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Pennington Family 1 – Cancer 0

In her usual quiet way, Kerri finishes her last treatment in just a few minutes.

She didn’t want to make much of a fuss about it, and really didn’t feel up to celebrating, so we came over with just the girls to finish her battle.

If you feel like telling her great job on a hard fought battle, send her a text message at exactly 3:30.

I call it the Victory Text Bomb and it is sure to leave a lasting impression on such an emotional day as this.

Thank you all for encouraging, praying, and helping her through this most difficult journey. Others aren’t as fortunate, some have to do it alone, and many never complete the journey; however, we’re blessed to have your love and support — and of course, to defeat this nasty thing we call cancer.


See you all back home soon,

Mel, McCanless, and Mary Clare


Dear Kerri,

We aren’t going to Islamorada via Miami…

We’re going to St. Barthelemy in the French West Indes (*Where we spent our honeymoon ten years ago today.)

I love you,


What happens when Daddy is in charge of the family Christmas card…


Which is why Daddy has been relieved of his duties for planning the family Christmas card this year…

and every other year from now on.

Mel for Mayor


SO PCICU Here We Come

Daddy is making a guest appearance on the blog for the latest update:

We are back in the habbit of beginning all of our thoughts with So after being with cardiology all day. Dr. Bradley cam in and did a post-operation debriefing and let us know that everything went according to plan. He did have to patch her aorta and make it a tad bigger but all is well. She has been moved back into PCICU for recovery and wake-up.

I must say, going back to PCICU is like moving into your old college dorm ten years later, but all of your friends never graduated. We have an official smoothie night planned already (An old fashioned Ice Cream Social for med geeks)

Fr. Michael (Our favorite Priest) came by to have prayer and hang out a while. Some of our nursing friends even stopped by to say hello. Now family is going back one by one to see Mary Clare and let her hold their finger. She should be waking up in a few hours and opened her eyes once when we were in there.

We’ll be here for the next 10-15 days…hunkered down on the cruise chip to nowhere. I will eat a steady diet of CHik-fil-A and Chick-fil-A over the coming week. I am glad to be back at home here amongst our friends at MUSC and will make the most of our stay here.

We will be posting updates as they come available over the next few days and we wanted to especially thank those of you who have offered up your prayers and words of encouragement in the past days and weeks.

FYI – My brother-in-law is staying at our house feeding the dogs this week so feel free to call the cops if you see that the house party is raging out of control.

I wish you all a great weekend!

The MUSC Cruise Director

Good News…

Mary Clare now weighs 10 lbs and 14 oz!!! Our hospital stay upset her feeding schedule and she has still not gotten back on track. I was afraid that she had lost weight, so I was thrilled when I took her to our pediatrician this morning and realized that she has gained since we were at MUSC. She was 10 lbs 8 oz there last week. She is back to feeding about every three hours even at night, but at least she is gaining weight!! She still struggles to eat and only takes in about 2-3 oz at a time, but we are working on it!

McCanless is writing…

McCanless is working on writing her name at school a bit and hopefully will master it by Christmas, but for now when you give her a blank sheet of paper and ask her to write it, she produces the following…

McCanless writes her name.jpg

Of course, it is easier to write Daddy’s name, so Mel gave her a sheet of paper with his name printed on it and asked her to copy it. She did a pretty good job on it…
McCAnless writes MEL.jpg

She is also beginning to add details to her drawings…

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(Click on images to enlarge)

Heading home…hopefully!

We are currently waiting on “rounds” so the doctors can officially tell us we can go home. The nurse practitioner has told us we are “probably” going home (and she is really the boss on this floor) so, we probably will. Mary Clare has been doing well today and has not had a fever in about 24 hours. Emerson’s mom just dropped by and they are packing up and heading back to Augusta today!! I’m so happy for them. I know they are ready! I hope to be able to snap a picture of the girls together before they leave.

Mel has been trying to update the blog, so excuse the current design..or lack thereof. We are trying to incorporate Mary Clare’s name in the design. I’m playing with the comment feature and hopefully will be able to accept your comments soon…maybe after a confirmation.



Home at last

Surprise! We were let out of the hospital with last minute notice today. This came as such a surprise, so we decided to let everyone know at the same time.

So, it ends – For now at least.

