On Monday, November 17, 2014, our lives were turned upside down when my husband of 15 years, Todd Ponder, did not come home from work. He was found unconscious and was taken to The University of Arizona Medical Center, where he remained unconscious until the next morning. As he regained consciousness, hospital staff monitored for progress and became concerned when motor movement of the arms and legs did not return. An MRI done on Tuesday night found a massive stroke in the pons portion of the brainstem. There was also damage in the back portion of the cerebellum. The stroke was caused by an infarct in the basilar artery. Surgery to remove the blood clot was discussed; however, it was considered too risky due to the amount of time that had passed since the onset of the stroke. Hemorrhaging in the brain was very likely if surgery was attempted and sudden blood flow was restored to the damaged portion of the brain.
The damage in the pons portion of the brainstem has resulted in symptoms that are collectively called “Locked In Syndrome.” This is a very rare syndrome that affects 1% of stroke victims. Due to the low incidence of this type of stroke, there is limited research; however, classic symptoms of this type of stroke include paralysis of the arms and legs, as well as the inability to speak. Cognition or thinking ability stays intact, as does vertical eye movement. This means that my husband is aware of everything going on around him, but is unable to speak, eat, breathe on his own, or move. He can answer yes/no questions by moving his eyes up and down. The prognosis is not positive, with the biggest hope at this point being that my husband will hopefully regain lateral eye movement. Lateral eye movement will open a door to better communication options. There are computerized systems available that use cameras on the eyes to track eye movement in order for the person to make selections from a communication board.
My husband has been in the intensive care unit for two weeks now. During these two weeks, he has struggled with pneumonia, staph infection, and strep infection in the lungs. He has been on a ventilator and has a nasal feeding tube for nourishment. This has been a very trying time for my family and my heart breaks especially for our two children, ten-year-old Tayven and ten-month-old Paysen. We are not certain what the future holds, but we do know that our lives will never be the same. There is no longer any sense of normalcy. It tears me apart to hear our ten-year-old say he is depressed and sad because there are so many things he still wanted to do with his dad that he won’t be able to do now. It also breaks my heart when our son asks questions like, “Who will ride bikes with me?” or makes statements such as, “Dad will miss Paysen’s first Christmas.” We miss Todd in even the simplest of things – from driving Tayven to school, to keeping Paysen calm in church, to cutting Tayven’s toe nails.
We do know that our struggles emotionally and financially will be ongoing, as Todd will most likely never return to work. If rehab is an option, it will possibly require air transport to an out of state facility that can handle a patient with his needs. A long-term residential care facility is also a likely prospect. The chances of my husband ever returning home are very slim. This situation at hand results in major financial changes for my family. We want to provide whatever treatment options are available for Todd, but at the same time, we need to be able to provide for our kids. The outpouring of support from friends, family, co-workers, church members, and even strangers has been humbling. It is what keeps me going day after day. I truly feel as if I have an army behind me. The generosity of others has been absolutely amazing and something I will always cherish. So many have asked what they can do to help. At this point, the biggest area of concern is the long-term financial effects of the situation. We are establishing fundraising efforts through gofundme.com, as well as through our local bank. If you find it in your heart to donate to my family, please know that your donation will be used to keep my family afloat, whether it is in paying Todd’s medical bills, paying our mortgage, covering utilities, or putting food on the table.
Thank you for taking the time to read our story. May God bless you and your family. Remember to always take the time to let your family members know how much you care about them. You never know what tomorrow will bring.