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12 days ago our world lost a princess. 10 days ago we bid her farewell. 5 days ago she was laid to rest. And today? We still struggle to comprehend what has transpired.

Eithene was just short of her 5th birthday when she passed. We take solace in the knowledge that she is no longer in pain. No longer struggling to breathe. No longer hooked up to the myriad of tubies and machines that kept her with us. Eithene is free.

Ultimately, the pain comes not from the loss of Eithene – we are happy for her newfound peace – but from the chasm left in the hearts of those who loved her. Although it may offer little alleviation, we offer our hearts and love to mom Jessica, dad Sean, brother Gabriel, aunt Jill, and the entire Shriver-Hilliard clan. We further keep her best friend 6 ½-year-old Matthew in our hearts as he struggles with the loss of his nearly-lifetime companion.

In order to lessen their current ache, friends of the Hilliard family have taken up a collection of Visa giftcards in order to support the family during this difficult time. If you are interested in contributing, contact me at cnhertzog@gmail.com and I’ll direct you to the proper outlet. You can also make a direct PayPal donation here.

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Fatherly love

Nearly three years ago, the two men who were instrumental in making me the woman I am today walked me thirty feet toward my future.  And then let me go.

These men have been my constants in a world of variables; they helped me take my first steps, taught me to read, held me when I cried, taught me to drive a stick shift, learned patience when I reached the incredibly volatile teenage years, provided advice (often unsolicited) on matters from college to credit cards, brought out the figurative shotguns when I got my first (and as it turned out only) boyfriend, fought for me when my illness wreaked havoc, and – when it was time – gave me the reins to sort it all out myself.

To these two men – forever and always – Happy Father’s Day.

With my dad and step-dad

Wednesday morning we set off for our first big adventure in nearly a year. The destination? Chicago for the 2011 UMDF Symposium. The goal is to learn more about mitochondrial disease (you know, that pesky neurometabolic disorder that we can’t seem to shake) and the current treatments and research as well as meet up with members of the mito community from across the country. We’re pretty stoked to say the least.

But it certainly wasn’t easy to get here. First, we had to apply to a bunch of grants to pay for the trip. You see, Keith’s still a grad student and my work hours are few and variable; we just don’t have the kind of money necessary for this kind of trip – or any kind of trip for that matter. Luckily, we were able to get a good chunk of it covered.

After that, we had to coordinate all the medical mess. Because I have numerous medical interventions intended to keep me healthy and happy, nothing is ever exactly “easy.” For one, I’m on 24/7 intravenous infusions to provide nutrition, keep my autonomic nervous system content, and my blood glucose stable. The infusion bags are heavy, bulky, and many. And they have to be refrigerated or the contents will become denatured and useless. Bummer.

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One year ago, a very special little girl came into our lives. Eithene (pronounced Eth – eh – nee) Rose was a 4-year-old beautiful ball of spunk who, like me, lived with a combination of Mitochondrial Disease (an neurometabolic disorder) and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (a connective tissue defect). She was also born with numerous birth defects which are together known as VACTERL Association.

Over the last year, Keith and I have visited with Eithene and her family (mom Jessica, dad Sean, brother Gabriel, and Aunt Jill) whenever we were in Boston. We have grown to love them. We couldn’t leave a single store without Keith seeing something that reminded him of Eithene or one of the other mito kids we regularly visit. Eithene’s story, however, is somewhat unique. Over the time that we’ve known the family, Eithene has only left the hospital for about five days last July. Other than that, she’s mostly been in a room on the ICP (Intermediate Care Program, a step-down of the ICU) at Children’s Hospital Boston. We’ve visited through numerous infections and medical crises and seen the strength she exhibits on a daily basis. Her mother’s love and faith have been unwavering and inspiring. Not only that, but mom Jessica has helped me through a large number of my own medical crises.

Saying "hi" to True

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Just about two weeks ago, we got a break from all the crazy weather here in Massachusetts – severe thunderstorms and even tornadoes – when a sunny piece of Texas came to town.

It’s difficult to describe how much I love my dear cousin, but she always manages to bring smiles and sun to wherever she is. She lit up my wedding when she agreed to be one of my two bridesmaids nearly 3 years ago.

She makes family gatherings more than just tolerable (just kidding… I love ALL my family) but incredibly enjoyable:

She also sends me those little reminders to smile.

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I’ve been home for nearly two weeks now. Recovery has been slow and has sapped me of most of my excess energy so many apologies. Because there’s so much to cover – and I’m having difficulties organizing my thoughts – we’re going to go about this bullet-style.

  • I’m home. I was discharged with a four-week course of IV Vancomycin (a very powerful antibiotic) at a very high dose. Because we never got those sensitivities back (i.e. what bug we’re fighting and what antibiotic is best to fight it) and my reaction to the infection scared them (though I assure you, it did not scare nor surprise me or Keith), the doctors are playing it safe. I guess that’s what they do best. I was also on Cipro (another antibiotic), but I have finished that course.

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Considering I am currently back at MGH for a central line infection (which is being treated as sepsis due to my plummeting blood pressures and skyrocketing temperatures and heart rate; this could, however, be due to my really screwy autonomic nervous system), I thought I’d address the issues we’re currently encountering with my current former central line (a PICC in my left arm) and the debate over what kind of line is most appropriate for the long term use we’re envisioning.

How did we get here from there?
My GI tract (from stomach to colon) is essentially paralyzed. After numerous tests and a 25-day hospital stay when it officially shut down, a GJ-tube was placed. Five days later, I was readmitted partially because the GJ-tube was not providing enough of the necessary nutrients. The solution was to place a central line (a peripherally inserted central catheter or “PICC”) so that I could receive calories and vital nutrients intravenously. At this point, the PICC and TPN were planned to be short-term aids until we could build up the feeds to my jejunum (the middle part of my small intestine). A couple months later, my GI doctor said it looks like TPN is the most viable long-term option for me.

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