Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mailia's 2nd Adult Stem Cell Transplant to Regenocytes Clinic in the Dominican Republic a Huge Success

We made great time, arriving at the Miami International airport with 3 hours to spare after leaving the beautiful Marriot Marco Island Resort at 5 in the morning. Max ditched Mailia and I at the curb where a wonderful porter helped us inside the terminal to get checked in while Max went to park our rental car for the week and raced back to find us.
Once checked in for our noon flight to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic we made our way through security, the TSA folks all over Mailia…her wheel chair, portable oxygen and her cooler full of her important necessities, not to mention her pretend “stuffed” service dog….but mostly, her smile and sweet demeanor afforded her being delicately searched by the woman TSA agent who was very kind and congenial towards Mailia. 
Our handicap assistant with American Airlines took care of Mailia, pushing her wheelchair and ushering us through the terminal through a maze of elevators and trains, to get to our boarding gate without much stress.  What a blessing that was, for it had been a year since our last trip and both Max and I had slept since then and most likely would have had an interesting outcome given our own devices on directions.

We found a little French coffee shop close to our gate as we were exhausted and hungry.  I got Mailia a mocha and some pastries and Max and I some coffee.  Max did not like the taste of his coffee so he opted to get a slice of pizza to wash away the taste he said.

We charged up our cell phones and Mailia’s laptop while waiting to be boarded and made the last few phone calls we would allow ourselves, as international calls can get rather expensive even with their plans while traveling abroad.  We figured…we would have internet access at our hotel, and would communicate that way.

Boarding was a breeze, we had a wonderful flight attendant with American Airlines who had pre boarded us and got Mailia settled in with her in flight oxygen this time.  We cranked the tank up to 6 liters per minute and Mailia was set to go.  While in flight, our attendant “Anne” came and mentioned that she had a first class passenger that declined his meal and wanted to know if Mailia would like to have it for lunch.  Mailia wasted no time in accepting this incredible gift…a tray with Ravioli, salad, bread rolls and cheese cake.

Such a generous and kind gesture, all throughout our flight, Anna always checking in on Mailia and bringing her oxygen refills as needed. I wish I had got a picture of the two together.

Throughout our flight south to the Dominican…Mailia took many pictures of the Caribbean’s gorgeous blue green waters and islands, but when we finally arrived over the north part of the Dominican Republic, Mailia got her camera ready and positioned herself to take pictures of any and all baseball parks she could see on our approach into Santo Domingo.
  You see…baseball has always been and always will be one of Mailia’s favorite pastimes.  She has such a driven passion and enthusiasm for the game.  The players who come from the Dominican Republic every year to many of the minor league baseball stadiums throughout the U.S. are all very talented and come from these very humble beginnings.

Mailia snapped some pictures of one very primitive field pictured here on the outskirts of one small community that resembled a camp. When we zoomed in on the photo…we could actually see players playing or practicing that afternoon.  This is where is starts for them…or in neighborhoods with children hitting rocks with make shift sticks used as bats.

This is similar to Albert Pujols story…who’s family was “dirt poor” and lived in a community like the one pictured here. Despite his meager surroundings, Albert grew up happy and well adjusted.  He has become one of the most respected and successful players in Baseball today.
Mailia also captured this amazing baseball complex closer to Santo Domingo, a FIVE-plexer!

When we arrived and taxied at the airport, we waited for folks to disembark and gathered up all our belongings and hooked Mailia up to her portable oxygen concentrator and found her wheelchair waiting.  Our porter in the DR…met us at the gate and accompanied us to customs and baggage where we finally met up with Yanely Acosta…our beautiful liaison with Regenocyte who would be our near constant companion for the next several days during our stay in the Dominican Republic.

Yanely had a nice suv this time, and quickly got us going and headed into town to get us checked in to our hotel.  While in route…Mailia asked Yanely if they celebrated Halloween in the DR…as today we realized was October 30th and Mailia wanted to see some action…!  Yanely said no…that unfortunately they did not have any recognition or celebration of Halloween…and right as she said that, we noticed as we were abruptly stopped by a police man at an intersection, there was a huge procession or parade coming towards us.

