Our son is our Super Tubie! Even though he is only 3.5 years old, he has been on intravenous Total Parental Nutrition (TPN), a Nasogastric Tube (NG), and now Gastrostomy Tube (G tube).
Samuel has a delayed food allergy of his intestines called Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES), and since even before his diagnosis at age one he was overcoming obstacles of small percentiles. From the small percentiles he had fallen to on the growth chart…to the small percentage of children so allergic to corn that he suffered chronic FPIES to even hypoallergenic formulas…to the small percent (according to studies) that cross react to multiple foods (dairy/soy and grains)…to the labs that fell to small percents causing iron and Vitamin C deficiencies necessitating short and long term TPN…and to his latest obstacle overcome—going from reacting to formula and severe aversion to his own G tube, to accepting it, and thriving with the help of a blenderized diet.
IV Nutrition (TPN)
Due to his allergy to the corn syrup in all formulas, the decision was made at 18 months to trial soy. This caused inflammation and enteropathy with blunted intestinal villi (villi are the finger-like projections in your intestines that absorb nutrients). Intestinal villi take additional calories to rebuild, and do not break down and absorb nutrients well when they are blunted. The enteropathy could not be turned around without the extra nutrition and calories that formula (that he was allergic to) provides and thus led to his first course of TPN. An upper-arm PICC line was surgically inserted and we lived for five weeks in the hospital while he received TPN for 20 hours a day.
Just past his second birthday, eight months later, the combination of no nutritionally complete formula, and repeated food trial fails causing more intestinal damage and further malabsorption, we found ourselves in another emergent situation of needing TPN. Weighing the risks of central lines and infections, and then deciding that his need for the nutrients to bypass his intestines outweighed all of that was not an easy decision. However, he was very sick following his latest trial, and we had to proceed with the TPN again. We didn’t know how long he would need to be on it since he needed replacement of his nutrients, regrowth of damaged intestinal villi and gut rest.
Samuel remained on TPN for eight months while he continued to have his limited diet of a few safe foods. After months of gut rest, and through more food trials and fails, TPN provided his body and brain with the needed nutrients. It also taught us how much his immune and gastrointestinal systems functioned and was literally a lifesaver, even through a life-threatening line infection and sepsis. After a second line infection scare that ended up being an FPIES triggered reaction, and due to repeated intestinal damage and noticeable regressive behaviors, we needed to make the choice to convert to an IV port to continue TPN or challenge a formula in his gut. It was decided to challenge his gut once more with another formula, a corn-free formula with hydrolyzed milk protein, Alimentum RTF, in hopes that we could finally find something to supplement his tiny menu. This is when we moved to the NG tube.
The NG tube was a temporary stop in his feeding tube journey, only four weeks. It was placed to challenge the Alimentum RTF because he refused to drink it, rather starving himself than drinking it. The NG was very hard on him, flaring his sensory issues significantly, but he kept it for the four weeks while we made the very difficult decision to have a G tube placed surgically. All his medical team encouraged us that this was the right decision, but that it was ultimately our decision. No one knew whether he would start taking enough by mouth within the next six months so that he would not need the tube. We feared it would take longer than that, and did not want him to have the NG tube for six months, only to end up with the G tube anyway.
The NG seemed more difficult to maintain, and besides flaring his sensory issues, it was limiting his play. A G tube would become part of him and he could play and be a three-year-old during the day. Plus, he would have the back up for feeding that he needed throughout the day and night.
Deciding on the G Tube
I am a Registered Dietetic Technician. I know the benefits a G tube can provide. My head told me the G tube was the right decision; it made all the clinical sense for a child with these food challenges. However, I am more importantly Samuel’s mom, and my heart wasn’t following my head. I am very aware that so many parents whose children need G tubes do not even get to make a decision, so why was this such a difficult decision for us?
Sam could drink from his bottle, but the nutrients in his hemp milk formula were not complete to pull him out of reactions that damaged his villi and caused further malabsorption. Our son can drink and chew, but doesn’t know how to eat to fill himself. Due to his limited diet and pain with eating, he also has a multitude of texture challenges and food aversions to overcome. And that’s when we find enough safe foods to even practice on. He does have a few safe foods, but his allergy triggers outnumber them by far. He does not have a healthy relationship with food.
Samuel was no longer failure to thrive but only because we fought it so hard. He is developmentally on track; however, his quality of life is diminished because he needs to eat every one to two hours all day and night and suffers low blood sugar in between. As he gets older and his sensory issues progressed, he would only take bottles at home, warmed to a certain temperature. Feeding him was becoming more and more challenging, and not just for nutrients, but purely enough calories. We knew the G tube would provide him that back up he needed, to provide the calories (and hopefully missing nutrients) he needed in a day. It would allow him to grow, play, and thrive outside of counting calories, and it would increase his quality of life. We were also encouraged being told that 90% of the families that make this decision later state that it was the best decision they made for the care and quality of life of their child.
