Faith That Climbs Mountains

On Tuesday we received the difficult news regarding Keturah’s condition, which led to the decision that we will now be taking her to the US to seek medical help there.

That was a difficult night, I won’t say it wasn’t. There was one point in the night when I was crying out to the Lord (quite literally!) and just asking him to come with us and be very near and clear in directing our steps, and right then, as I was praying, I felt a clearing in the fog of my mind and God’s gave me such a beautiful and comforting vision. 

In the vision, I was standing in front of a very tall mountain. Then, I heard God say to me, “You are asking me to move the mountain, but this is a mountain needs to be climbed”.

Then, I saw Jesus appear beside me, and Sammy and the kids were there as well.

Then, Jesus touched me and gave me a renewed sense of peace and courage. And after that, he picked up Keturah in his arms and then took my hand, and all of us, together, hand-in-hand, started to climb the mountain.

As we climbed, I noticed that Jesus was hardly even looking at the path ahead. He was so familiar with this path that he didn’t need to pay much attention to where we were going; mostly he was looking back at us, reaching out his hand to help us over the difficult places.

That was the vision I saw on Tuesday, which came with such clear pictures in my mind that have been staying with me ever since.

Then, yesterday, was another difficult day, when we discovered that Keturah’s hemoglobin levels had dropped 2 points since the transfusion on Tuesday.

When she was transfused the first time, her levels were dropping at a speed of about 2 points in 1 week, so to now have them drop 2 points in less than 2 days was rather frightening.

We have been very fortunate, though, and have been really seeing God’s hand at work in mighty ways here!

The hospital where Keturah is at right now has been amazing! And the pediatrician who was overseeing Keturah’s case brought in another pediatrician who has actually worked with patients who have had similar symptoms and equally critical conditions as Keturah, so she has been the one calling the shots now and bringing in some really highly qualified specialists to help.

Yesterday they were able to do another blood transfusion, but this time they did the extra work of switching her over from the O+ blood she had been receiving to now using A+ blood in the transfusion since that is her actual blood type and they have high hopes that a closer blood match might help her body not to fight the same way.

Also yesterday, a highly reputable pathologist came to the hospital and performed a bone marrow biopsy, specifically looking for leukemia, but also looking for very specific bacterial, viral, or fungal infections that are known to cause these types of issues.

In order to be very thorough (and also hoping to get results as soon as possible), Keturah’s bone marrow samples were sent to two different laboratories. One of the laboratories is actually owned by the husband of the pediatrician, who, knowing about Keturah’s case at a more personal level, poured over her samples himself, putting in a lot of hours and working over-time to try and get us some answers as soon as possible.

Yesterday evening, while washing dishes, I saw another encouraging vision from the Lord. It was a continuation of the last vision. This time, I saw us all standing at the very top of the mountain and looking down at valley below. And in the vision, Keturah turned to me and said, “Mommy, look! You can see everything from up here! It’s all so clear!”

In that moment I just found myself thinking and praying: “Wow God! That climb was shorter than I expected. Does this mean the technician has found something? Does this mean we finally have a diagnosis and can know what is happening to our little girl? I know we still have a long, difficult road ahead of us as we still have to climb down the other side of this mountain, and I know full well that the valley can be a really dark and difficult place to be as well, but thank you! Thank you that you have just been so near and so evident, and helping us along, each and every step of the way. Please continue to go with us – before and behind – just leading the way for us!”

Well, today, we were presented with a diagnosis — Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

Also today, we were able to get our Covid tests in preparation to travel.

We have our tickets for traveling tomorrow (Saturday) night. My parents are prepared to pick us up at the airport when we arrive late Sunday night. Our final destination is the Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD. Keturah has already been assigned a private pediatrician there, and Keturah’s health records and lab results have already been sent on ahead so that they are ready to receive us when we arrive.

