As usual, we've already received all of your season's greetings and are running even later than last year. We enjoy hearing from you and reading all of your newsletters (even the really long ones!). In this Internet Edition, you can click on any photograph to see it full size.
1997 will certainly go down as one of the worst years of our lives (1991 notwithstanding). It's actually hard to recall what happened during the first half. Must not have been much, or maybe the rest of the year so overshadowed those months that they just seem a blur. In late July, Bruce backed into Rachel's wheelchair with the van at a pig roast and she had to be medevaced to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She suffered a pretty bad head injury (no concussion) and some lacerations on her head and left arm, but otherwise she was okay. Bruce is still recovering, though. The very next weekend, Bruce nearly drowned himself and Rachel while trying to lower both into an inner-tube at a local kiddie water park. Bruce slipped and fell hitting his head on a concrete step and dropped Rachel, who completely submerged for a few seconds. When Bruce regained his senses, he plucked Rachel from the water as she gasped and coughed, but didn't cry. A larger tube got them on their way around the "lazy river". Two weeks after that, Eileen was mauled by a friend's dalmation during an after dinner get-together at their home. She received a total of 12 stitches in her right arm and has some nasty scars as souvenirs. Then about a month later, somebody ran Eileen's car off the road into a median curb (the guy just kept going). Fortunately, Eileen was not injured, but the car was. There was no body contact and only the left front wheel, tire, and suspension were damaged. Not too bad, I guess.
These were only the highlights of the year's worst. The other incidents would seem petty in comparison, so I'll omit them ("hooray," you say).
A company-sponsored late-summer family outing to Adventure World proved to be enjoyable and incident-free and set us all at ease for a change. And the year ended with a completely wonderful trip to Florida to visit Eileen's parents, her brother Lee, and Mickey Mouse. So, although the year was rough at best, it at least ended on a positive note.
Bruce is still commuting 45 miles each way to APL in Columbia, Maryland. The job (with COMSYS) is great, but the commute is the pits. So has been the way since he started contracting in late 1989. It seems all the pertinent work is somewhere in Maryland.
Eileen is still working with EurAupair and now handles around 15 families. She also started working as a teaching assistant at Beth Emeth (our synagogue) three days a week. She loves it (gets her out of the house), but the money isn't so good. She still volunteers in the computer lab at Sunrise Valley Elementary School (SVES), where David and Rachel attend. Eileen has been taking Hebrew classes two and a half hours a week in hopes to become a batmitzvah, which was not in vogue when she was 13 years old. She is doing quite well and studies hard and intensely. This summer she was fortunate to escape to New York (ALONE) to attend her 20th high school reunion. What a blast, and it became ajoke how everyone seemed to think she hadn't changed a bit since high school. In addition, she is still the chauffeur, chef, homework helper, nurse, advocate, and MOM.
David turned nine in August and is in 4th grade GT, which seems more like 7th grade to us. Oh, the things they make those kids do! He gets frustrated with it at times, claiming it is just too hard. But he always seems to pull through (with much encouraging from Mom and Dad). Computers seem to be where David's interest focuses, and he needs to use his more and more for school now. In fact, it is pretty much a requirement for most large school projects. I guess they just assume every family in this area has one. David is doing quite well in school in every subject now. We are very proud of him. He also started learning to play the violin. He seems to really love it and plays very well. David is still attending Hebrew classes at Beth Emeth three times a week. He can pretty much read it fluently at this point. He assists and politely corrects Eileen when she studies. Pretty scary, huh?
Andrew has come a long way this year. He turned four in May and still attends the BEEC (Beth Emeth Early Childhood Center) at the synagogue for preschool and loves it. He is actually learning quite a few Hebrew words and songs and participated in the annual BEEC recital in early December. His diet consists of chicken nuggets, fingers, or tenders and fries (sound familiar?) and the occasional raw carrot stick or cooked green beans. He is still a little charmer and a darned cute kid (and knows it!).
Rachel turned six in May and is still hanging in there, but bore the first (and probably the worst) bad news of 1997 for our family. During her semi-annual cardiology exam, Dr. Moak informed us that her prognosis is not good. The pulmonary homograft that was installed when she was six months old has deteriorated significantly. The valve is completely calcified, which means it isn't there any more. This causes her heart to regurgitate about half the blood it tries to send to her lungs. As a result, her blood isn't being oxygenated very well. It's pretty much the same condition she had at birth, with the exception that the inner walls of her heart chambers are now sealed. Her heart is unable to beat on its own anymore; her single-chamber pacemaker is pacing her right ventricle nearly 100% of the time, but she has no natural sinus in her left atrium anymore. She really needs a dual-chamber pacemaker, but to install one when her current pacemaker is working so well introduces unnecessary risk. When she needs a new pacemaker, we will have a dual-chamber device installed. But the pulmonary valve is the real problem. It should really be replaced (again). The problem is that Rachel's neurological condition puts her at significant risk during anesthesia, surgery, and especially recovery. If she were to experience a major seizure while anesthetized and stop breathing (as only one of several scenarios), she could die almost instantly or become comatose. The situation is such that the risk of not doing any surgery is about the same as (or even greater than) doing it. So it comes down to a quality of life issue. As her parents, we have to decide her fate for her and whether more surgery would have a better chance of improving the quality of her life (and ours) than of making things worse or even killing her. I think this is why we can't remember much of the first half of the year, or don't want to remember. We have decided after much deliberation and many, many tears, not to subject Rachel to more surgery. This decision means that Rachel's life is in the hands of God alone. How long she lives depends only on how long her body can withstand its own limited function. Her cardiologist has determined that she probably has only 5-10 years left without surgery. She will go in relative peace, for the most part without any pain or suffering. We would hate to see another surgery make her life worse than it already is, and the chance of that happening is just too great. This way is best for her, and if she could speak we are sure she would agree with us. We plan to enjoy her remaining time with us to its fullest. You should have seen her face light up almost as bright as the floats in the evening parade down Magic Kingdom's Main Street. Is it possible she enjoyed that day more than the boys did? I wonder.
Other Stuff that happened in 1997 included a reunion of Bruce and his childhood "adopted family" (the Kunkels from Connersville, IN) in Indianapolis at Karen Kunkel's wedding. It was great seeing everyone again (first time in over 10 years for some). We also had new vinyl replacement windows installed throughout our house, just in time for a 70-degree January! The difference in comfort when the outside temperature is around 30 F is unbelievable.
Our au pair for 1997 was (and still is until mid-March) Tuomo Nissinen, from Finland. He has been a big help to us this year and the kids have really grown to love him. We'll probably do the au pair "thing" one more year in 1998. Andrew will be in first grade in '99, so we would like to think there will less of a need for childcare. Medicaid will continue to provide care for Rachel as needed.
1998 holds no promises for us of any big changes. It'll be business as usual (if we are lucky). We are hoping to get back down to Florida again around the same time next year to spend an entire week at Disneyworld. Maybe we'll see you there.
Happy New Year to EVERYONE! See ya real soon!
10720 Cross School Road
Reston, VA 20191-5106