January 27, 2019

The Miracle of Luke's First MRI

Luke had his first MRI on Friday. 

Many people would say having an MRI is not a miracle, but let me tell you why I believe this particular one was. 

My twin sons were both born with congenital heart defects. Luke’s were particularly challenging and we came within inches of losing him when he was just a baby. Multiple heart surgeries were needed to allow him to grow and thrive so he could handle the next heart surgery they had planned for him. 

During one of the surgeries, it was decided to attach metal leads to his heart to prepare him for a pacemaker they believed he would most certainly need at some point in his life. Fast forward through other scary surgeries and situations and we get to a point in his treatment where we were told several times that an MRI would be the best way to look at his problem to develop a solution. But there was no way he could go through one of those!  Not with that metal inside...an MRI uses huge industrial magnets to capture images.  It would be way too dangerous to have one with metal leads on your heart.  Or at least so we believed.

When Luke was 13, he started developing lesions in his liver that mimicked the kinds of lesions that are associated with liver cancer. 

He was told by more than one set of doctors to prepare himself to be put on the list for needing a heart and liver transplant. 

When he was 14, Luke received a pacemaker. 

Recently, we were told Luke’s liver lesions started showing signs of growth again. He was told by his new doctors at Mayo that he should get a cat scan every 3-4 months to keep in eye on them.  Luke was very concerned about this because he'd heard that people shouldn't have more than 20 CT Scans in their whole lives because of the radiation involved.  

A few weeks ago, after his latest scan was performed, the doctors felt comfortable stating the lesions on his liver weren’t cancer. 

We then heard a familiar phrase from the past. 

"It would be so nice if we could get an MRI just to be sure." 

We agreed. That would be incredible, but just not possible from everything we’d been told in the past 16 years. 

Our doctor said, let me connect with your cardiologist and see what is possible. Long story short (too late) they concluded he could safely have an MRI if they took the appropriate precautions. 

He’d have to have his pacemaker checked before and after the procedure and a cardiac nurse would be monitoring his status the whole time. Oh, and he’d also need a physicist in the room to constantly monitor the amount of heat being generated in his chest to make sure the heat levels weren’t getting dangerous!  

We were very nervous about doing the procedure, but re-assured when we arrived and they told us that the Mayo Clinic has already performed MRI's on patients with pacemakers more than 3500 times without having an issue.

So we did the procedure and as they said, we had no problems.  They were able to get the images and get a better look at his lesions and again conclude they are benign.  In the words of Luke's cardiologist, it was a very reassuring scan.

We never thought Luke would be able to get an MRI, but thanks to the miracle workers at the Mayo Clinic who are constantly pushing the boundaries of medical technology, we were able to do so.

And that is why I believe that Luke's first MRI was nothing less than a miracle.

The Faces of the Minnesota Zoo

The Faces of the Minnesota Zoo
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for January 27, 2019

The kids wanted to go to the zoo last Spring, so we bought a family membership since financially that makes more sense than paying for one visit to the zoo.  Our membership is about to expire, so we thought we'd go out for one more visit before it does.  These are some of the faces we saw while we were there.

The Komodo Dragon is the largest living species of lizards on the planet.  They seem pretty docile in their cage at the zoo, but out in the wild they've been known to be deadly to human beings.  I'm pretty sure I could take this one if I had to.

The Gibbon is a member of the ape family known for their loud singing as they communicate back and forth with other gibbons.  They have really long arms and I could watch them swing from tree to tree all day.  If I had to swing from tree to tree like they do, I wouldn't make it very far.

We like stalking the birds in the Tropics Trail, but I have no idea the names of each of them are.  I believe this one is called Mr. Pretty Feathers.

If I had red eyes like this, I believe people would think I'm the devil.  That's why I'm not going to buy any eyes like this.

We went to the bird show and saw this snowy owl which looks just like Hedwig from the Harry Potter movies.  I've never seen one of these guys out in the wild, but I'd like to.  Maybe without the snow, though.

There was a sign posted outside of the Wolves enclosure that said "Careful, animals may bite."  I tend to want to test signs like that, but something about this guy told me not to push it.  I don't have enough fingers to spare.

Little Bobby said there was no way he was going to floss his teeth, but something about the look has dad gave him made him start doing it.

There was a Super Blood Wolf Moon in the sky this week.  I slept through it, but Miss Sheri took this picture for me so at least I could see it.  Doesn't look all that super to me.

It was time for our annual end of the year Fantasy Football awards dinner.  I had another bad year in Fantasy, so no awards for me.  Although I did get some good chicken fingers that still allowed me to feel like a winner by the end of the night.

We're starting to get this empty-nester thing figured out.

January 20, 2019

Ice Fishing on Prior Lake

Ice Fishing on Prior Lake
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for January 20, 2019

The weather in Minnesota has finally become cold enough that the big ice houses are out on the lake and the really big trucks used to drag them out there are out there as well.

We are told that the ice is 15 inches thick which is plenty to drive on.  However, we are still always nervous to drive on the ice no matter how thick it is.  We roll down all the windows and open the sunroof to give us enough escape hatches just in case...

On Tuesday night, our friend Dan Walters told us he brought his new ice house out on Prior Lake near our house and told us to come out for a visit.  Avery hadn't gone back to college quite yet so we were more than happy to oblige.