The Long Road Home

Every cardiologist in this place has one central problem. They all begin sentences with the word “So.” “So, the Norwood procedure…”

It is almost a way of saying, “Hello, my name is Dr. Atz (A new friend who we call Andy) and I wanted to spend a little time talking with you… (you get the point.)”

At any rate, my wife and I now begin every sentence with the same word. We do this subconciously and it has become a harder habbit to break than quitting smoking. In like manner, I’ll begin our news of the last 24 hours as would any good cardiologist.

So, we have been trying to figure out how to make this beautiful little girl consume more calories than she burns while consuming them. It sounds a little oxymoron-ish I know. The reality is that this has been the single most frustrating period of the entire week, and is almost on par with the same stress waiting on the surgery.

We meet with the doctors each morning on rounds and begin the process of “Practicing Medicine.” Lately it has been the battle of a mother’s intuition of her second child versus practicle science. We have been adjusting volumes, tracking with razor precision her intake, formulating calorie consumption, and debating digestive track concerns.

Needless to say, it has been a trying 48 hours. We have gone from feeding 80 ml of breast milk every 4 hours, to feeding at will every 2 hours. Currently, mother’s intuition has won the battle and we will be trying to feed her much like we fed McCanless when she was a newborn. Most of you who know me will say that I am arguing with doctors for the sake of arguing. Arguably I’m not. What we are trying to do is educate them on the problems we had with McCanless’ digestive track that we see after feeds with Mary Clare. This is where medical science rubber meets the road.

The more experienced doctors seem to be paying a close ear to what the mother has to say and effectively weighing it against what their practice has taught them. In the end, however, they consider all sides before making a decision.

Mary Clare has been SLOWLY increasing her intake every two hours by just a ml or two. We are weighing her at every glance now that the feeding tube has been temporarily removed to make sure that she is in fact gaining wieght.

With a little luck she will progress from 30 ml every feed to at least 65, then more and then we can go home. The worse case scenario is that we have to put the feeding tube back in, resume a new pattern of fortified feeds, and eventually we get a G-tube placed into her stomach and we pour milk in. This will require one more surgery which we are against and not ready to face.

Kerri is doing well with being away from McCanless (Better than she has in past days, I guess.) It is ripping her apart to be a split family down here. I miss her as well, but seeing Mary Clare (who looks like McCanless at birth) reminds me of her. Other than dealing with all of these emotions, we are holding it together. Mental stress is tiring. We sleep at the drop of a hat, usually nap every few hours at best.

We are ready to come home.

I mean:
So, we are ready to come home.
So, I’ll write an update tomorrow.
So, until then…

So, thanks Dr. Atz.

USS Cardiac

So judging from the title you can only imagine that I’m looking out of our room window which is shaped like a porthole, and the motif of the cardiac rehab floor is a children’s sea theme. So I have been held prisoner aboard the USS Ped-Cardiac for several days now.

Living in these conditions is enough to keep a man out of prison; however, our Mary Clare is continuing to learn to eat more calories than she burns eating those calories. Currently we are still at the pinnacle, and she is still feeding by the tube every 6 hours and after she won’t take any more by the bottle every 3 hours.

McCanless had the chance to come to see her sister and needless to say it was an emotional wreck for us to have her here for a night an then have to send our daughter home again – without us – for week three. Kerri is in pieces and is beyond ready to go home and have her family together for the first time at the creek house.

Updating has taken a backseat on the weekend due to the small workspace and added traffic of feeding every 3 hours, having vitals every hour, and then rounds and such.

What makes this all-the-more hard is that today my wife turns 30.

Happy Birthday from your loving husband, Melvie, McCanless, Mary Clare, and the crew of the USS Cardiac.

Suck, Swallow, and Breathe

Today Mary Clare passed her swallow study with flying colors. Her EKG of her heart repair looked well also. We are continuing to compress her feeding into an hour’s time while increasing her consumption volume. Tomorrow it will be reduced to thirty minutes.

*Big News: Tomorrow we get the opportunity to try bottle feeding for the first time, and as her intake increases she will graduate to breast feeding. This sounds like a simple thing to do until you realize that it will take the next two weeks, every three hours, to get her to learn to do this.

*More Big News: The bandages on her chest are off and her pacing wires were pulled from here heart wall this morning. All we have left is an IV and some telemetry feeds on her back to monitor her heart rate and saturation level.

