Posted on May 22, 2019
“Last month, I received a phone call that would forever touch my life. It was from a wonderful woman in Arizona named Betsy. She is a pediatric nurse for a sweet boy named Kole. She told me about his family’s plans to visit San Diego for their son’s Make-A-Wish trip. She wanted to find a photographer that would be the perfect fit to capture this special time for Kole’s family. She found my More Than a Diagnosis blog posts and the rest is history. It was an honor to meet this family and document this momentous trip for them.
I also have the privilege to share Kole’s story with you as a part of my More Than a Diagnosis series. Throughout my life, I have been blessed to know many amazing people that were given a special needs or terminal diagnosis. I do not believe that this was by accident. They have stories to tell, and I want to help them tell those stories. It is my goal to continue to capture beautiful portraits of those that were given a diagnosis and did not let it stop them from living happy and fulfilled lives. They are an inspiration. I want to use my platform of photography and social media to help them reach those that may need it the most.
I asked Kole’s mom, Kirsten, to tell us more about their lives. I asked her about when they received his diagnosis, challenges that they have faced, what life is like for Kole, and some of her favorite things about him. This is their story. Thank you Kirsten, for sharing it with us.
When did you find out about Kole’s diagnosis?
I got pregnant at 19 right after his dad and I got married. We went to our routine appointment with the OBGYN and they offered to do a blood test to see if there were any concerns and since it was covered my insurance, I said okay. I ended up getting a phone call that they were sending us to see a specialist because the numbers were high and there was a lot of amniotic fluid. That phone call changed everything. We ended up seeing the specialist every single week till he was delivered. Every single week we were told that his heart beat would not be there the following week and every week it was still beating. He did not move much so I never knew if he was still holding on or not. Every few times we would go in they would find something else that was “wrong” and be even more sure that he was not going to make it. They induced me at 36 weeks because he was not growing and the delivery was very traumatizing and complicated and he was born at 3 lbs 5 ounces and he stayed in the NICU for 2 months.
How did you find out? How did you feel when you found out?
We knew that something was going on ever since being sent to the specialist, but we had thought that his diagnosis was down syndrome the whole time. They offered to do amniocentesis but we opted out due to the risk of miscarriage and it wasn’t worth it to lose him. It wasn’t until he was actually born and had blood drawn that we were able to find out his actual diagnosis and more kept piling on as time went on. I remember sitting in the head doctor’s office when Kole was 3 days old, the geneticist was in there and he said that Kole has been diagnosed with Ring 13, Partial Trisomy 13, and Monosomy 13 and that he will probably not make it out of that hospital and if he does he will not make it through a common cold and if he is lucky enough to make it through that, he will likely not live past 10 years old. THAT is all I remember him saying because as a 20 year old girl hearing that about my child was extremely hard to hear. I completely shut down and stared at my hands and the words just ran through my head over and over as they continued speaking with other family members that were in the room and able to take notes for me. When I was told that he was blind I was in shock but more at the bluntness and shortness from the doctor that had told me. Once the anger of that settled it was difficult information to process but it was not the end of the world. It was more when I was also told that he was deaf that it hit more close to home. It suddenly made sense that the other 3 babies in his room would cry in their cubicles whenever it was loud and my little boy just slept right through it all. Barely moved an inch. He never startled. He was the quietest baby. And I never knew why. But, then I did. It was a mixture of emotions but I did feel thankful to have answers and be able to move forward with knowing what I needed to know and figuring out a different way to navigate how to communicate with him which we did through touch. He also got a cochlear implant on his right side that he hears through and he loves music.
What exactly is he diagnosed with and how does it affects his life?
The ripple effects of these syndromes and disorders are:
What would you tell someone that is just learning about their own child’s diagnosis?
It sounds harsh, but I just hope that people finding out diagnosis know that it is not the end of the world. Their child is unique. Their child is special. Their child will teach them things that they would never learn if it wasn’t for that child. I won’t lie, it’s a hard life. But, it is full of so much beauty that I never knew. I am not the same person that I was when I was 20 and I had to change and grow up real fast. And I wouldn’t change that for the world. There are people out there who get it. It felt so lonely at first and like no one would ever know what we are going through. But, as I branched out and learned that there are other deaf blind children and kids that are similar to Kole (NEVER THE SAME because they are all different in their own way) that I was not alone. There were resources and help. And if someone is offering to help, try your best to ACCEPT it. There is so much that I would say to someone just learning!!!