Yesterday, when we found out that Keturah’s hemoglobin levels were falling very rapidly it was difficult for us to know whether or not she would even be able to make the trip. But the doctor’s were able to successfully switch her over to A+ blood, and the blood transfusion she got yesterday has really done a lot to improve her condition. Today when they tested her hemoglobin levels, they were way up at 12.3 g/dl (finally actually in the “normal” range for her age again, instead of always being low). Tomorrow morning they will test her hemoglobin levels again so that we can know at what rate her numbers are falling, and that will help us know whether or not she will need another transfusion yet before we travel, as well as giving us an idea of how long we can expect her to go (and how far we can expect to travel with her) before she would get to the point of possibly needing another transfusion.

Please, PLEASE pray that her levels will only be having a very slow, gradual decline! If her numbers could be more stable and gradual it would definitely give us more confidence in traveling with her.

As for how Keturah is doing over all, she has actually been doing far better than any of us could ever hope or imagine, especially considering all that is going on inside her little body.

Everyone who sees her is just amazed! When you enter her hospital room she is there sitting up in bed, greeting everyone with a smile, writing letters and drawing pictures to her brothers or other friends and people who have been helping her. Or sitting there watching TV or playing with toys. Her levels of pain have been very low, which we are thankful for, and while she is feels the need to tell everyone each and every location where she has been poked with needles the past few days, she has even been able to talk about that experience with a smile and an amazing degree of courage and optimism.

She’s certainly a trooper!

And God has really been amazing! He has really been close to us and just going ahead of us and opening doors and bringing just the right people into our lives at just the right times. He has seen to it that every need we have has been met — and often times even before we ask or realize the need.

I wish I had time to go into all of those details, because what God has been doing for us through the body of Christ, His church, has been absolutely amazing! And most of you who are reading this have been a huge part of that!

So thank you!

I probably won’t get another chance to write until we are back on US soil and have Keturah set up in the Children’s Hospital, but I know that you will be praying for us as we make this trip, and continuing to pray for God’s protection and healing over Keturah and the rest of our family as well.

We trust that God has been leading and directing and watching over each of us, and that He will continue to do so in such amazing ways that when we finally make it down this mountain and through whatever valley lies ahead for us, we will come out of this journey with great testimonies of God’s faithfulness and almighty power. And that is what we want more than anything — for God to use this situation to glorify and magnify His name!

To God be the glory!

God — a very present help in trouble!

God never promised that life would be easy. (Quite the contrary, really!). But He HAS promised to be with us – a “very present help in trouble”!

Our family has been reminded of this at a very deep and personal level this past month, especially with the recent health struggles we have been facing with our 6-year-old daughter, Keturah.

It has really been just a little over one month since I first noticed that Keturah’s skin color had become extremely pale and anemic, and exactly 3 weeks now (to the day!) since Keturah had her first frightening attack of head pain and a very rapidly spreading ascending paralysis.

Those of you who have been receiving our email updates already know that on April 27 we rushed Keturah to the hospital because she was experiencing very severe pain in her forehead and an almost complete loss of muscle control that started in her legs and very quickly spread to almost every part of her body.

When tests were run, the lab results showed that her hemoglobin levels had dropped to 3 g/dl. She was given an emergency blood transfusion and we praise God that shortly after the transfusion Keturah regained all of her muscle control and made an incredible comeback.

The next morning she had pretty normal energy levels again and was sitting up, talking lots, and even wanting to play, draw pictures, and get out of bed to walk around the hospital room. And yet, none of the tests that were conducted gave any indication of what could have caused such a sudden and severe drop in her hemoglobin levels or such a sudden and severe loss of muscle control.

Her second day in hospital did not reveal any new information, but she was a lot more tired again that day, and had obvious decline in her health again.

It was right at the time when we were discussing the options of medevacking Keturah, when we received word that the SIL bush plane would be arriving in Banyo to drop off passengers and would then be continuing on to Yaounde, the capital city.