We heard Yanely converse with the policeman in Spanish…and she told us well….looks like we will have to wait here for a little bit.  This procession with take awhile since there is a visiting Cardinal here this week and today is his birthday and all the pilgrims in the city are celebrating….so to answer your question Mailia…yes, here is your Halloween sweetie!~  It is going to be just like Carnival so get your camera ready! Whooo-hooo!

Max and I were in tears laughing at her inside joke…but Mailia, bless her heart…was so excited and happy that again…God and the universe presented her with another amazing gift.

We finally arrived at our hotel…the Intercontinental this time opting to give it a try, since we did not have the “real” SteelDust, Mailia’s little service dog that required our staying at the Hilton the prior year, the only place in the entire DR that accepted service dogs. Mailia was thrilled with the Intercontinental having plasma tv’s so she could use her wii to play her animal crossing and endless ocean games.

After we got checked in and settled into our suite…we were pretty hungry by that time and opted to eat at the hotel restaurant. Our dinner that first night…was unforgettable. Mailia celebrated by dressing in her Baseball themed costume, decked out with Le Freaks No.55 jersey and championship cap.  Sorry Cory…your 55 got left at home this time.
Mailia had a wonderful shrimp cocktail salad and main course.

Max had a beautiful shrimp dish as well…and a potato like soup that is native to the DR.

My shrimp and papaya salad was divine…as the beef tenderloins cooked to perfection.

During our entire stay in the DR, we would only eat at the hotel restaurant to make sure we stayed clear of giardia or food poisoning and stuck strictly to bottled water. The staff at the restaurant was so very nice and helpful…making a point to learn about our visit to the DR for Mailia’s Adult Stem Cell procedure and to offer prayers and support in every way.  They are so very friendly in the DR…we so believe, you will get out of it…what you put into it. And everyday…we made it a point to be so very grateful and thankful to everyone there.

The following day Monday…was our free day and after breakfast, we met Yanely in the lobby who was poised to take Mailia to the oldest church in the America’s founded by Christopher Columbus, once again…to pray for her successful transplant tomorrow.

Unfortunately…as we got ready to park next to the church, we were told by security guards that the visiting Cardinal was conducting a very special mass…and that the church was closed to the public that day.
So we left hoping to come back another time and I asked Yanely if we could possibly drive by a Baseball stadium to see about getting Mailia and her dad…a cap and souvenirs.  Our personal chaufer and tour guide Yanely…drove us all over the city and when I saw this sign at a local gas station…I really untruly got a sense of gratitude for our fuel prices back in the states.  In the Dominican, it takes $37 pesos converted to be about $1 US dollar. You can do the math. It is very difficult for most people living here when fuel prices are so very high.

After the sticker shock, we came around a corner and found a street vendor in front of the ball park selling her wares.  This is where Yanely came in…to help with the bartering as Max and Mailia looked through a gazillion caps.  One of the home favorite teams in Santo Domingo are the Aguilas Cibaeñas the Dominican equivalent to the NY Yankees. Mailia got the only cap with the AC logo embroidered on the front and a beautiful photo of a bald eagle head and the flag of the Dominican Republic.  This cap…would not leave her head for the remainder of our entire trip.

Not satisfied with a street vendor even after our wonderful booty…Yanely decided to drive around the front entrance of the ball Park and into the main parking lot where we were met by several security guards, some dressed in plain clothes and others in military fatigues.
She asked them if there was a possibility that Mailia could take a peek at their park…as it was an day off for any games and the guards told Yanely…in Mailia’s case, that yes…they would make this exception but told us that there were many stairs to climb. A no win situation for Mailia.  They offered to carry her in her wheelchair up the steep climb but we declined.  Yanely asked them if there was another location that would be easier for Mailia to gain access and they pointed to the rear of the ball park but would need to accompany us.

So with full security escort, even with their shot guns in tow…we drove around back and parked right next to a large gate/portal where Mailia could get out and watch some professional batting practice going on right before her.

One of the players after seeing us and Mailia…decided to pop one right to her in right field.  Talk about rejoicing!
One of the security guards also found another ball behind a batting cage and gave it to Mailia.
This was the first Pro baseball park Mailia has ever set foot in.  We knew…just like the dolphin encounter she had in Florida with Winter and Panama…this would afford her such happiness and healing.
As we loaded her up, we took this snap shot of a unique billboard they have in this park, that has what looks to be people or fans sitting way up on top of it.  Amazing.

