we would go on to lose Gizmo too.

If Heaven is for real, and I believe it is, then that means that this story will end happily! One day, whenever that day is, I will be reunited with all of my girls and we will never be separated again. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes that, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38). Along with that I believe that once we hit Heaven we’ll be together forever (along with all of our other loved ones that know Jesus). What a joyous homecoming that will be. I can’t wait for my girls to show me around and give me the grand tour. There I’ll be able to hug and kiss them as long as I want to.

But today we also celebrate too. While we remember our lost girls, we celebrate with the one that turned a year old! Today Slugger turned one and she isn’t showing any signs of being born three months early. In fact, if you didn’t know anything about her you would never believe what she went through. You would never believe she spent the first 81 days of her life in the hospital fighting for her life. You would never believe she was only 2 pounds, 4 ounces when she was born. You would never believe that she was hooked up to so many machines that helped her breathe, eat and survive. All these things you would never believe because today she looks so perfect. We rejoice at how our little Slugger has turned out and we look forward to seeing her grow for many more years.

Thank you Jesus for blessing us with three beautiful little girls. I can’t wait until we can all be together again! Daddy loves you guys!

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Happy Birthday Slugger!

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32 is a Magic Number

“Just waking up in the morning gotta thank God,
I don’t know but today seems kinda odd
Today I didn’t even have to use my AK,
I got to say it was a good day” –

Ice Cube, “It was a Good Day”

What does Ice Cube have to do with 32 being a magic number? Honestly not a lot other than it was a good day. Monday, Labor Day, people going out and enjoying the holiday taking advantage of wearing white for the last time. Monday, my first foray into dirt biking (which ended suddenly when I took a massive spill whilst trying to climb a hill). Monday, Casey turned 32 weeks (32 gestational weeks that is).

When dealing with preemies there are certain gestational milestones that occur. 24 weeks is the first one as that’s about the youngest a baby can be born and survive outside the womb. 28 week and the survival rate jumps up to 95%. 32 weeks and you’re good to go. Of course a baby develops much better inside of the womb, but whether they’re inside or outside they still need to develop. so even though Casey came at a month and a half ago, 32 weeks is still a huge milestone for her.

During the last trimester one of the biggest job a baby has is to put on weight. Lots of it. As you recall Casey weighed 2 lbs 4 oz when she was born. Since then she’s been working really hard trying to gain weight. So much so that she is now a whopping 3 lbs 6 oz! She’s basically put on 50% of her body weight since birth! Amazing. She’s now a little roly poly baby.

So back to Monday. It was a good day. We entered the NICU and noticed a few different things. First, they took away the big heavy blanket that was covering her isolette. They tell us it’s to help her develop an internal clock (although she sleeps like 20 hours a day so how much of a clock does she need?). Second, we look at her arm and noticed something odd.

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Do you see that pink thing peeking out?

Did you catch it? It looks like a sleeve! 32 weeks and now we no longer have a little naked baby. She’s now wearing clothes! This may not seem like a big deal, but as they’re trying to teach her to regulate her body temperature they’re putting her in clothes and slowly turning down the temperature in the isolette (not too much though, they don’t want her to expend too many calories on keeping warm otherwise she won’t keep on her new layer of fat).

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Well maybe she still has some growing to do

One of our biggest blessings during our time at the NICU are our nurses. They are truly unsung heroes when it comes to baby care. We figure we spend around an eighth of the day with Casey and they give her round the clock care. I’m sure she knows them better than she knows us.

One of our favorite nurses (some might even daresay our number one nurse) is Mariko (unless you’re reading this and you’re a nurse not named Mariko then you are indeed our favorite!) She is a sweet woman who happened to help us pick out clothes and dress Casey. As you can see below, this wonderful newlywed is showing us the outfit that Casey will be sporting for the remainder of this post.

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Here’s Mariko making Casey’s top look minuscule

Now I would not consider myself an expert on clothing preemies, but let me tell ya, it’s way harder than it looks. For one, their hands are so tiny and trying to find it in Casey’s long sleeve top was like finding a needle in a haystack. Also, trying to pull it out of the sleeve terrified me because I felt like I was going to pull her finger right out (not to mention thinking her thumb would bend backward and snap off). I know that in reality those things hardly happen, but I’m sure they must happen once in a while right? So after Mariko finished in like two seconds, she waited patiently for me to finish my arm. But finally our little girl was clothed. It’s amazing how some clothes really made her look so much older.

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Getting ready for her new outfit

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Mariko showing off her mad skills

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My vienna sausage fingers were having a hard time

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Still working and looking for fingers

But now that our little girl is 32 weeks we’re expecting great things from her. We’ll monitor her to make sure she’s making progress. Yesterday she had some physical therapy and tomorrow she has her first eye test (I’m not sure how they’re going to make her read that chart but I’m going to tell her tonight that the top letter is always an E).