It is not very often that a plane comes to Banyo at all, and the fact that it was coming on the very day we were needing just felt like more than coincidence; we really saw this as a provision from God and a clear sign that we needed to reserve places on that flight and take Keturah to Yaounde.

There would not be enough seats on the plane to carry the entire family, so it was decided that I (Kelsey), along with baby Steven, would accompany Keturah on the flight to Yaounde and that Sammy, Caleb, and Timothy, would follow in a couple days, making the trip by road.

That night, Keturah had another sudden attack of head pain and the beginnings of the paralysis. The hospital there in Banyo does not have a blood bank, but we had a couple volunteers on standby who were willing and waiting to donate blood for her, so they were called and began the screening process in preparation for a blood transfusion.

Not knowing how long it would take before the transfusion was ready, but knowing that a lack of hemoglobin was the problem, I gave Keturah the only things I knew to give her – some chlorophyll (which can immitate the functions of hemoglobin) and some guava juice (which has a story of it’s own of how God had us stumble on this as an amazing remedy for Keturah’s head pain).

The screening process took a lot longer than expected, and in the end both of the volunteers ended up failing the screening process and were unable to donate blood for her. But, as it turned out, Keturah ended up not needing the blood transfusion, because she responded really well to the chlorophyll and guava juice (better than we could ever have imagined!); her pain went away and she regained full muscle control and even had normal levels of energy again (in fact, it was really hard to get her to go to sleep that night because she was so energetic and talk-a-tive).

The next day (Friday, April 30), the bush plane arrived and carried Keturah, Steven, and I to Yaounde.

A friend of ours was there to meet us when we arrived in Yaounde, and she accompanied us to the hospital and stayed with us, day and night, helping us out.

When we arrived at the hospital, however, we had a very difficult time getting anyone to believe us that Keturah was sick. She didn’t look or act sick beyond the fact that she was tired. But then, it was late at night, and we had just traveled a great distance, so even her tired state didn’t seem unusual in the least.

The doctor who received us in the emergency room did a thorough consultation and examination and ordered a bunch of blood tests. We literally had 6 long hours of testing and consulting, but when all the tests came back negative, we were basically shown to a private room and were pretty much forgotten for that entire weekend. For all of Saturday and Sunday no one came to see Keturah or check on her except for an occasional nurse coming to ask me if I’d noticed Keturah having a fever at all.

Even to get her IV changed out when it was empty was a challenge because the hospital was short staffed that weekend and we had to be the ones to go out and track down someone who could replace her IV fluids.

Plus, the doctor that was there over the weekend was just a “volunteer” doctor who was not being paid anything to be there, so she didn’t even bother to come and see Keturah or check on her at all.

Needless to say, it was a very frustrating and anxious weekend, and it certainly didn’t help that my purse ended up getting stolen out of our hospital room as well. But even in spite of it all, the entire weekend long (even amidst all the frustrations and anxieties) I just felt like God was right there beside us, assuring us that it was HIM who had sent us to this exact location, at this exact time, and that we needed to only wait and trust Him.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13)

So we did!

And while we were there, passing time in our hospital room, God was at work. I’m sure He was working in even more ways than I could see, but in hindsight I can really see that the long weekend of waiting was actually really good for us.

Keturah had been through so much when we first arrived that she had been close to being traumatized and really benefited from having a couple days without anyone poking or prodding her. And having some time on my hands gave me the opportunity to really step back and re-evaluate the situation and do an extensive amount of research on the subject, in addition to being able to send out frequent prayer updates to our amazing support base and even connect with some incredible doctors and specialists who looked over all her lab tests and doctors’ reports and were able to consult and brainstorm with us over the phone and internet.

Also that weekend, there were some interesting “developments” to Keturah’s case when on Saturday (May 1) Caleb had a sudden attack of extreme exhaustion, sudden and severe forehead pain, and ascending paralysis – but no anemia.

