SCIO Community Magazine
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Christine Martz and family

My Baby’s Beautiful Eyes

When a new mother looks at her newborn baby for the very first time she fulfills a dream in her mind of who they will become, looking into their eyes seeking out a connection to this perfect bundle that’s been placed in your arms. For me it came quickly and fiercely. Unconditional love finally had a definition.

That’s how I felt after I delivered my first child, a son. Braden was born Oct 27, 1993 and everything about life in that moment was perfect. My husband Paul, was starting out in his field as a Mechanical Engineer. I was working toward my diploma as an Early Childhood Educator (ECE). We didn’t have a lot starting out as a young family, but we had each other and we shared common goals.

This was an exciting and rewarding time in my life. I was flourishing in my role as a Mom and I loved being in school. A requirement of my ECE program was a work placement where I was placed at a centre with children who had special needs. I was very nervous going into this as I had very little exposure and experience with children who had developmental disabilities. I am embarrassed to admit that I did not finish this placement. In fact, I didn’t last more than a day in that special needs classroom.

I failed them, I did not know how to relate to those beautiful children. That day was a defining moment in my life.

I celebrated my twenty fourth birthday on February 27, 1995 and we had a lovely family dinner complete with cake and presents. Our lives continued and I started a part time evening job, giving me something to do until I could find a placement that suited my personality and comfort level.

Two weeks later, on March 9, our whole world came to an abrupt halt, the world shifted and everything I had ever known in that split second was never going to be the same.

This day started out as an ordinary day, Braden and I were at home. At around 2:00 pm I started to get ready for work. I loaded Braden into his car seat and headed out to drop him off at his child care provider and then continue on to work.

At the end of our street I pulled up to the stop sign. I looked left, checked right and then proceeded to pull out to make my turn. As I was just crossing the yellow line I heard the loudest crash and I felt the impact. I felt my chest hitting the steering wheel with a force so strong it knocked the breath out of me.

It didn’t register at first where that loud obnoxious wreckage came from, and I couldn’t see where it was because everything went black. My mind returned to inside my car and instinctively I thought of Braden. My eyes were not focusing, and I couldn’t hear him. Eventually Braden came into focus. There was no noise. It was so quiet. He wasn’t crying or screaming, but when I got close to him I could see the damage that had been done.

Things were becoming clear to me; Braden wasn’t moving. He wasn’t moving his arms or his legs. The only thing I could see moving was his eyes. He was terrified and tears began to roll down his cheek. I realized then that any noise from him would be reassuring. I just wanted to hear him scream.

His colour was changing. He no longer looked like that perfect cherub pink chubby baby that only ten minutes ago had filled my world with love. He was a losing his light and at this time I realized how close to death he was. He was so still. His tears stopped and so did his will to cry.  Looking into my baby’s beautiful blue eyes and seeing a grey cloud overtaking his life was the most excruciating moment of my life. Each breath he took was further and further apart. He was like a fish out of water, gasping for a breath, struggling with every muscle he had still working for him. The battle to live was there and I could see that my baby was not going to give up.

I vividly remember feeling a sense of safety standing in the hospital watching so many doctors attend to our son. As terrifying as it was with all the machines, noises and doctors coming at us from every angle we still felt protected. Our first night was very touch and go. We stayed at Braden’s bedside throughout the night. I was where we felt most comfortable. Doctors pulled us aside and told us Braden was a very sick young boy, and they gave him 72 hours to come through this tragedy. They informed us that they had paralyzed him with medications to rest his body and his brain. They had suspected a possible brain injury, from the whip lash and movement of the car.

Braden was diagnosed with a C2 SCI. He was fifteen months old, lying in the ICU with breathing tubes, feeding tubes, saturation and heart monitors. They told us Braden had a severed spinal cord. Our baby, our precious son who just a few hours ago put on his little winter boots and walked up a set of stairs is now lying lifeless in a hospital that has completely engulfed him. He couldn’t move. He wasn’t even able to breathe on his own. Those eyes, those precious blue eyes remained faithful. He would look at me, I at him and we both knew we were too strong to give up. From the very beginning I knew that little boy was a fighter. There was an unspoken connection we shared. Not one word was said, but his eyes spoke out with intense determination.

As scared as I was, standing at the foot of his bed I had the most profound feeling that things were going to be ok. I felt an energy surround me in his room, a feeling of warmth, love and peace. With Paul by my side, feeling his strength as he embraced me I knew we would find our way with vengeance, stumbling forward each day.

