On Andrew Joseph


I thought it’d be important to give a bit more detail on Andrew Joseph, his physical condition and some continual prayer requests that we’d like to ask of you.


First, we’d like to show you a video we captured of Bella being surprised by Andrew Joseph, when he came home from the hospital yesterday. Bella had a really bad cold yesterday (yes, I know, our family is great with timing. ha.) so we had her wearing a hospital mask because we knew that she’d want to hold and kiss all over her baby brother. Normally, we’d be ok with it (heck, he needs to build a good immune system, right?!) but with his current condition and the constant monitoring of his brain, we need to be extra careful. Check it out:

So, the details. As I jokingly mentioned above, our family is terrible with timing. The last time Bella was admitted overnight at the ER (which we’re going for #12 at this point) was on the 4th of July and the doctors joked: “wow, you guys love to come in on national holidays!” and he proceeded to remind us that Bella has had urinary tract infections OR kidney infections on 1) July 4th 2)her birthday and 3) Thanksgiving……. over the past 2 years. So basically, on any given holiday…..when we find ourselves in the emergency room…..Cristina and I simply look at each other, with a smirk on our face, looking up at heaven…..and both say, “well, of course!”

Flash forward to Andrew Joseph’s birth. September 8, 2015! The perfect date! Right?!

Except for the fact that Bella’s 5+ hour bladder surgery (to help prevent the recurrent UTIs) was scheduled for September 10th. Just to give you an idea: Cristina would undergo a C-Section on Tuesday, September 8th…..Andrew Joseph, 12 hours after his birth, would undergo his Spina Bifida repair surgery on September 9th, and Bella would be under the knife for 5+ hours the following day, September 10th. THANK GOD that the two hospitals, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters and Norfolk General Hospital, are connected!

Also…….to make things more interesting/chaotic (because my wife and kids love to make my life easy) my wife didn’t have your typical C-Section. Because of the fetal surgery that she underwent in 2012, her uterus is in precarious condition (a typical C-Section leaves a small incision on one side of the uterus – Cristina’s fetal surgery and following C-Section left 2 large incisions on hers)  which means she was high risk and her recovery would be brutal. It was. So……by the grace of God, I was able to help her get in and out of bed during the first 12 hours of recovery, while also running to the NICU across the street to be with Andrew Joseph.

Thanks be to God, our surgeon (who we’ve come to know well through Bella’s brain scans) was able to be on call overnight and monitored Andrew Joseph before planning his surgery the following morning. Check out this video for an explanation of the surgery that was performed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_MaRhpBo6A

Providentially, our priest, Fr. John Peck OSB, was able to make it to the NICU early enough that morning to baptize Andrew Joseph, and most of our family was able to witness:

According to the neurosurgeon, the surgery to repair Andrew Joseph’s Spina Bifida lesion went exceptionally well. In fact, the surgeon, who is well known and lauded in this general region for this kind of work, found Andrew Joseph’s spina bifida to be “bizarre”. He seemed surprised by Andrew Joseph’s function (urination, feet kicking, etc) based on where his spinal damage was.

Meanwhile, mom was down the hall attempting to recover….while dying to take the long trek to visit her newborn son. Talk about painful……restraining your wife from seeing her son because of the potential damage that could occur to her uterus. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

On Thursday, two days after Andrew Joseph’s birth, Bella was admitted to the hospital for her surgery. As far as procedures go, Bella did incredibly well……….it was the morphine that they gave her that had some unexpected side-effects. As she came out of surgery at 2pm that afternoon, she was pumped-up and ready to play! So…..instead of getting some much needed rest that I was looking forward to, Bella had the opposite reaction….and proceeded to wake up from her nap, randomly, and say things like “Dad, this hospital is wonderful, isn’t it?!” “Dad……I want to play something with you. I don’t know what, but I want to play it.”

We finally passed out at 11:30pm that night…..and Bella was discharged the next morning. Thankfully, our in-laws and my parents were able to help with taking care of her over the following days during her home recovery.