We got escorted back to the park’s entrance and we thanked and tipped out guides profusely…hoping that maybe someday, Mailia will be able to attend a real live game here.
On our way back to the Intercontinental, Yanely pointed out this truck she was following and started laughing as she had never run across such a thing.  A mobile billboard of a wedding business hauling a real live wedding cake in the back of this pickup truck.  Only in the D.R.!

Back to our room to rest and have an early dinner, for Mailia was told to eat light and get plenty of rest for her procedure the next day.  Yanely told us that she would be picking us up at 11:00 a.m. to take us to the hospital and then be off to the airport to pick up Regenocyte’s courier coming in from Israel with Mailia’s new stem cells…and later, fetching both Dr. Grekos and Greg Finley from Regenocyte who would be flying in for Mailia’s procedure on another flight. Those are the stressful and busy days for Yanely…coordinating patient, courier and doctor pickups and deliveries amongst other duties in such a busy and bustling city.  She is an incredible woman and beautiful dear soul. God we love her!

We gathered for breakfast the following morning, Mailia could not have anything after 9:00 am so she was not very hungry…mostly anxious and excited but managed a few bites of fruit and pastries. Yanely met us for breakfast and coffee and then, said goodbye to all the wonderful staff and headed for the hospital.
I gave Yanely all of Mailia’s medical records to give to the doctor who would be in charge of admitting Mailia and staying with her THE ENTIRE TIME while she was in their care.  Dr. Karina Fernandez pictured here with Mailia and pretend SteelDust.
We got introduced to the new cath labs recovery room that had recently been remodeled by the hospital (Centro Cardiovascular Dominicano) and it looked like Mailia was scheduled to be the only patient there that day.
Dr. Karina had us wheel Mailia over to radiology to get a chest x-ray and after getting back to her room, we got Mailia settled in and changed into her wonderful hospital gown…she still, was not about to give up her baseball cap.  The nurses came in and prepped her for an I.V. and got her hooked up to all the monitors.
Then…Mailia’s doctors started to arrive one by one.  Dr. Roberto Fernandez De Castro and Dr. Hector Rosario Figueroa, both Interventional Cardiologists and right behind them, Dr. Zannos Grekos and our anesthesiologist with cell phone in tow…Victor. 
It was about 2:30 and after our greetings we went about our ways to find our surgical scrubs to change and ready ourselves for Mailia’s second…adult stem cell transplant.
Back in the room, we took time to joke around with Mailia and lighten things up…with some photos and pranks lovingly provided by her adopted uncles…Greg Finley and Dr. Grekos. Yanely also joined us for a bit and then…they came to get Mailia to roll her into the Cath lab.

I was a little miffed at Victor as he managed to pick and snag my favorite purple scrubs unlike last time.  Beggars should not be choosers I guess. The cath lab was fluttering with activity…Spanish, English…and even Spanglish with everyone there…taking their orders from Dr. Fernandez who so eloquently choreographed this miracle in the making.
Mailia was a little apprehensive about the anesthesia and being unconscious this time.  She started to become so adamant about staying awake for this procedure.  With the stem cell delivery this time being different from the last…it was imperative that she remain still and knocked out so there would be no complications.

Victor did his magic and kept a watch on her vitals and oxygen.  I stayed on Mailia’s port side and held her hand and spoke to her throughout the procedure, at times…restraining her involuntary movements.

