Lori Matthews had heard it once before: the unmistakable sound of a mother who had just lost her baby.
“I’ve heard the wailing sound one time and knew immediately what it was. I knew because that sound was now coming out of me,” recalled Matthews, the day her six-month-old son became limp in her arms.
Born 12 weeks too soon, Ridge was home for just a couple months when he stopped breathing and started turning blue.
Ridge was taken to the Toledo Children’s Hospital where he was stabilized then put on cooling therapy to bring down the temperature of his brain. Ridge began retaining a lot of fluid while on the therapy and had to be airlifted to Mott’s Children’s Health Center where he would begin dialysis.
It was then that doctors discovered Ridge’s problem. He had polycystic kidney disease, a recessive disorder where cysts form in the kidneys, causing them to become enlarged.
On August 16, 2010, both of Ridge’s kidneys were removed, but that wasn’t the end of his troubles. During the surgery, Ridge lost circulation to his left leg and it had to be amputated below the knee.
Since then, the Matthews family has lived in a world of tubes, trachs, ventilators and dialysis machines. They’ve made countless emergency hospital visits and have gone from near hopelessness to witnessing miracles.
One such miracle occurred January 25, 2011, the day Lori donated a kidney to Ridge, the younger of her two sons (Riley, age 3). For the Suttons Bay native, it was the beginning of a new life for her son.
LIFE IN THE HOSPITAL
“Ridge has been admitted at least 16 times (one of those times being for 145 days) for at least 280 days in the last two years, so still about 1/3 of his life has been in the hospital, no wonder he is always looking for the nurses button at home :)” –April 24 update on the RidgeARoo CarePage website.
Since the moment they knew Ridge would need a kidney transplant, Lori and Brian knew they were the first choices.
“Both of us were matches, but Brian would be the first choice since I work fulltime at the moment,” said the elementary/ middle school teacher. “But because Brian is likely to produce kidney stones, I was the next best choice.”
While it was a change in plans, it didn’t change Lori’s mind.
“I’ve seen my baby hurt enough. I’ll take my turn,” she said.
Ridge’s life has been spent in and out of hospitals. From a drop in blood pressure and low oxygen levels to infections and inflammation, Ridge’s health has always been a balancing act between decline and improvement.
“He has our double bedroom if that says anything,” Lori notes of the years of medical equipment that has accrued. “There were some days when he was first on the dialysis that we wondered if he was going to make it.”
Despite his numerous scares, Ridge has also proven to be a fighter and he surprises his doctors all the time.
“There are things (the doctors) cannot explain. We’ve had probably ten conversations minimum about them not knowing how he’s pulled through this,” Lori said. “We’ve seen a lot of miracles with Ridge and we know there’s a purpose for him.”
Ridge is also a pro when it comes to surgery.
“This kid flies through surgeries like no other,” Lori laughed. “We get worst-case scenarios all the time. It’s kind of his MO. But when it comes to surgery, he’s in and out.”
The transplant proved to be just the same. In fact, Lori was the one who struggled the most.
“The last thing I remember was going into the operating room and my anesthesiologist standing over me saying, ‘She’s a redhead. Make sure you medicate her more,’” Lori recalled. “When I woke up, I hurt so bad I thought I was dying.”
When the nurse asked her to evaluate the pain on a scale of one to ten, Lori made her answer clear.
“I screamed, ‘Ten! Ten!’ Once they got that under control, I learned that Ridge had just come out of surgery and everything went well,” she explained.
The surgery has allowed Ridge to grow healthier and stronger. It’s something every parent hopes for their child, and Lori is no exception.
“He’s taken his happiness and playfulness to a whole new level. He’s always smiling and just wants to play,” she said. “If he’s just sitting there not doing anything, that’s when we start to wonder if there’s something wrong. It’s a nice change.”
Ridge has started crawling up stairs, using his head to brace himself before getting his right leg up.
“He doesn’t know his (left) leg isn’t there. Brian and I just love watching him.”
Another miracle happened the day Lori heard her son cry again, something she hadn’t heard in over a year and a half.
“When he was on the ventilator, he’d have tears coming down his cheeks but there was no sound coming out because of the ventilator,” Lori recalled, a tinge of hurt in her voice. “The first time I heard his cry again, it was so beautiful. Now we let him get a couple of squawks in before we soothe him because it’s so good just to hear his voice again.”
Now completely independent of the ventilator, Ridge should have his tracheotomy tube removed sometime later this year.
With Lori’s gift to her son, she said she looks forward to leaving behind Ridge’s medical equipment dependence for a summer of learning, which includes walking and something every mother looks forward to:
“I’ve been trying to teach him and I think he’s getting pretty close now to saying the word, ‘Mama.’”
To learn more about Ridge and Lori’s journey, visit carepages.com and search ‘Ridge Matthews’ (you need an email to register).