As for Andrew Joseph, the weeks following his surgery were somewhat uneventful, which is a blessing. You see, with Spina Bifida, particularly the lesion that Andrew Joseph had, a few things are potentially damaged and need to be monitored. For one, the area most obviously effected is the motor function of the feet/legs/knees/hips. Although there is an apparent weakness in muscle movement, Andrew Joseph is able to move his legs and hips. Also, one of the common damages involves the kidney and bladder, which effects ones ability to void and urinate. Andrew Joseph seems to have a weak/disabled sphincter, but a strong urinary tract and is able to urinate.

One of the biggest “wild cards” for Andrew Joseph now is his head and brain. All humans have a bit of fluid in the brain, which keeps it suspended and properly “cushioned”. With Spina Bifida, there is an anticipated risk of abnormal fluid in the brain, specifically built-up in the ventricles….which is referred to as hydrocephalus.The medical response to hydrocephalus, when it begins to obstruct normal function (like sucking/swallowing, eye control, etc.) is a shunt.

Andrew Joseph’s ventricles are already a bit enlarged and continue to slowly grow. Bella’s brain did the same……but “plateaued” after a few months, and her function was never obstructed. Bella and Andrew Joseph’s neurosurgeon (the same doctor who operated on him) was heavily in tracking Bella’s progress back in 2012 (appointments every 2-3 weeks!). So here we are.

Our biggest request is that you pray for God’s Will and our vigilance, as parents, in monitoring Andrew Joseph’s head growth and hydrocephalus. We will be meeting with his neurosurgeon once a week for the next few weeks, and then once a month for the following 6-9 months, until he is clear.

As for us, we’ll enjoy our son and daughter as they fall in love with each other. It’s one thing to come home with your first child…….it’s a different thing to watch your first born enamored with the second. Bella’s world has now changed forever…..her brother is truly the apple of her eye…..and she would give her world to make him smile.

Oh Lord…….you may have different plans than mine…..but boy, are your plans Good! 

Now….if anyone knows of a program or organization that’ll help us find a minivan,  please let me know, we’ll need it! These kiddos and aren’t gonna fit in our car for much longer! 


4 responses »

  1. Dearest Andrew and Cristina. Reading your blog and watching the videos brought me to tears. But they weren’t tears of sorrow or pity, but probably of holy envy (if there is such a thing). Most of us get married, have “normal” children and go on with our lives “as expected”. Mom and dad go back to work. Find a babysitter, and life goes back to normal “as expected”. NO BIG DEAL. But you, in following the same process, have had to struggle, suffer, hurt, fight, just to have your children and keep them alive!! I could not imagine going through what Cristina did to have Bella, and being willing to do it all over again, and having another special baby! So, this is not where my “holy envy” lays obviously. But, the power that God has blessed you with, as a family, to stand these tests and circumstances, as is His will, irradiates in all of you!! I can see it in Bella; in her ability to care and share, to smile and play! I see it in Cristina; in her grateful looks, in her joy as she holds her children, and in her faith as she prays! And I see it in you; in how informed and aware you are of the conditions and circumstances affecting your whole family; in the way you express and explain their conditions, and most of all, in your cheerful notes, letting us know that you are aware of the blessings being received! See Andrew and Crisina, the average family will never get to feel all that! You are experiencing RAW love!! You are truly crying, truly laughing, truly enjoying every single little blessing God sends your way!! Most people will never know what those are! I’m sure that your hearts melt as you see your parents sacrificing to assist you with the children! Bella’s beautiful smile, after coming out of surgery, must makes your heart leap for joy! You appreciate a good meal, a good night sleep, and all those little things that most of us take for granted! So, your blessings might be difficult to see at times. But I can tell that they are more real than if you had healthy children through normal pregnancies, and both of you were working and came home tired, to play and help, but were able to concentrate on yourselves more, and had no need for tears, consoling hugs, and holidays’ emergency room visits. This brings to mind St Agustin’s prayer: “Lord, give me what you ask for and ask whatever you want”. So, as we pray for your yoke to be easier and your burden lighter, please pray for our hearts to be awake and our souls grateful for our blessings. May The Lord hold all of you in the palm of his hand and never let go. With much love, Ana.

    Sent from my iPad



  3. Hi Cristina, Andrew, Bella and Andrew Joseph. Just wanted to let you know that im praying for you and all of your family. I love all of you very much, and am so blessed to have encountered you all through Corazon Puro. May God keep blessing you and may he give you the grace to carry on faithfully.

    In Jesus through Mary,

    Luis Pena

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