We are still doing well in our little 8 X 8 cabin here on the cardiac cruise ship. When Kerri gets tired of me she makes me sit in the bathroom. Mary Clare has also been sleeping the entire day and waking like a raccoon at night, staring into the darkness with her teeny little eyes. She gets her night tendancies from her father. We’ll let you know how bottle feeding goes tomorrow.


Notice when my wife says we finally get to change her diapers and act like real parents, then notice the time of this post. Guess who slept all day today and will be up all night?

Delay of Game

We are anxiously awaiting the removal of the IV to her right atrium of her heart. We were told earlier that we would be moving out of PC ICU today but then got word that the beds are all full upstairs. It looks like we will have one more night without “Scooter”.

We had a great time visiting with McCanless this weekend. She had the opportunity to see her baby sister again for a few brief minutes and it was a riot. McCanless kept saying “Oh, she’s a sweetie.” “I will teach her how to swim mommy.” I can only imagine by the way that McCanless drags her cat, Ballie, around by the neck in a choke hold that we will surely lose sight of Mary Clare for a brief moment to find McCanless dragging her by the head out to the lake for swimming lessons.

Another funny observation was McCanless in the children’s room here at MUSC called the Atrium. They have a realistic looking albeit pretend medical kit. Complete with surenges, antibiotics, dressings, and feeding tubes. McCanless had the baby duck-taped-up, and had a feeding tube inserted, all-the-while giving her baby shots and telling her “Shhh, this won’ hurt a minute.”

Mary Clare is doing well. She is a strong little girl much like her mommy. She sleeps most of the day and is now taking more and more breast milk through her feeding tube. We have new photos and I will do my best to add them to the page tonight. After a swollow study today, we will know more about her progress in learning to feed. An ENT doctor visited yesterday and so far things look great. Once we move upstairs, eating will be her next hurdle. She has been doing exceptionally well, according to the nurses, as she is taking milk well, and sucking on her “passy.” Apparently these babies have a hard time “re-learning” to suck, swollow, and breathe simultaneously, and it usually takes most of them a while to get the hang of it. Mary Clare is well on her way and a bit ahead of the game.

*I wanted to thank all of you that follow our progress here. Thank those of you who have sent flowers, and cards, and left messages. While we may not be able to respond to most of these right now, please know that your words of encouragement and your support and most importantly – knowing that we are not alone throughout this process, evend though we are alone at times here – have ment the most to us. It chokes me up to see how many of you make the effort even though you don’t have to.

And as not to sound all soppy and emotional – back to the humor which keeps us sane –

** I Especially wanted to thank those of you who have offered to bring food and remind you that due to my dietary allergies, I have been notified by Dr. Areephanthu that I should shy away from ANYTHING THAT DOES NOT come in a pizza box, wasn’t prepared at Ruth’s Drive-in, or come from those who prepare meals of the latina persuasion. For health reasons he also mentions that casserols and anything containing vegetables may be life threatening to my system. I know that this may seem rare but I frequently meet 15 year old boys infected with this every day.

All the best and we will continue to update now that the weekend is over. We look forward so much to getting back to the creek house and being with our family, seeing our friends, and getting back to normal.

Next Update: Est. 8:00 p.m.

Moving On Up.

So we got word that we may be moving upstairs tomorrow afternoon. This means that they will take out her femmoral lines and her supplimental oxygen. The last thing she will keep will be the pacing lines for her heart. The IV into her heart will also come out monday.

Monday also marks the beginning of our swallow study for Mary Clare. Teaching her to swallow again will be the main hurdle that keeps us here or sends us home. We have some family and friends down for the day and have been busy visiting and tending to “Scooter” (McCanless’ new nickname for the baby) It is hard to update during the weekend due to lack of internet access, but we’ll do our best to keep you informed. As always, thanks for all of the emails and such. See you in a few. +P

Soup’s On

The feedging tube is now in her nose and filling her little tummy with small doses of pedialite. It makes her sneeze from time to time. Baby sneezes are funny. We hope to have some photos uploaded tonight. She is doing well for now!

Next Update: 10:00 p.m.

Ventilator Schmentilator

Good News! The Vent was removed this morning. Mary Clare is now wide eyed and breathing with just the assistance of an oxygen line under her nose. While she still sleeps most of the day, she has been weened off of her last bit of Morphine and Dopamine. She is atempting to cry a bit and grunting like a normal baby from time to time. We are giving her a passy and trying to teach her how to use it. Tonight she will have a nasal line dropped into her stomach to begin feeding her small doses of pedialite. I told them that we’re a Gatorade family but apparently they were all out. She will continue to try and eat the small doses of pedialite and then we will begin bottle feeding in a few days from now. The next hurdle will be eating and learning to swallow.

