I learned about another Coppell family today that suffered their own tragedy earlier this year. Todd and Tara Storch lost their 13 year-old daughter Taylor while on vacation in Colorado. I hope many of you have already heard their story and have been keeping their family in mind. For those of you, like me, that are hearing this for the first time, I encourage you to read their story. In short, Taylor was an organ donor. Because of this, her family was able to hear Taylor’s heart beating again after she’d died, in the body of a recipient. The woman carrying Taylor’s heart is a mom. Taylor’s gift wasn’t the hardware keeping her alive: it was the extra years the mom received to watch her children grow. The Storch’s set up a foundation in Taylor’s name called Taylor’s Gift. The website gives you the opportunity to become an organ donor in under 90 seconds. It’s easy. It’s fast. Please take the time to fill out the online form.
Claire’s adjustments to the new house have been improving. Her reflux has moderated. Her disposition has been calm. Aside from a nasty upper respiratory cold that took hold early this week, her progress has all been forward. The past three weeks have been encouraging for us and we hope for Claire.
One development in particular has bolstered our resolve. Claire is responding with more consistency to commands. We decided to start testing whether she can understand a request and deliver a response. This sounds simple enough, however, it is dangerous area, both emotionally and scientifically. Tiffany and I have been acutely aware of our tendency for confirmation bias: we want to see improvement and want to make sure we’re not reading false indicators. So were are very careful to design a communication system with Claire that doesn’t lead to false positives. The difficulty with this is that as Claire gains additional control over her muscles, she still battles the remnants of neurological storming that cause her limbs to twitch and spasm involuntarily. For example, if we ask Claire a question like “Are you hungry” and we assign a finger squeeze as the affirmative, we have a low confidence level on whether or not a finger squeeze really means “yes.” We venture that we perceive more pressure when she squeezes after we ask a question, however, we can’t be sure because she squeezes at varying pressures without the question. So we need a signal that is more definitive.
We decided to try an arm raise with Claire. We settled on this because the arm raise is so infrequent and it takes a significant amount of effort on her part. It also provides the opportunity to test whether she is really answering a question or not because we follow up the question with the command “Now put your arm down” which is equally difficult as raising it. The system is cumbersome because it is a series of closed ended questions. It does, however, give a vehicle to communicate simple needs and wants. It’s working. We are confident that the system operates well the majority of the time. Tiffany and I tested it together first last weekend when Claire was upset. We explained to her that she needed to raise her arm high when she wanted to answer “yes” and then peppered her with a series of questions. When we asked her if she wanted to move to the floor, her arm went up, and when we told her to put her arm down, she complied. When we moved her to the floor, she stopped being upset. We were very encouraged.
We’ve had multiple opportunities to try out the system over the last week. It isn’t foolproof, but it works most of the time. We are still wary of creating false positives, however, we are hopeful that Claire feels a little more understood than she did a week ago.
Now what this means for her brain activity is still undetermined. Is she able to process requests and commands? It appears so. Is she contemplating them on a higher cognitive level than base needs and rewards? I don’t know. I certainly hope so and the father in me thinks she is operating at a higher level. Only time will tell.
This progress has been very welcome as the emotional war continues. The end of this month indicates the six month horizon. It is an arbitrary time line, particularly where young children are concerned, yet it lurks in the back of our mind. We continue to wonder why she hasn’t made more progress. We battle those thoughts reminding ourselves that she continues to move forward with no change in pace. We continue to miss her personality, the little things that always made us smile. And it’s taking its toll on everybody.
Autumn and Heidi have been watching old family videos with Claire as therapy. I am thankful that they continue to express how they are feeling about the past six months. Autumn will mention she misses the way things used to be and we nod and tell her that we miss it too. Within minutes of expressing herself, however, Autumn is back at Claire’s side discussing what game they should all play. The other night they decided on Candyland. The girls made sure Claire won. Then she won at Sorry. They’re good girls and they love their sister.
Thank you for keeping our family in mind and praying for Claire. We maintain our hopes for Claire, that she will soon smile, crawl, walk and talk. Your support helps us when we are tired and forlorn. We hope the coming holidays are spent with family and friends that show you the same love you have shown us.