Not having any chlorophyll on hand there in Banyo, but knowing that guava juice had been the only other thing that had worked to revive Keturah, Sammy gave Caleb some guava juice and rushed him to the hospital. They weren’t at the hospital very long before Caleb recovered; he came back from an almost “passed out” state, regained control of his muscles, and was so energetic again that he was even entertaining the staff with jokes and dance moves.

Later that same night, Timothy (2 years old) complained of severe forehead pain as well. Fortunately, he never developed any paralysis like the other two, but knowing that the forehead pain was always the one thing that came before the paralysis, Sammy gave him the guava juice preventative, and sure enough, very soon after, the pain subsided.

The whole perspective of Keturah’s illness changed after the discovery that other family members were having similar symptoms. And when I heard that the guava juice had worked for the boys as well, I was suddenly reminded that just 1 month before all of this drama with Keturah I had been severely anemic, tired, weak, and having a lot of unexplained health issues. I had tried altering my diet and taking so many different supplements but (for whatever reason!) the only thing that made any difference at all was when I would drink guava juice. So we had actually purchased a whole case of guava juice to have on hand, and I was literally drinking a bottle a day, and if I happened to skip it one day I found I could hardly even function at all.

This is actually how we first discovered that guava juice worked for Keturah because I had been drinking my daily dose of guava juice when she casually asked if she could have a sip as well. All of that day she had been extremely weak and fatigued and really not interested in doing anything but just wanted to lay down and sleep most of the time, but moments after drinking the guava juice she perked up (much the way I did when I would have my “daily dose”) and to my surprise she went outside to play with her friends, ran around with her brothers, even chatted on the phone a long time with her grandmother. It was such a surprise to see her all of a sudden acting normal again and literally playing for 2 hours straight without tiring.

So, that’s our little “story” behind the discovery of guava juice as our mystery “still-don’t-know-why-it works-but-it-does” remedy.

But, to make a long story short, Sammy and the boys traveled and arrived safely in Yaounde. And by the time they arrived the long weekend was over and we were (finally) able to see the full-time doctor on staff at the hospital to consult with him and start conducting another series of tests.

I also continued to give Keturah regular rounds of chlorophyll and guava juice any time she complained of head pain, and by the time Sammy came to see us at the hospital on Tuesday (May 4) Keturah was doing a lot better and had gone a full 24 hours without needing an IV.

We finished one last test on Tuesday, and at that point the doctor basically said there wasn’t much else that could be done for her until test results came back, and since she wasn’t even needing an IV anymore at that point, he agreed to discharge her.

Since then, our family has been all together again, staying in a small apartment in a really nice mission compound. We have taken Keturah to see another doctor (as an out-patient) in order to get a second opinion, and we continue to consult with other doctors long-distance. We are also continuing to get various tests done in an effort to figure out what is going on with her, but, so far, all the tests we’ve done have all come back as being “normal” and “negative” with the occasional “inconclusive”.

Just today we received back more results from blood work and it showed that at the time of testing (which was last Wednesday) Keturah’s hemoglobin levels were back down to a 4.3 g/dl.

Granted, we had stopped giving her the chlorophyll for several hours leading up to the test because we wanted the test results to be as accurate as possible, and based on her symptoms and the defining “forehead pain” we’re certain her hemoglobin levels are higher than that now, but just seeing that on her test result (and seeing just how quickly her hemoglobin levels dropped when we took her off of the chlorophyll) really confirmed to us that whatever is ailing her is still attacking her hemoglobin quite seriously.

We still do not know what exactly is the cause of her symptoms, and I’ll admit, it’s really hard at times not to be anxious and worried about her. But God has really been with us and has given us incredible peace and has even allowed us to sense His constant presence and clear direction.

And we really do have so much to be thankful for and so much to praise God for! Even just the simple fact that Keturah has not had any need to be hospitalized at all for the last week and a half has been a huge blessing! She hasn’t been needing any IV’s or intensive care. She hasn’t experienced any further paralysis. And she has actually gone for 5 full days now without having any attacks of severe forehead pain, which is really quite amazing compared to how frequently she had been having it before.