*Side Note: Please feel free to send baby aspirin to Mary Clare. She will be on it every day for the rest of her life. I have contacted several companies about volume discounts. From our lazy math, we figure a tractor trailer load of pills would last her about five to ten years! (Only kidding about the aspirin – send cash instead)

We look forward to seeing all of you very soon, and we can’t thank each of you enough for the emials, messages, flowers, texts, and raises (worth a shot). Your support has been most kind and we couldn’t have made it this far without you.

Next Update: EST 3:00 p.m.

Early Update

Because of the nurse shift change from 7-8:30 we have to be out of the PC-ICU so they can do updates and rounds. Before we left, they were able to remove the drain tubes from her chest. This is a great step forward for us and she is continuing to run her “C-Pap” breathing tests well. We should be able to remove her from the vent tomorrow if she continues to improve throughout the night. We will be returning around 8:30 to check on her and will update you again at the scheduled 10:00 p.m. update.

**On a side note. McCanless is not pleased that we’ve hijacked her website for her babysister so we should give you a brief update on her as well. She is with her great aunt sherrill, nonnie, and kate in Florida on vacation. She went to Sea World the other day and loved seeing the dolphins. She has finally learned to swim without any flotation device!!! And finally, she has offically nicknamed her baby sister “Scooter.” We will begin the developing stages to get each daughter their own portion of this blog.

Steady as she weens

Today we are beginning what they refer to as “Pap trials” where she tries to breath on her own for short periods of time. She has the tremmors which they assure us is completely normal although it is rather uncomfortable for a parent to sit and watch. She is slowly coming off of her meds over the next day or so and we hope to be off the vent tomorrow night if she continues on the track were on right now.

We haven’t been able to spend as much time as we would like today because they keep bringing in new patients from the O.R. and we have to be out for the hour that they stabalize them.

Mary Clare is opening her eyes from time to time and yawned once today. She is sleeping most of the time and she has been holding daddy’s finger today.

Next Update: 10:00 p.m.

Closing time

Sorry for the delay in this update but we’ve been spending alot of time in the PC-ICU with Mary Clare. At 10:00 a.m. they began the procedure to close her chest from the heart surgery. It took about two hours and then we could sit with her again. Later tonight she began to come out of her sedation and open her eyes. We sat with her and she held our fingers and we talked for a while. She drifts in and out and sleeps a lot. She has pretty blue eyes! We will get up early tomorrow to go see her now that she can open her eyes as to not leave her all alone in the PC-ICU.

From here we look for the next hurdle: Weening off of her meds, getting off the vent, removing her chest tubes, taking out the pacing wires. It seems like a lot to accomplish but after heart surgery everything seems rather easy comparitively speaking. Also, since we have been spending most of our time in the PC-ICU, my phone stays off, so feel free to text us (we haven’t checked voicemail in about a week now.) I am only checking emails at night also.

I’ll be sure to give more timely updates tomorrow once the waiting room opens again and we can access a computer during the day. All is well so far, we look forward to seeing some familiar faces again real soon.

Next Update: 11:00 a.m. Thursday

A photo of baby girl…

mary clare 1.jpg
This photo was taken before surgery.

She was a bit swollen after surgery and looks better and better with each passing hour. We can’t wait to post a photo of her when the swelling is down, so you all will be able to see more of her beautiful face! We’ll post them soon, hopefully!

Bumps in the road

We slept last night for more hours than we have in a while. Entering the PC-ICU this morning we find that she is hitting the bumps along the road. Of course they assure us that this is normal of post operative babies and that her body is tolerating the higher heart rates, lower blood pressures, etc.. Good news is she is coming off of the paralytic medicine today and tht is a big step to recovery. She is very swollen today as to be expected and that is hard to deal with. We haven’t seen the cardiologist today to get a report but most of her tests run this morining are coming back good.

I’ll certainly keep you updated throughout today as we find out more on her progress. Kerri certainly sends her love and gratitude to all of you for the calls, cards, and prayers.