Little did we know then that Samuel would again fall into those small percentiles. The first eight months after tube placement were rough for Samuel, and for us as a family. We once again went into crisis mode functioning as a family, where all the focus was on getting Sam through his symptoms each day. We just weren’t sure what was going on. We saw signs of trouble while he was on the NG tube, but chalked it up to sensory issues and not the tube itself, or blamed reactions to the lubricant they used to replace it time and time again. He had an endoscopy done during the G tube surgery that showed chronic gastritis and duodenitis—inflammation, again. But, what was this from? The lubricant? An increase in stomach acid from the NG? Was it the formula that we thought he had “passed” because he hadn’t had an “FPIES vomit?”
It would take us a few more weeks to figure out that it was the formula, and it was making him very sick, inside and out. He was becoming averse to having us even touch his tube. We switched to another formula (ProViMin) in hopes it was the carbohydrate source and not the hydrolyzed milk protein in the Alimentum RTF that he was reacting to. His inflammation diminished in some places and flared in others. This formula wasn’t going to fit him either.
We decided to take a bold move and stop the formula as well as stop using the tube altogether. The tube site or stoma needed to heal. We had trouble with it from the beginning, and he just needed it to heal. He needed to heal. He had woken up from surgery with a fever and quickly developed bile leaking out of his tube. We were granted a few extra days in the hospital to assure it wasn’t some sort of infection. It quickly went from bad to worse and the granulation tissue began to grow from the constant seeping bile/stomach acid. His shirt would rub and it would bleed. He was in so much pain. We tried creams and then repeated silver nitrate treatments (to burn off the granulation tissue), and each time the surgeon’s office tried to assure us that the burning did not hurt, and each time taking more people to hold him down because he was fighting this so badly. We later learned that granulation tissue does hurt, that rubbing against it hurts, and that silver nitrate removal can hurt some sensitive people.
It was enough; this was “make it or break it” time with this tube. We had a love-hate relationship with this tube, which was quickly becoming more one-sided. I knew he could benefit from it if we could get it to heal, and find nutrients to put in it. I was determined to make this work for him, knowing the possibilities of the benefits. Remember, Samuel can drink and swallow, but his hemp milk formula and tiny menu were not nutritionally complete. We could never advance his diet quickly enough to avoid nutritional shortcomings. Stopping the formula he was reacting to, along with stopping using his tube was a big gamble that we would end up back on TPN too quickly. It was not an easy decision but we decided to let it be, through the summer, to see if it would heal. We didn’t do a lot that summer—my schedule revolved around his bottle and caloric needs 24/7. It was very important to stay on top of the calories he could safely have to keep him above the line and give that tube a chance to heal.
Within days of stopping formula that was causing reactions and intestinal inflammation, the granulation tissue disappeared on its own and has never returned! The aversion to having his tube touched, to even HUG me or have his stomach touching anything didn’t go away as easily. We let him guide us. We took time away from even talking about it—taking a bath cleaned it well enough for us to leave it be—and hope for the best. My instincts were telling me that if we pushed him into using it, he would reject it altogether. Before stopping using it, he had gotten so hateful of it, even trying to pull it out himself! It hurt him so badly that he couldn’t even hug me. That didn’t seem right to me at all and was one of my last straws. I knew it shouldn’t be causing this much pain. People live with them every day and can hug others without pain.
The Blenderized Diet
What was my goal with a healed tube but no formula to put in it? Use the tube for a blenderized diet. This fall, once I felt Samuel was healed and beginning to accept his tube (our Mini Buddy helped with that!), we had home health care services come out to empower us to help him. Within a few visits and the nurse’s help and guidance, we were slowly able to get him more comfortable with his tube again. He accepted that it was part of him, and that it was there to help him grow big and strong.
I began to use his G tube for his hemp milk and safe foods, blended by my Vitamix blender. Day by day, he lets us use it more and we are able to get his needed calories and more of his nutrients in daily. His menu is growing and we’re adding in the new foods as they pass to his blenderized bolus feeds to assure his nutrition is consistent and optimal for further growth and development. We are also able to keep him hydrated during/after reactions and keep him stable through the day without the ups and downs of inconsistent bottles. He sleeps better and longer at night. His quality of life, in spite of his chronic illness, is maximized. He has overcome so much in his three and a half years. He is our Super Tubie!