Dr. Rosario….who was at the helm driving these catheters in place, did a phenomenal job this time and with every injection of stem cells inflated a balloon to hold the stem cells in place, for three minutes at a time. 
During this three minute interval…both men would back away from the table, sit down and watch the monitors with their arms crossed as seen here. This was the only way I could tell, when they would be done with each branch.  There would be three to the left lung…and three to the right lung.
Max congregated with the rest of the crew in the cath lab’s observation and monitoring room. He and Greg were in charge of photographing and videotaping for procedural documentation of Mailia’s stem cell transplant.
Approximately 50 minutes after they started, Mailia’s last stem cell delivery was completed. I could not believe how quickly and smoothly it went this time unlike the two hours it took during her first stem cell transplant.
Dr. Grekos pointed out…she is a different person now.  She is able to tolerate the invasiveness because she has gotten stronger.
They held pressure on her femoral artery and Victor worked to get her back to full consciousness. I went and grabbed some bandaging I had brought with me from Regenocyte’s clinic in Florida and gave it to our nurse to use on Mailia.
When we got our precious Mailia back to her recovery room, she was not a happy camper as seen here compared to her before pictures earlier. She was still so very groggy and a bit uncomfortable which was to be expected.
After visiting with the doctors, Max and I thanked everyone so very much knowing that this second treatment for Mailia, was truly going to help make a difference in her overall pressures and lung vasculature healing.
Dr. Grekos told me that Mailia needed to stay the night in the hospital as it was already 5 p.m. and to make arrangements with Yanely to come fetch Mailia and I in the morning. Max would go back to our hotel with Greg and Dr. Grekos and enjoy dinner and a nice relaxing evening before they would fly back to Florida tomorrow afternoon.
Dr. Karina helped me get Mailia all taken care of while later that evening, we would wait for Yanely to bring Mailia pizza from Pizza Hut for dinner.  Mailia ate half the pizza all by herself…she was famished! We watched a couple of movies on her laptop and when Dr. Karina came back into the room to stay with us, she helped me push one of the beds closer to Mailia’s and with all the pillows and blankets we could muster, she too…settled in with us for the night. Just like an old time “slumber party”…as it should be.  I was so humbled and grateful that night…counting our blessings and so very proud of Mailia and her incredible strength and courage to have endured such an amazing journey thus far.
At 4 a.m. as promised, Dr. Karina awoke us both and we got the nurses in to take Mailia’s I.V. out so she could gimp over to the restroom and get dressed and ready to head back to our hotel. Yanely was there at 5 a.m. like clockwork, and got us all loaded and headed back to the hotel.
What a blessed morning that was to be…not a lot of traffic on the roads. Back at the Intercontinental…I was dying for a cup of café con leche so went down to the restaurant and fetched my lifesaver before they opened. Everyone asking…how is Mailia with their beautiful smiles.
By 9 a.m. Max, Mailia and I ventured down to the restaurant to meet Dr. Grekos and Greg for breakfast and a quick goodbye. 

We discussed the procedure and what our expectations were. We told them we would fly out tomorrow Nov.3 back to Miami then head north to West Palm Beach for Mailia’s appointment the next day with heart surgeon Dr. Michael Black.  After our visit with him, we would then be returning back to Bonita Springs to rest Mailia and catch up with them for a few days.

After our goodbyes, we took Mailia back to the room to rest and relax where she played on her wii and I got busy with packing and cleaning.  Yanely kept checking in with us and wanted to see if Mailia would be interested in attending a baseball game that evening since the Aguilas were back home again and it was destined to be a great game.  Yanely’s boyfriend had been given tickets to a whole front row behind home plate. We sadly declined, as it looked like a monsoon had positioned itself in the west and we did not want to put Mailia in jeopardy so we opted to stay at the hotel…and just have a nice last supper and watch the game from the comfort of our room on the TV.
Upon finishing dinner we said our goodbyes and thanked everyone dearly for their wonderful help and service to us and Mailia.  We decided to take Mailia out back of the hotel by the pool to see where they had set up earlier in the day, an area where they were going to have a traditional folklore event about the traditions of the Dominican Republic.

A band of musicians set up playing beautiful meringue and calypso music and dancers came out in droves…leaving only a short while to go change costumes.  Mailia was thrilled to see them and enjoyed this so very much.  I told her that this was for her benefit to remember the gracious and beautiful people of this country and all they have offered her in her incredible journey to becoming healed.  They too, are part of her miracle.

I pray we will be back to visit this beautiful place someday, if not for another round of stem cells then maybe to give back in some way. We also wish to thank everyone who has patiently waited for this late and heartfelt update, one we could not have accomplished without the help, support and prayers from our wonderful team of doctors & staff, family and friends, of Mailia’s Miracle.
But most of all…we wish to thank and acknowledge our beautiful daughter Mailia for making us the people we are today. We are truly honored and grateful…she has chosen us to be a part of this great miracle and part of her incredible "Dream Team".
We love you Mailia!~

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