*We especially wanted to let the Mayor know that even though she is curently a resident of Charleston, Mary Clare will certainly be moved to Darlington County before the ’08 election cycle. (Some times you have to laugh to keep from crying.)

Best to you all.

See you this afternoon.

All Clear – for now

Mary Clare made it out of surgery in good time and was doing well according to the surgeon and the cardiologist. She is stable and doing well. Her chest will remain open for about 24 – 48 hours and she will continue to swell. The main point is she is doing well.

*My father was impressed by the fact that there are about 400 Hypoplastic left heart syndrome babies born in the U.S. each year. About 1 in 150 babies has some sort of heart defect (of those less than 1% are hypoplastic)

**Dr. Bradley does about 20 of these surgeries a year. The survival rate of the first surgery is 85%. While we’re certainly not out of the woods, were glad to be out of the surgery.

Kerri is resting now and has held up phenominally over these emotionally draining, sleep deprived, worrisome days. She’ll be glad to see some familiar faces in a weeek I’m sure.

Next Update: Later tonight.

11:00 a.m. Update

Word from the O.R.- She is now off the Heart-Lung machine and seems to be doing fine. (She will still be on the ventelator as not to confuse you to being taken off the other machine.) They will now observe her and make sure that she doesn’t bleed too much (she has a normal amount of bleeding now.) It is hoped that she will be returned to the PC-ICU in 1-2 hours so that we can get her situated, stabalized, and we can visit briefly.

When she returns to PC-ICU she will be swollen beyond anything that would make any parent comfortable to see their child. We have been debating on weather or not to post photos of Mary Clare online. We have now grown accustomed to seeing the ventilator tubes and all of the wires and tubes and such. We were worried that not everyone would want to see her like that, nor feel comfortable with it. We still haven’t decided and in her present condition we’re still waiting to see.

More updates forthcoming.

10:00 a.m. Update

We just received the hourly update. Not much news from surgery. Mary Clare is listed as “Very stable.” We are also at the half-way mark for the surgical part. I wish I had more to share on this update, but as they say in the PC-ICU: “Boring is beautiflul,” and “No News is Good News.” See you in an hour.

9:00 a.m. Update

We just received the first update from surgery via a text pager from within the surgical suite. Mary Clare is now on the heart-lung bypass machine which seams to be quite a hurdle in the first hour. Her anesthesia also went smoothly. I spoke with our cardiologist friend, Dr. Andy Atz in the PC-ICU and he had been back to check in on Dr. Bradley and the team. He said that this was the first hurdle. Dr. Bradley will begin to operate on Mary Clare’s heart and start bypassing and shunting for the next hour. He will then take some time to observe and make sure that the surgery is taking and that no site is leaking.

We just revieved our McCanless (In Florida with Nonnie) Update. McCanless stayed in the pool last night until 9:00. (way to stick to the 8:00 bedtime Nonnie!) Apparently after water-logging and sinking to the bottom, McCanless felt it might be time to get out and go to bed.

I’ll see you all at 10:00 for the next update. Mel

Surgery Day

Mary Clare went into surgery this morning aournd 5:30 a.m. We stayed with her last night until just after midnight, then returned this morning around 4:30 a.m. to visit with her. We walked with her back to the surgical area and then kissed her goodbye for now. We are now located in the PC-ICU waiting area on the 4th floor of MUSC MAIN waiting for our first update. Updates will come every hour beginning at 9:00 a.m. and I will be updating the website shortly thereafter. Mel

Happy Birthday Steve Spurrier

Daddy’s pants were given to Coach Spurrier for his birthday by the Darlington County Gamecock Club. Mrs. Spurrier got a new Stadium Skirt too!



Update From Daddy

It’s pretty bad that I have to make a guest appearance on my own website but here goes! Tonight for the first time McCanless slept in her big girl bed without mommy or daddy having to get in bed with her until she fell asleep! Just thought that you might want to hear the good news. Now if we could only work on potty training a bit!

Beach Bound

Mommy, McCanless, and Nonnie are headed on a two week vacation at the beach in Surfside, Charleston, and then on to see Mimi in Hilton Head. We will be posting sunburned buns from the road. Happy 4th of July!

McCanless loves being on vacation!

eating cheetos smile.jpg

“Tee-toes” are her favorite!

eating cheetos III laughing.jpg

Eating cheetos I.jpg

…what a hard life.

eating cheetos II.jpg