Screeching tires. Slamming breaks. Shattered glass. Destruction.
At 29 weeks pregnant, Beth Vansumeren’s accident fractured her hip and thrust her into premature labor seven weeks early. Doctors told the Vansumerens that Avery, weighing just over two pounds, suffered swelling in the brain and a traumatic brain injury.
“We knew Avery was going to be handicapped, but we had no idea how much,” said Beth. “I was grateful that we were both alive, and I prayed that Avery would somehow be able to interact with her family, that’s all I wanted.”
Beth’s prayers were answered. After three months in intensive care, Beth and her husband, Casey brought Avery home.
“I became an around the clock caregiver,” Beth said about bringing Avery home – more than ten years ago now. “My days revolve around Avery and how she’s feeling. Some days she’s fine, others I can’t leave the room or she gets upset.”
At ten-years-old, Avery has the physical make-up of a four to six year old and the mental capacity of a three to four year old. Until recently, Avery attended a local school for children with special needs.
“Avery is aware of what is going on and interacts with family and friends,” Beth said. “She looks at you for yes, and looks away when she’s saying no.”
On her most recent school test, Avery answered 29 out of 40 questions correct. Avery’s test questions included “who do you pay at the grocery store?” The teacher held up two cards – one a picture of a cashier and the other a firefighter. Avery responds by looking at the proper card.
Earlier this year, Avery’s body temperature fell and her heart rate decreased – her brain was beginning to shut down. That’s when her physician recommended Arbor Hospice. At first, Beth was hesitant. Now, things are different.
“I was constantly fighting with the little things – finding diapers the right size, calling pharmacies to see if they carried Avery’s medications and ordering equipment for Avery’s pump,” said Beth. “Now, all I have to do is tell the Arbor Hospice team. Yesterday, I called Arbor Hospice to say I was low on Avery’s pump filters. They were delivered today.”
Avery and her family have the support of an entire Arbor Hospice team – beginning with a nurse who understands Avery and provides excellent care, and an aide who has provided Beth a reprieve from shower duties.
“More than anything, Avery loves the complementary therapies,” Beth said.
Massage therapy helps Avery’s circulation and digestion, and the music therapy lifts the whole family’s spirits. Norma Nichols, Arbor Hospice music therapist, visits the Vansumerens each week with an exciting project.
“One time Norma played music while my three girls made sister bracelets. Another time, we put chalk on Avery’s feet and she kicked a design on paper. Avery is sometimes loud – mumbling and yelling to the music. It’s a good outlet for her.”
In addition, the Vansumerens have spoken with an Arbor Hospice Grief Support Coordinator on how to talk with their five-year-old daughter, Heidi, about Avery’s illness.
“Heidi’s my little trouble maker,” Beth said as Heidi filled her mouth with dry pancake mix. “To Heidi, Avery is just Avery. She doesn’t ask questions. It was good to have advice on how to talk to her about Avery’s condition.”
While many may see Beth’s accident as devastating, to Beth, Avery is a blessing – just like Arbor Hospice.
“I can’t say enough about how wonderful the support has been,” Beth said. “Before Arbor Hospice, I was taking care of everything on my own. There were so many times I wondered if I should take Avery to the emergency room. Avery has so many needs, it was difficult for the emergency room doctors and nurses to understand her and find what was wrong. We were both so frustrated. Now, I call Arbor Hospice – day or night. I can finally focus on my girls again, focus on being their mother.”
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