Family and friends of Apollo Helsel are raising money to pay for uninsured medical expenses associated with transplantation.
Apollo has chosen to fundraise with Help Hope Live in part because Help Hope Live assures fiscal accountability of funds raised and tax deductibility for donors. Donors can be sure that funds donated will be used only to pay or reimburse medically-related expenses. To make a tax-deductible donation to this fundraising campaign, click on the Donate Now button.
December 11, 2017
(Written December 1st, 2017)
Hello friends and family.
We had quite a day. After spending the night at a hospital-provided guest room, our family had an early start. My husband, Apollo, was scheduled to be at the hospital early in the morning.
My mother-in-law, father-in-law, husband, myself, and even our two little girls walked the hospital halls in the wee hours of the morning to arrive at the Meijer Heart Center by 5:30 AM. Though we were all yearning for much-needed sleep, we were also anxiously awaiting for someone to call my husband’s name.
Three waiting rooms and nearly two hours later, Apollo lay in a rollaway bed, adorned in the gown and socks the hospital required for his surgery. Before he was wheeled away, everyone said goodbyes, good luck, and see you later. We knew it was going to be hours before we saw him again.
As his wife, they let me stay with him for a little before the procedure. Every time I see him in the hospital, I get knots in my stomach and a lump in my throat. I try to stay cheerful and out of the way so as not to hinder the busy professionals who all have to do their jobs. However, no matter how many times it happens, I still internally cringe every time I watch needles disappear into his skin. It’s both fascinating and slightly horrifying to watch blood taken away and new, strange, clear liquids injected into someone you care about.
There is something about seeing someone you love in pain – in a situation where they are helpless, at the mercy of strangers you hope and pray will do their best – that just breaks your heart. This was the third time I sat at my husband’s side before a surgery he didn’t want, yet desperately needed. The first time was an emergency appendectomy. The second, an emergency catheter was placed in his chest because his kidneys had failed and he desperately needed dialysis.
At the time, I was in denial. I almost lost my husband after being married for just a few short years. My two little girls almost lost their father. My in-laws, their one and only son.
Here, the third time, I watched doctors and nurses poke and prod my husband. I wished we didn’t have to go through this. I kept wishing I could blink and fast forward to it being all over. I couldn’t help but think about how half a dozen cords and cables made it hard to see how beautiful and strong my husband really was. But I tried my best to smile and be the supportive wife he needed. I had to be strong for him because he was always strong for me. I remembered my two surgeries – both c-sections – and how he sat beside me the entire time, holding my hand, telling me everything was going to be okay.
Looking back, I wish I said that to him out loud. I said it a million, maybe a billion, times in my head. But I don’t think I let him hear me say that. Next time, I will because I know there will be a next time.
I kissed my husband one last time before they wheeled him away once more. A nurse led me to the rest of our family. I answered probably half a dozen questions. Some they asked out loud, others I knew they were thinking about.
It was an excruciating three hours. Between watching the screen that told us his status and watching two little ones, it felt like time moved half as slow as it usually did. We walked around for a bit and ate some food. It wasn’t satisfying but it helped curb the hunger. My body wasn’t used to staying awake for four hours before breakfast.
Eventually, someone in blue scrubs came and told us that everything was going smoothly. “He has strong veins,” he told us. They just needed to finish the last bit of the procedure.
He had to have an arteriovenous (AV) fistula created in his arm. They had to sew an artery and vein together so he could tolerate receiving dialysis through it multiple times a week.
At the moment, he had a port in his chest so he could receive dialysis three times a week. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, we woke up at 5am so he could visit a dialysis center. He was usually home sometime after 10am.
Dialysis wasn’t anything fun, but I think the worst part was having tubing in his chest connected to his heart and jugular. We had to be very cautious so it didn’t get infected or pulled. He couldn’t lift like he used to. He couldn’t have the girls climb over him and he couldn’t lift them in the air or swing them around. We had to be careful every time we hugged him. He had to be careful when he bathed. He couldn’t use hot tubs, pools, or go swimming. He wasn’t even supposed to shower, but what he did was cover the access site with plastic and tape it all the way around.
The upside to the surgery meant in a few months, when it was “matured,” he could use that for dialysis and the catheter could get taken out of his chest. He would still need his blood cleaned multiple times a week, but it meant he would get some freedom back. He could finally turn his head all the way around. He could play rough with his little ones. He could shower without having to spend time wrapping up so he didn’t get an infection.
After the surgery, things wouldn’t be back to normal, but they would be better than they were. Recently, we’ve been praying for that a lot: better days ahead.
When the procedure finally concluded, we spoke to the doctor. They made three cuts in his vein so they could connect it to after. He said everything went well. No lifting, no blood pressure cuffs, nothing in his left arm anymore, but soon he could do a lot of the things he missed. It was just a matter of time.
At last, we were allowed to see him after the surgery. He was still groggy. He was given anesthesia and they knocked him out, but he looked like he hasn’t slept in days. His eyes were red and puffy. His hair, usually combed, was unkempt. I think the girls were both happy to see their daddy and a bit scared because they knew something was off.