What does a typical day look like for Kole?
We get up (depending if we were up all night or not because he can’t tell day and night) but we stick to the routine ALWAYS! Get up, CPT Vest, morning meds and morning routine, go to school, come home from school and typically there are appointments and therapies squeezed in there somewhere, afternoon meds, do our own home routine of therapies, bath time, CPT Vest again, night time meds and night time routine, and then to bed! And Repeat!
What is your favorite thing about Kole?
That is a VERY hard question! If I had to narrow it down, it would be his squeezes (hugs) he gives the BEST hugs. It was my goal that I wanted him to know how to give hugs so I always did it and told him “squeeeezee” and he eventually caught on and they are the best! OR his belly laughing that he beyond contagious!”
He is truly a #mirakole
Portraits by Loni Brooke Photography, San Diego County Family Photographer. If you or someone you know would be a great candidate for a complimentary portrait session as part of the More Than a Diagnosis series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are a few Behind the Scenes cell phone selfies from our special session on the beach! They even gave me a beautiful gift of one of their #MiraKole beach balls and “Kole’s Wish Krew” tee shirts that they had made for their trip, which I will forever cherish.
Posted on November 10, 2017
Recently, I found out that I am allergic to dogs. It was nice to finally figure out what has been making me feel so crumby all of the time, but it’s also been a huge struggle. We have two dogs at home and I often have clients that bring their dogs along for their sessions. I’m finding ways to make it work for me and still get to be around the dogs that I love (so, don’t worry, still bring your dog to your session!). Just a few days after I found out about my dog allergy, I met Ella! Ella is the Lewis Family’s English bull dog, and I fell in love with her. She is so energetic and really brought that extra element of fun to this session. The photo of her running with her family in the background is one of my all time favorite photos that I have ever taken.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more cute than Ella, I met Logan! Talk about a sweet heart and photogenic little girl! She was all smiles and laughs. Her parents are just as stunningly gorgeous. This family is really just picture perfect and they belong in a magazine.
Here are a few of my favorites from their session:
Posted on October 12, 2017
This is my all time favorite session ever! My daughter has become slightly obsessed with the Disney Descendants movies (ok, ok… so have I. I catch myself singing “What’s my Name” and “Rotten to the Core” more often than I care to admit). She begged me to let her be Evie for Halloween (this is the character that is the evil queen’s daughter). When her cute friend Kamren decided to be Mal (Malificent’s daughter) for Halloween, I had an idea. Kam’s mom Brianna is a make up artist (@beautybybreezy_) and I am a photographer. Why not go ALL OUT and do a Descendants themed shoot of them in their costumes?
I wanted a location that would look like the Isle of the Lost from the movies. We searched for hours and found the best locations with graffiti murals by Zane Kingcade right here in Escondido.
We played our favorite songs from the movies to help the girls get into character. We all had so much fun and I couldn’t be happier with how the photos turned out! When I was 6, I would have flipped out if I had professional make up and a photo shoot as my favorite character. I hope that I will be winning some mom awards in my daughter’s eyes.
Posted on October 9, 2017
I had the wonderful opportunity to photograph the most beautiful mother and daughter duo. This was a very special session that was near and dear to my heart. Amanda and Alianna are two of the strongest people that I know. Their journey with spina bifida is one that truly motivates and inspires me. I wanted to give Amanda the opportunity to share their story during Spina Bifida Awareness Month (October) with the hope that it will touch the hearts of those that truly need it the most.
“I found out Alianna had spina bifida a week after my 20 week routine anatomy scan. They told me she was a girl, but they didn’t tell me she has SB. They called me a few days later to go in to get more pictures taken. That’s when I had a gut feeling I knew something might be wrong. The doctor came in and said, “there’s something wrong with your baby, she has spina bifida.” I’ll never forget those words because they are the only words I heard while she was in that room. I couldn’t stop crying and I didn’t even know what exactly spina bifida was yet! I just knew it was something that was going to rock our worlds.
They gave me three options, surgery on her spine after she’s born, surgery while I was still pregnant, or abortion. I had till 24 weeks to decide. I felt selfish to bring a child into this world with a life long disability. I also felt unqualified as a mother. I didn’t think that I could handle my daughter going through therapies, medical treatments, doctor appointments and surprise surgeries for her entire life. I had all these thoughts on my plate and decisions to make at 19 years old. But, I knew right away that I didn’t want to abort her, because she was kicking her legs in the ultrasound. I believe that was her telling me to give her a chance at life!!