She’s making progress, but that doesn’t mean you can stop praying. Keep praying that she develops normally and that she can get that CPAP off her face so she can open her eyes all the time (or at least when she’s not sleeping any of the 20 hours during the day). She’s way cuter without that huge snorkel and mask. Trust me.

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“Blessed are those whose strength is in the Lord.” Psalm 84:5a

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Casey (on the right) spends one last moment with her sister Allison

It’s been seven days since we received the phone call that notified us that something wasn’t right with Allison. One week later we are still recovering. Still grieving. Still searching for answers. I’m not going to lie. It hasn’t been easy. I wish I could say that there was some magic pill that we took that gave us instant peace, but as we all know that’s not the way life works. My friend Crissy noted that just because we know that our loved ones are in Heaven “it doesn’t stop the hurting of the people who are left behind. The Lord’s gotta work on improving that system, eh?” I couldn’t agree more.

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But I do want to take some time and thank those who have been there to support me and Keao through Facebook, Twitter, emails, hundreds of text messages, phone calls and even blogs. We couldn’t have gotten through this without you. The outpouring of love, support and prayers have been unbelievable. Some of you I had not talked to since literally high school or elementary school, but yet somehow you heard about what was going on and you extended your condolences. One of my classmates from high school found out what happened and literally flew in from Alaska to come to the hospital and visit (or maybe she was already here on vacation…I’m not sure). We are forever grateful.

A special thanks to those who took some time out of their busy schedules to share their memories of Allison especially Lisa, who at the drop of a hat, came to the hospital and helped us capture the day through her amazing photography.

Also, here are some links to our friends and family that blogged about us (click on the underlined words to get to those blogs).

First, Keao wrote a few entries both on her photography blog as well as her updates on Casey blog.

Uncle Stanton also shared his experiences from Monday.

Crissy and Jonathan, both friends from high school, weren’t there on Monday, but both of them still cared enough to write some encouraging words.

Please continue to pray for Casey. Pray that she digests all of her food and continues to develop normally. One of the hardest things for us is having to back to the hospital every day knowing that Allison is not there but yet, it’s also one of the most comforting because we still get to see Casey. We still have many more nights there, but looking forward we’re convinced that our God will get us through.

Thank you again. We love you.

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Every day Keao and I try to go to the Kaiser Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to see our babies. I doesn’t sound like much, but since we do this every day I thought I’d give you a little insight as to what we have to do to see our babies.

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NICU right this way

At Kaiser Moanalua the NICU is located on the fourth floor. When Keao gave birth she delivered on the sixth floor so every time we wanted to see our babies we had to go down two floors. That doesn’t seem like a lot and actually it isn’t that far considering now we have to come from Kaneohe (how I miss those days of only going two floors down).

One of the things I noticed when we first went to see our babies is how quiet it is. I mean there were crying babies from time to time, but by and large, the floor is surprisingly quiet. Of course, quiet must help the babies grow because there are signs everywhere reminding you to use your “inside” voice.

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This is on the floor as you enter the area

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These are all over the walls

While the pediatrics area is mostly open, the NICU is locked down. Because it’s so sensitive and the babies there need sterility (infections can be very serious) they take security very seriously. Parents are allowed to visit 24 hours a day, but other visitors must be accompanied by the parents just to make sure.

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Do not cross the red line unless you are authorized to do so

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In case you get past the red line, Keao will stop you

Once they deem you authorized to cross the red line, you need to scrub down your arms. Scrubbing down your arms entails using a pre-soaped sponge and scrubbing yourself from your finger tips to your elbows for two minutes. This part takes the longest time but it is the most critical. When Keao first gave birth I was visiting the NICU three or four times a day. Let me tell you, my arms were probably the cleanest they have ever been.

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Here’s Keao getting ready for the cleaning

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Scrub, scrub, scrub

Finally, when you’re all cleaned up you need to put on a freshly laundered gown. Again, this helps with anything that you may have on your clothes when you arrive.

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Get your gowns here

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You have a choice of short-sleeves or long-sleeves

Finally when you have completed all of the necessary precautions you can now enter the NICU and see your babies.

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Shh, babies are growing in here

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Here’s Keao all cleaned up modeling the stylish hospital gown

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My Sincerest Thanks

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Isn’t she cute? Don’t worry if you don’t think so, I won’t be offended

Tomorrow my girls make two weeks old. Two weeks old and they’re still tiny. Sometimes I wonder if they’ll ever get bigger. They tell me that right after babies are born (prematurely or otherwise) they will lose weight. That’s completely normal. But when your children weigh less than 2 pounds it seems like weight loss, any weight loss, is horribly detrimental.