We hadn't seen their new ice house yet, but were pretty impressed.  It seems to be quite a bit bigger than the last one they were using and had a lot of the comforts of home.  

We don't have our 2019 fishing licenses yet, so we weren't able to actually join Dan in his fishing adventure.  Sadly Dan didn't have much luck anyways and we didn't get to see any whoppers pulled out from the ice hole.  Stupid ice hole.

  Is that a UFO off in the distance?  Nah.  Just the big lights from Mystic Lake Casino piercing the night sky.

The one thing about having our boys go to school so close to home is they seem to come up with so many reasons to swing home for a night or two.  I think the fact that I'm always willing to take them out for another "Good-bye dinner" probably has something to do with it.

Jen and Dan invited us to their ice house again on Saturday night so Luke had a chance to go check it out as well.

Jen thinks Dan went a little overboard on the new heater he bought for the ice house.  It does make it pretty toasty warm in there!

I don't care that it snowed last night.  I'm sick and tired of posing for your pictures!

January 13, 2019

The Nest Is Almost Empty Again

The Nest Is Almost Empty Again
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for January 13, 2019

Winter Break is no nice.  Our boys come home and spend a month with us and we get to live like a big, happy family again.  It's so quiet when they go back to school.  But it's that time again...

Our friend, Sara Patrick came over on Tuesday night to go bowling and have some fun.  

The kids also helped save the planet from some scary aliens which was very nice of them.

On Saturday, it was time for Luke to head back to Mankato to finish his sophomore year in college.  We're going to miss the heck out of him.  His brother goes back to school in a few days so we will be back to being empty nesters again real soon.

It's been a bizarrely warm January in Minnesota.  All the snow has melted so Prior Lake is like one big skating rink.  I guess it's still been cold enough that now trucks can drive on the ice, though.  I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to do that.

It's great conditions to play catch with Blue.  I can throw the ball and it rolls forever!  He does really good chasing it even though he slides all over the place while trying to track it down.  It's pretty cute when he finally catches it, because then his whole body slides about 10 feet before skidding to a stop.  Then he slowly walks back to me and we do it all over again.  This is what life is like without the kids at home.

January 6, 2019

So this is 2019...

So this is 2019...
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for January 6, 2019

On the Sunday before New Year's Day, we had the opportunity to go see the Minnesota Vikings play the Chicago Bears.  We were very excited for the game because if Minnesota won, they would make it into the playoffs.   They couldn't mess that up, could they?

They looked pretty fierce when they ran out on the field, but we probably should have expected something was up when they couldn't advance past the cheerleaders.

It's always nice to see the players praying before the game.  I was going to say something sassy about it based on the results of the game, but that wouldn't be right.  It's very nice for these guys to be doing this.

We were surprised to see Brad Johnson at the game blowing the gjallarhorn.  We always liked him when he played in Minnesota.

We had a great time at the game even though the Vikings really struggled on offense as they went on to be defeated by a score of 24-10.  It was a pretty disappointing way to end the season after the year we had last year, but I guess that's the NFL.  Everyone wants to win and only a few teams get to advance.  Dang Vikings.

We spent New Year's Eve at a party hosted by the Zitzewitz family.  We've been doing this for several years now and it's always a crazy way to ring in the new year.

Avery had the chance to go back to his high school for a panel discussion with the robotics team.  He got to tell the students what he's been up to since leaving the team and how robotics helped pave the way for his current studies at the University of Minnesota in computer science.  He also had the chance to connect with his old mentor, Bill, which I'm sure will end up being the highlight of his winter break.

Luke had his quarterly checkup at the Mayo Clinic this week. We pushed it past the holidays in case we were going to learn something stressful.  

Turns out, things are pretty stable. The nodules on his liver did show a little growth again, but the doctors are almost certainly convinced they’re benign.

We learned a new name for the nodules. They are called FNHs.

I thought the doctor was using profanity when he first mentioned them (like Effen Achez) but turns out that’s what they are called. Each spot on his liver is an FNH. And the medical community is starting to realize these nodules on the livers of people with a certain kind of heart defect who also have had certain kinds of surgical procedures can develop these nodules that look very close to the nodules that usually predict liver cancer. But they’re not the same.  So that’s really good news.

It was a relief to find this out and that it appears Luke may be in the clear for the foreseeable future. Of course, he will still have quarterly checkups at Mayo Clinic for awhile, but we
learned that he may be able to go down to checkups every 6 months at some point in the future. 

In any case, it’s nice he can go back to college with no new worries. He’s had a lot of those in his life.

Please keep Luke in your prayers that things stay great for him!

This weekend we drove down to Iowa to visit Miss Sheri's family on the farm.

Blue absolutely loves the farm for pretty much one major reason.  Kitties!  We say this word to him and he absolutely freaks out looking around the farm for them.  There's not as many as there used to be, but he was lucky enough to rustle one up which surprised us all especially the cat.   Unfortunately, while he was chasing the cat who wanted nothing to do with him, he ended up running through a massive bunch of cockle-burs which ended up getting matted all over his fur.  So he ended up getting a haircut while we were down there as well.

Although it was only a short time that we had to spend together, we had a fantastic time visiting Miss Sheri's family.  We always have a lot of laughs together.

Two Christmases!