We went home to google spina bifida. It was a horrible mistake until I came across a picture of a beautiful little girl with long blond hair and a beautiful scar on her lower back. The caption said, “60-90% of babies are aborted with SB, who would want a child with a scar on their back?”. It was obviously sarcastic. But, I believe that was God saying that Alianna was going to be beautiful and that she’s still going to be my daughter and be absolutely amazing and just have a scar on her back too. I felt there that we could handle anything that came our way!
I researched the fetal surgery, and saw the amazing results from the study. 80% more likely to not need a shunt, and I believe 20-40% more likely to not need any sort of help when walking (like a walker, crutches or braces). I will never know how the surgery benefited Alianna and her quality of life, but I just knew in my heart I wanted to do anything and everything in my power to give her the best chance at life! The 3 hour long surgery was scary, but as I rolled in the operating room, I felt God’s unexplainable peace fall over me and into my heart. I knew things were going to be ok.
A risk to having the fetal surgery was possibly going into preterm labor. My water broke early at 31 weeks but I was able to stay pregnant on strict hospital bed rest until 34 weeks pregnant! I gave birth to Alianna Isabel July 6th 2011 at 10:02 am! She only needed to stay in the NICU to gain weight for 12 days. She was absolutely PERFECT and beautiful… with just a cute little healing scar on her back.
She was carefully monitored for her mild hydrocephalus and we thought we avoided a shunt since we passed the 1 year mark of not needing one. But, at 14 months she needed to have an ETV surgery where instead of placing a shunt, they drilled a hole to drain the fluid buildup into her third ventricle. So far we have not needed any revisions or had any scares when it comes to her brain!
When she was almost 3 years old she lost function in her left foot, so we needed to have tethered cord surgery. She needed a revision, a second surgery less than a week later since the first incision kept leaking. After that, she stayed laying on her tummy for three weeks but I was able to pick her up and hold her for the first time on Mother’s Day. It was the best present if you ask me! Ever since then, we have been so gracefully lucky to not need any surgeries! Praise Jesus!
She does need assistance walking and wears cute little pink braces with dragons and fairies on them. She also needs help using the bathroom via catheter and cone enema. It was scary to me at first thinking that I needed to do this for her, but we adapted, learned and rose to the challenge. It really isn’t that hard once you get used to it and she now is learning to catheterize herself! Soon she will be able to head to the regular bathrooms at school and just keep a small tube of a lipgloss sized looking catheter in her pocket so no one will ever really know she empties her bladder differently.
The doctors initially told me she might not ever be able to walk and would need to be in a wheelchair her whole life. But, today she loves to swim by herself, rock climb, do gymnastics, climb monkey bars and trees. She loves and appreciates life and I do not regret my decision to do anything I could to make sure that my daughter has the best life possible given her circumstances. I never treat her like she can’t do anything, I let her try for herself. I have always tried to make sure she was as independent as possible at an early age, despite the desire to keep her in bubble wrap and do everything for her. This has all helped her self confidence and she walks around not letting her disability hold her back.
To wrap this up, My favorite story of Alianna is a few years ago watching her when she was trying to get her shoes on her foot. She is not able to point her feet down, only up, so she wasn’t able to get her shoe on. But instead of being frustrated like me or most people would have been, she was laughing the whole time. That’s when I knew in my heart that my daughter has spina bifida, but spina bifida does NOT HAVE HER.
Posted on July 20, 2017
I moved to San Diego soon after discovering my love for photography, and I have been here for years. So, I haven’t had the opportunity to photograph most of my family and friends in Utah. I was glad to finally be able to share my passion for photography with them. I had a wonderful photographer friend that came to help me and she even got some fun behind the scenes shots of me in action. When she sent me the photos she took of me, she titled it the “Photo Session Bonanza”. It’s quite fitting! Somehow, by some miracle, I managed to do ten shoots in one weekend! All while traveling with an infant. I must be out of my mind. But, I loved every minute of it. Don’t mind my hair… it was 100 degrees outside!
Photos by Laurie Ellsworth Photography. If you are in Utah, I highly recommend her!
Here are a few sneak peeks at what I have been working on. If you don’t see me for a while, it is likely that I am at home editing! I set a new personal record for the number of sessions completed in one weekend. I might just make a tradition out of this, so, if you are located in Utah – I may just be back to do your session too! Or, if you are ever in San Diego, let me know! I love to do sessions for Utahans that are visiting!