We gathered all of our things and followed the nurse that wheeled him into the recovery room. It was a decent size, but it felt so tiny with so many people in it. Apollo’s arms had raised incisions running down it. I always loved touching his forearms, but there was black marker from the surgery. The long cuts were burned shut. You could see a strip of hair they shaved off before hand. There were yellow and orange hues here and there from where they cleaned his skin. In nature, many poisonous animals were brightly colored so predators would stay away. The orange on his skin felt like a warning not to get too close.
My mother-in-law was texting on her phone. It was rare to see her so attached to it. She was giving details of the surgery, no doubt. My father-in-law was wrestling with our oldest, trying to keep her at bay while he fought the urge to nod off. My baby, nearly one, didn’t like being cooped up. She hated car seats and high chairs, and she didn’t like the room we were in. It felt claustrophobic with all of us in it, and I’m sure having unfamiliar nurses pop in and out didn’t help. I spent a lot of time in the hallway with her. She just wanted to walk, to move around unrestricted. I loved seeing the staff light up as they saw her, but I wished I could have just sat beside my husband, holding his hand.
We were in the recovery room for two hours. Before the surgery, my husband mentioned wanting to go to San Chez, one of our favorite restaurants downtown. Afterwards, he just wanted to get home. I wanted to be home, too. I wanted to get away from the artificial lighting and sterile looking environment, away from beeping machines and tired people being wheeled to and fro in hospital beds. My brain had been pounding all morning. It felt like someone had smashed my temple with a baseball bat, but I didn’t complain. It was nothing compared to what my husband had to deal with.
A nurse read us his discharge instructions. After being in the hospital a handful of times, I felt like I knew what she was going to say before she said it: no driving for 24 hours, no strenuous activity, no lotions, perfumes, or moisturizer on the incisions.
A friendly staff member waited with a wheelchair until she was finished. He helped lead us back to our hotel room. It was attached to the hospital, so we didn’t have to worry about bearing the December chill or getting the girls in the vehicle. On days like that, you become more aware of those small blessings. We thanked him and said goodbye.
We packed up our things and prepared to head out. I tried feeding the baby before we took off. I could hear my husband heaving over the sound of running water. Nausea: very common side effect of anesthesia, very unpleasant to go through first or second-hand. My mother-in-law was saying something to him in a low voice. I looked down at the baby who was falling asleep in my arms. She had been up for almost seven hours.
My husband gingerly sat in a corner chair while we tried to finish packing. His mother told him he needed food in his stomach. He tried to eat, but nothing stayed down. He said he wasn’t tired, but I knew the rest of us were. By the time we finished packing, our things were ready to go but we were all ready to be home. At one point, I told Apollo I wished I could just teleport us home.
We packed up our belongings and got the children in the trucks. I wasn’t used to driving in a big, busy city. I felt nervous jumping in the driver’s seat of my husband’s big truck. I told my father-in-law I would follow him. I said a silent prayer before we took off.
We were taking roads that were becoming more and more familiar. I recognized the area we were in. We passed the art school I wanted to go to. We once attended a concert nearby. There was a bar with old-school arcade games I always talk about wanting to visit. Our favorite restaurant was close.
“San Chez?” I joked. Apollo smiled weakly at me. I knew he was in pain, but the smile was a good sign. Any other time and I knew the answer would have been yes.
By the time we made it home, it was almost 6pm. I remembered thinking that it felt like midnight. It was just getting dark and I was exhausted.
Usually, when we went on trips, my husband asked me to get the girls situated so he could unpack. He treated me like a princess and always carried our things in without being asked. When I offered to help, he usually declined.
Currently, he had a catheter on his right side and his left arm was in a sling. He wasn’t supposed to lift more than ten pounds. I grabbed our big bags so he wasn’t tempted to take them. Shouldering his usual burden gave me a new appreciation for all the things he usually did. I made a mental note to thank him more in the future.
After we got inside, my baby went to her usual spots and began causing trouble. My in-laws graciously offered to take our toddler for the night. My husband settled in his chair and turned on the TV. I could feel sleep calling my name. My husband told me to go to bed, but I refused. I made myself comfortable on the couch and piled a few blankets on me. My head was pounding, but I wanted to make sure I was close if anything happened. He insisted a few more times. Our baby wasn’t ready to go to sleep and she needed someone to help him supervise her. He insisted that I sleep in the bedroom a few more times before giving up. We were both stubborn. He kept an eye on our little one while I tried to sleep. I thanked God for letting everything go smoothly today and prayed for a good tomorrow. Things weren’t back to normal yet, but we were one step closer.
November 28, 2017
Hello, friends and family. For those that may not know, my husband, Apollo, has been experiencing renal failure since August of this year. He has one good kidney functioning at 6% and, for the last month, has been going to a dialysis center to have his blood filtered three times a week for about four hours at a time. We have spent a lot of time in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals recently. He is currently on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. We’re hoping someone we know can be a compatible match to speed up the time it would otherwise take to get one. ❤️ We’re thankful we’ve made it this far and we are eagerly looking forward to the day our lives can get back to “normal.”