Every day Keao and I thank God for another day with our girls and we also pray that we’ll receive some good news. Thus far God has completely come through and given us good news. A few days ago Allison exceeded her birth weight (1 lb, 12 oz) and Casey is just about there (2 lbs, 2 oz). They are both drinking milk and putting on weight daily. Personally I’d like to see a quicker gain, but any fraction of a pound is music to my ears (sorry for going metric on you, but Allison gained 20 grams and Casey gained 10 last night…woo hoo!).

Anyway, the real reason behind this post other than to give you a little update is to let you know that my incredible wife (who still wakes up every 3 hours) has started another blog specifically to update everyone on this amazing journey called parenthood. She tells me she’s going to try to update it every Sunday and Wednesday so you’ll get twice-a-week updates on Allison (Astro) and Casey (Slugger).

So without further ado, please direct your browsers (and feel free to subscribe or follow) to http://heheardmycall.blogspot.com/

Of course, I’ll be posting my usual ramblings here so don’t abandon me and only look there!

And lastly, thank you for all the prayers, encouragement and words of support. Keao and I are truly humbled to know that so many people care and love our daughters. We appreciate you.

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Last week Wednesday, July 28, Keao and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary.  It was an interesting day.  On that same day, right around lunchtime, I became a father.  Being parents was something Keao and I talked about many times while we were dating, when we were engaged and once we were married.  We both agreed we wanted to have kids but I would have never guessed it would happen the way it did (you can read Keao’s version here).

Our excitement actually started six months earlier when we found out we were having triplets (you can read that account here).  Triplets have a habit of coming out early (as they run out of room to grow) but we had hoped to keep them in a little while longer.

On Monday, two days before Keao gave birth, I had come home from meeting a friend for coffee and Keao insisted we go to the hospital since she started to have consistent contractions.  We arrived at the hospital around midnight and after monitoring and examining her for four hours the staff concluded that she wasn’t quite ready to give birth.  We agreed with their diagnosis and went home to get some rest.

Tuesday appeared to be quite normal.  We were discussing what we wanted to do to celebrate our anniversary the next day and we were having a wonderful day together.  Later that night, around 3am, Keao woke me up in a slight panic.  She thought maybe her water broke but wasn’t sure.  I jumped out of bed and tried to calm her down.  Not wanting to take any chances we rushed to the hospital and arrived there around 3:30am.  The nursing staff laughed when they saw us because we were just there the night before (when we called ahead to Labor and Delivery they actually tried to talk us out of coming to the hospital).  They essentially tried to slow down Keao’s contractions with some medicine but told her some bad news-she wouldn’t be leaving the hospital until she gave birth (and they hoped it would be weeks until that happened).

Little did they know, God had other plans.  Throughout the morning Keao’s contractions were getting worse.  So much so that I had to massage her when they arrived because she was in so much pain.  Finally around lunchtime Keao said she felt the urge to push.  Upon hearing that bit of news, a nurse jumped up and ran to fetch Dr. Nakamura.  She ran in and quickly did a cervix exam.  At this point I was outside with my mother who came in for support to give Keao some modesty.  I’m not sure what happened next, but I could hear yelling inside the room and Dr. Nakamura saying, “she’s 8 or 9!”  I thought they were commenting on the pain scale since they always asked Keao to rate the pain she was feeling.  Honestly I had no clue they were talking about dilation. 

At that point chaos broke out in the room and Dr. Nakamura screamed, “We gotta get those babies out now!”

More staff ran in and out of the room and someone pointed at me and said, “Dad come follow me.”  I ran down the hall following them and they threw me a set of scrubs.  They hastily explained that if they were able to administer a regional anesthetic then I would be able to come in to the OR.  If they knocked Keao out, then I wouldn’t.

They told me to wait in the hallway and they would let me know.  I guess they knocked Keao out because they I just sat there in the hallway for a long time…crying.  I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my life.  Scared for Keao.  Scared for my babies.  Scared because I had no clue what was going on in there.  All I knew was I was outside, helpless and Keao was inside without me.

One of the most heartbreaking parts of our pregnancy was knowing that one of our babies probably wasn’t going to survive after birth.  Rory, we found out, had a heart condition and because she was so small, the doctors didn’t believe that surgery would be a viable option.  We were hoping that if they stayed in the womb long enough we would be able to deliver a fat, old baby that may have a chance at surviving a heart surgery.  We knew it was a long shot but it was the only shot we had.

Earlier in that morning our Cardiologist and the Neonatal doctor came by to explain what would happen after Keao gave birth.  They explained that since nothing could be done to save our child they would do “comfort care” which means that they would try to keep Rory as comfortable as possible and let her pass away peacefully.  I can remember crying with Keao that morning because we weren’t ready to let her go yet. 

