I (Kim, if you’re new here) wear a few hats here at Wide Awake International.
- Mom of EVERYONE
- Communications Director. If you hear some news coming from Wide Awake, it’s from me. Hellooooo!
- Medical Director. Now that sounds like quite a lofty title that should belong to someone super smart, but alas, it’s just me.
- Gardener-Extraordinaire. I gave that title to myself and I’m keeping it. 😆
The mom hat never comes off. It’s front and center at every minute of every day. For our kids, for our boys, I’m always mama. The Communications Director hat comes on about 3 times per week. Sometimes it’s a joy for me to tell our story and sometimes it feels like a bit of a drag, but whether I like it or not, that hat’s not going anywhere. The story’s gotta be told and I’m honored to be the one to do it (except on the days when I really don’t feel like it…hehe). The Medical Director hat is one that I have been hesitant to call my own for many years.
I’m an RN and worked for 12 or 13 years in a hospital in Oregon before moving to Ukraine. I’m a smart person with a lot of experience, but moving to another culture has a way of making you feel like the most incompetent, stupid person to walk the face of the planet. I went from working confidently as a charge nurse in a hospital to not knowing how to ask for the right size of bag for my groceries at the store. I went from being a social, outgoing person to a wallflower who was afraid of opening her mouth for fear of sounding like a toddler because the Ukrainian language was so dang confusing. That lack of confidence and growing self-doubt crippled me for many years. So when we started taking our boys out of the institution the thought of learning to navigate the confusing Ukrainian medical system and fighting for their health sounded like the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. I had no idea how to do it. I had no desire to do it. And I had no confidence that I would succeed in finding them help.
When we adopted Vlad we took him straight to the US to deal with understanding his medical needs there. And then, thankfully, the first 4 boys we brought out of the institution while in Ukraine (Boris, Anton, Ruslan, and Sasha) had no urgent health needs and I was able to dip my toes in the medical system waters without having to fully submerge. We could get by with a couple specialist visits a year and things were “good enough”. Honestly, the trauma they were all bringing to the table was much more urgent than any physical diagnosis. They were soooooo broken in their minds and hearts- their bodies could wait.
We got by pretty well the first few years and their bodies began to heal a lot, just by living in a loving, safe environment. We fed them a diet of healthy, whole foods. They got plenty of sunshine and fresh air. We gave them vitamins and paid close attention to food intolerances. We kept them on their meds and/or added some meds to help with some difficult behaviors. And they began to heal. My Medical Director hat wasn’t really required. The Mom hat was enough.
Then came Yaroslav and Vova and everything changed. Their medical needs were much higher than our other boys and the Mom hat would not be enough- not nearly enough. It was time for me to think like a nurse again and to take charge of our boys’ health, whether I felt qualified or not. So, with my trusty sidekick, Roma at my side, we dove on in- on a mission to get our boys as healthy as possible. And it has been an interesting ride.
The diagnoses we are addressing are (this doesn’t count Vlad who is currently in the US):
- Cerebral Palsy x 3
- Epilepsy x 2
- Foot deformities x 2
- Williams Syndrome
- Mitral Valve Regurgitation
- Gluten intolerance
- Lactose Intolerance x 3
- Anxiety Disorder x 3 (really, all of them except Sasha would probably qualify here)
- Microcephaly x 3
- Autism Spectrum Disorder x ???
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Plus, we’ve got a host of undiagnosed issues that we are constantly weeding through: frequent vomiting, chronic constipation, symptoms of PTSD (duh), skin issues, frequent bloating, gait problems, balance issues, improperly healed broken bones…
As you can see, the needs have become significant enough that just acting like mom isn’t going to cut it anymore. First I took on more of a Case Manager role. We don’t have active primary physicians here who are, with a team, managing our boys’ care. It’s all on me and the more boys we have in our care the more organized and intentional I’ve had to become in that role. Roma and I began to search for doctors that we felt we could trust that would see the value of our boys and treat them well. We visited many, many doctors and rejected many, many doctors. We did bloodwork, tested urine, adjusted med doses, weaned off unnecessary meds, and more. We have been to countless specialists and have worked hard to improve our boys’ health, but unfortunately I don’t see much of a difference. In the spring I found myself increasingly frustrated at the perspective of the doctors we visited. They were doing their job, but I felt it just wasn’t enough. I couldn’t be satisfied, but didn’t know how to articulate what else I was seeking. We were treating all their symptoms and diagnoses, but their bodies were so deeply broken by the years of neglect and abuse, another approach was necessary for them to find true health. I realized what I really wanted was healing for them from the inside out. I also realized that if I wanted that for them then I was going to have to take the task on myself. No one knows their bodies better than I do and it is my responsibility to see them live up to their full potential. No doctor is going to dig deep enough. This is on me. Medical Director hat ON.
I began to research how to get smarter. 🙂 I thought maybe I should go for my Nurse Practitioner license, but dismissed that almost right away. It’s not something I could do while in Ukraine and really, it’s not the specialty I’m looking for. After more and more digging I started to become familiar with the world of Functional Medicine. The deeper I dove into that world the more convinced I became that the functional medicine perspective is what is needed for our boys.
What is Functional Medicine? The Institute for Functional Medicine defines it like this: “Functional medicine is a systems biology–based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Each symptom or differential diagnosis may be one of many contributing to an individual’s illness.” Functional medicine looks at the root cause of disease, not just the symptoms. It’s a way of looking upstream, and then addressing issues all along the way while looking at the diet, environmental toxins, mental and emotional well being, and more. Our boys definitely need an upstream, whole person approach and I think functional medicine is the approach that will bring them into greater health. Functional medicine doesn’t replace traditional medicine, but compliments it and works along with it.
Functional medicine isn’t a thing in Ukraine, but I really believe it will help our boys and so I have decided to become a functional medicine provider myself. After graduating nursing school more than 20 years ago I told myself I would never ever go back to school, buuuuuuut, here I am, eating my words. Never say never! In just a few days I will head back to school as a part of the School of Applied Functional Medicine’s fall cohort. Eeeeeek! The program to become a functional medicine provider is a 2.5-3 year process, so it’s gonna take a while, but I’ve heard from graduates that I will be able to begin implementing my learning within the first 6 months, so that excites me. I don’t want to wait any longer for our boys to gain better health.
I’m eager to share with you the things I learn along the way as we walk this new path of healing for our boys. I’m also excited to expand my knowledge and become a more well-rounded medical professional. Our boys deserve the very best and I’m truly honored to do this for them. Here we gooooooo!