A team of Paediatric therapists at McMaster University Hospital joined forces and started their quest to help Braden regain as much movement as possible. Paul, my parents and I joined the team and jumped on board willing to learn and assist in any way we could. Glimpses of our new life entered and slowly I was becoming someone new. I had changed from being that person who had previously walked out on special needs children. Not believing I could handle those beautiful children. Now I am the mother of a child who is medically fragile and quickly showing signs of becoming a child with physical disabilities. Would he now be a child in that special needs classroom? Looking back at this I wonder if somehow, I was being taught a lesson.

From the moment we were given the grim news of Braden’s fate, we always considered his rehabilitation as a “means to recovery”. It has always been so very important that we treat this as an injury, because that means he can continue to get better. Accepting his diagnosis was not yet something we entertained.

His recovery was remarkable. Paul had taken a year off to stay home and provide Braden with daily physiotherapy. Each morning they headed to the basement for Braden to practice walking and building strength. I will forever be grateful to Paul for unselfishly dedicating a full year to Braden’s therapeutic recovery.

Up until April 6, that Easter Sunday we had not seen any movement from Braden. As I sat at his bedside that Easter morning after a full night of praying to God for a sign that things were going to be okay. I asked Braden to reach up and grab my nose, and that fateful morning, he did!

A mere six weeks prior to this, we were told he’d never move again. How was this possible? The room lit up, doctors, nurses and family filled the room to watch with gleaming eyes as Braden started moving his right arm. From then on, we had hope. They did a repeat MRI and found that the previous test which showed a complete transection of the spinal cord was in fact wrong. He had a sheared, bruised and damaged cord at the C2 level. This news changed everything. We had more to fight for. Soon after that we started to see him wiggling in his toes.

After a very long five months in hospital we finally had a plan to get home. Braden came home with a tracheostomy, Nasal Gastric tube, heart monitor and saturation monitor to keep track of his blood oxygen. We needed nursing care at home to help with the new demands of caring for Braden. But that didn’t matter, we were going home again. Things were so different. Nothing I previously had known in my former life before March 9 existed.

Initially we were fortunate to have the physiotherapist and occupational therapist from the hospital make home visits. This helped with our transition and Paul and I were taught how to provide those services as well. We became experts in range of motion and core strengthening.

His recovery was remarkable. Paul had taken a year off to stay home and provide Braden with daily physiotherapy. Each morning they headed to the basement for Braden to practice walking and building strength. I will forever be grateful to Paul for unselfishly dedicating a full year to Braden’s therapeutic recovery.

One year after my accident, Paul and I were wanting to have another baby.  On December 16, 1996, we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl, Kailey Mackensey. In all the most difficult moments we endured this past year having Kailey was by far the best thing to come out of it.

Although life was incredibly busy with a new baby, Braden continued to work hard. He had regained movement in his legs and his right arm. Unfortunately, his left arm had permanent damage. The reality is that most children would not have survived the injury that Braden sustained. Subsequently this translated into our awareness of the lack of services in our community for children who have SCI. (Braden was an anomaly.)

The remarkable group of therapists at Kidsability soon became close friends. Our support group did not have any experience with SCIs but they found a way to become creative with their treatments. They stayed with him for fifteen years, providing him with constant support and encouragement as he managed through his childhood and teenage years. We had some pretty significant battles during those formative childhood years. Some of which included segregation, bullying and human rights violations.

It was enforced by the school board for Braden to attend a school for children with Orthopaedic disabilities. This was devastating to him as he was being segregated from his neighbourhood friends and classmates, all because he couldn’t walk!

We did see him attend that middle school. With the help from our local newspaper an article was printed regarding classroom integration. The school board was frowned upon and they retracted their initial statement. Braden eventually resumed going to his original school with his friends, where he belonged.

Once Braden became a young man we found another rehabilitation centre called MacWheelers. It was specifically for people who have SCI. I remember walking into this gym and feeling like we had finally found our people. Braden loved being a part of this gym. He gained strength and determination from this group of individuals who shared so much in common with him.

Not only did Braden find his support, but so did I. Through SCIO I became a peer support volunteer. This gave me the chance to share my knowledge and life experience with others who were new to the world of SCI. We are now 23 years post injury. So much of our lives has changed. Our family has a wealth of knowledge regarding life after SCI and we enjoy sharing our journey with others. It has not always been an easy quest, but with the love and support of everyone who has stood with us, we have managed to find our happy once again.

Christine Martz | Summer 2019

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