For all of this we are just praising and thanking God!

In fact, for the most part, if you didn’t know anything about her story or her condition, you probably wouldn’t even know that she is sick. She’s up and about with normal levels of energy and going about her every day activities, playing outside with friends, only napping once a day, and just living life like a normal, healthy (though, very pale) child.

I don’t really know how to describe her current condition to anyone who isn’t able to physically see her for themselves. So far the different ways I’ve thought of to try and describe it either sound like we’re not taking her condition seriously enough or they sound like we’re being overly dramatic and paranoid in expecting the worst, but it really lands somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

Quite honestly, the way that I see her, is that I see a girl who is incredibly blessed and being supported and upheld by God in answer to the countless, earnest prayers that are being lifted up on her behalf.

I am convinced that if it were not for prayer and the mighty hand of God, that she would be a completely different picture right now. I am convinced that apart from God, she would be in the hospital in critical condition and very likely needing frequent blood transfusions. But, as it is, she is up and about, laughing and playing and enjoying life. She still needs to go in from time to time to conduction various tests, but all of them being as an “out-patient” who gets to come back home again when the testing is through.

So, yes, we are very blessed!

And yet, there are times when I look at her and can’t help but feel like we are holding a “ticking time bomb”. She is still obviously anemic and has very specific points of pain in her chest and abdomen. And although the pain in her forehead seems to be growing less frequent, the chest and abdomen pain seem to be starting to bother her more frequently than before.

Then, last night we had a bit of a scare when she started having pain in her leg and then later in her arm. She was also extra fatigued (which she hasn’t been in a long time) and the frightening part was that she didn’t respond to the chlorophyll and guava juice as quickly has she has in the past.

Fortunately, just that morning we had received a DHL box in the mail that contained various supplements and herbal remedies that were able to address these issue, and she recovered quite quickly after that. But just the fact that she was displaying different symptoms than usual and that she didn’t respond to the chlorophyll and guava juice the way she used to, was really concerning. If these new supplements had not done anything to help just then we would have, most likely, ended up in the hospital again tonight. But as it is, God (our very present help in trouble!) arranged for the package to arrive on the very day that we needed it, with just the right supplements to address this current issue. And really, the supplement that ended up helping her last night (lactoferrin) was really only included in this package in the first place because of God’s very clear and miraculous leading at the time when we were trying to determine what items to have sent out . . . . (but that will have to be a story for another time!).

Later this afternoon (Ha! I’m writing this at 3am, so it feels strange talking about “today” when it feels like it should read “tomorrow”) . . . . but, later today, we should receive the results of her MRI and (hopefully!) be able to pick up more blood test results. We’re also going to see if we can get an ultrasound of her chest done today in the hopes of finding out what is causing the pain in her chest area, especially since her recent chest x-ray came back as “inconclusive”.

Other blood samples were sent to Europe for testing, so we won’t be getting those results back until next week. But, depending on what shows up (or doesn’t show up) on the test results today, I anticipate that we are going to be needing to schedule a follow up appointment with her doctor and will likely have some more decisions to make regarding what steps to take next.

With this in mind, we would really appreciate your continued prayers, for wisdom, and guidance, and clear direction from the Lord.

And, if something could show up in any of the tests to help us know better what we are dealing with, we would really appreciate it! Or if the natural remedies and supplements that we just started giving her could really work, that would be amazing as well.

In whatever way God decides to lead, and whatever methods He decides to use for her healing, we give that all into His hands, praying that ultimately He would be glorified through it all.

Thank you so much for your continued prayer and support. I really wish we could respond to each and every one of you who has written us emails, and to thank each one of you, individually, who have reached out and helped us in so many different ways. God has been using you all to encourage us and to see that all of our needs have been met. God is so faithful! And we are so grateful, to Him, and to all of you who are helping us through this difficult time. Thank you!

May God richly bless you!