As I was sitting there in the hallway emotion got the better of me and I began to sob and shake.  After waiting around half an hour a nurse came out and gave me a status update: 2 babies were out and they were delivering the last one. 

Another five minutes rolled by and I was informed that all three were out.  Another nurse came by and asked if I would like to hold Rory.  I nodded yes and a few moments later they brought out a little baby girl wrapped tightly in a blanket.

From the moment I looked down on her face and held her in my arms I wept.  I couldn’t control it.  It just came.  What should have been one of the happiest moments of my life was quickly overshadowed by the sobering reality that I was going to lose one of my daughters and there was nothing I could do to stop or even slow the process.

I kept asking the staff where Keao was and how she was doing because I wanted to share this moment with her.  I know she desperately wanted to see Rory and I didn’t want to rob her of the chance.  They assured me that Keao was fine but she wouldn’t be waking up for about an hour and a half.  I didn’t think Rory had an hour and a half and I was crushed even more.

Looking back, it was the utter feeling of helplessness that’s the most defeating.  Helpless to find my wife.  Helpless to stop my daughter from dying.  Helpless to do anything.  I kept looking down on her peaceful face and whispering, “I’m so sorry Gizmo, I’m so sorry…”  Every now and then I would see her twitch or gasp for air and I knew that her time here on earth was limited.  Her heart simply could not keep her alive.

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Rory Aiko Kuilimamekahaku Sunaoka

About 15 minutes later they rolled Keao out on her bed but she was still under the heavy influence of the anesthetic.  The nursed asked her if she wanted to see me and her daughter and Keao mumbled an affirmative but later she admitted that she couldn’t remember any of it because she was so groggy.

It wouldn’t be for another couple of hours before Keao could actually meet her daughter and by that time Rory had went to Heaven.

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Keao holding Rory’s hand

One thing we didn’t and couldn’t understand was why Keao gave birth so quickly.  When we first got to the hospital we were told that most people can delay birth for at least 48 hours and some can go days, even weeks.  Keao on the other hand made it less than 12 hours.  One doctor suspected that Keao may have had an infection and that may have contributed to our quick delivery.  He went on to explain that once the water bag breaks the body will do everything it can to save the baby.  In Keao’s case, if she had an infection then her body would try to get the baby out as soon as possible as not to infect the baby.  Looking back to Wednesday, Keao did have a fever that night and that would help to explain it.

But in all of this God continued to show himself faithful.  We were reminded of his goodness in many different ways.  Our other two babies did very well (in fact, the smaller of the two actually did better than the larger one).  The ward clerk on duty that day just happened to be our good friend Kacie.  Keao’s nurse that day just happened to be Rachael, Mikey’s sister.  It was such an encouragement to have such wonderful smiling faces to help us during our whole ordeal.  We also received an incredible amount of love and support through texts, calls, emails and Facebook.  In addition we were very confident in just the sheer volume of prayer that covered our daughters.

I think what made our day so difficult wasn’t just losing Rory.  It was also very hard because we couldn’t hold or hug our other daughters.  It actually wouldn’t be for a couple of day before I would get the opportunity to hold my children.

One of the neat things about preemies is something they call kangaroo care.  Basically it’s skin-on-skin contact and it’s something that only parents can do (and even then, it’s only one parent per child per day).  It’s designed to help keep your child warm and to help you and your child bond.  It’s even been shown to help increase milk production (although I keep checking but that whole experience is lacking in me).

When I first got to hold Allison it was a very emotional experience for me.  For one, she’s really small.  Second, I had all this love I wanted to give to her but was so scared because she is so tiny (and fragile looking).

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Holding Allison Hope Yayeko Ka’olinanahenahe Sunaoka for the first time

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She’s so tiny her fingers don’t even cover my thumbnail

As I mentioned earlier, only one parent is allowed to kangaroo one child per day so Keao and I alternate (this is definitely an advantage of having more than one baby).  I had to wait a long 24 hours before I would be able to hold Casey.

I must say, holding Casey was a completely different experience.  For starters she seemed to be a lot hotter than Allison.  I mean hot to the point I started sweating.  It was an almost uncomfortable hot.  I think because I had already carried Allison I could just enjoy carrying Casey more (by which I mean, I wasn’t so terrified).  I got to share some laughs with her and just sit there in joy.

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Carrying a very warm Casey Lorelai Kikue Pomaika’i’iamekaikaikaokahaku Sunaoka

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Her whole arm is the same thickness as one of my fingers

Through this week in and out of the hospital I am convinced that God is good regardless of my circumstance.  He got us through this week and we’re confident that he’ll continue to watch and help our girls grow and develop. 

“What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”  Matthew 10:29-31

If God cares about the sparrow I know he cares about Allison and Casey (and Keao and I) even more.  We’re not out of the woods yet, but we have faith that God will carry us through.

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