ALBANY – Christmas came early for Amy and Eric Dolloff’s family when they and their four children visited several of the Disney theme parks in Orlando, FL, Nov. 8 to Nov. 14.
Make-a-Wish Vermont paid all the expenses of the trip. The family stayed at Give the Kids the World, a special resort for Make-a-Wish families. The family qualified for the trip because their two-year-old son, Gabriel Dolloff, has numerous medical problems including Down syndrome and leukemia.
The Dolloffs have three other children who range in age from toddler to teenager.
“I knew the kids would have fun and I knew the kids needed it,” said Amy Dolloff of the trip, “since Gabriel has been born, all the money goes to him. There is not much extra. We promised them a Christmas tree so we got them a tree, but we told them there may not be much under the tree.”
Amy Dolloff said the family could never afford the much-needed trip. On the last day, it hit her that it was back to reality for her and the rest of the family. “I knew my kids’ childhood was ending tomorrow,” she recalled of that day.
Gabriel's medical problems started long before he was born. At 31 weeks into the pregnancy, the family knew there was a problem. Amy Dolloff went to the doctor for an ultrasound that took longer than expected. The technician called in a radiologist and Eric Dolloff.
“The OB said they could fill a text book and be prepared for anything,” Amy Dolloff said. “I asked, 'What do you mean?' She goes, 'I don’t think he’s going to make it to birth.’ Basically we had to prepare for a funeral.”
Gabriel was born at 33 weeks. Amy Dolloff recalls very little about that night but knows her husband made the two-hour trip from their home to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in one hour. Gabriel was born later that night and doctors immediately whisked him to the neonatal intensive care unit. Amy Dolloff didn't see her son until two hours later, after doctors ventilated him.
Doctors intubated Gabriel for four days. He was expected to go home two months after being born but, on what was his original due date, he went in for surgery so doctors could open up his airway. However, the surgery didn't work. One week later, doctors had to perform a trach and put in a feeding tube in his stomach.
Gabriel, for a second time, started going into self-induced comas and was put on a ventilator once again. Gabriel went home after being given caffeine to help him breathe and trigger the vent. Eight months later, doctors checked Gabriel into Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center for leukemia. Doctors eventually put Gabriel into a medical coma.
“No matter how they tweaked the ventilator, he would override everything they did,” Amy Dolloff said. She said Gabriel developed acute respiratory distress syndrome. “They called him a miracle. He wasn’t supposed to come home.”
At one point, Gabriel had 13 pumps on him and the family only had one place where members could touch him. Nobody expected Gabriel to make it home again. The family started to talk to doctors about what to do if Gabriel’s heart stopped beating.
Late one night, Eric Dolloff called Amy Dolloff who was at David’s House, a special house fat DHMC or families of sick children, and told her to get the hospital. “He said, ‘You need to get over here.’ I asked, 'What’s going on?' Again he said, ‘You need to get over here,’” recalled Amy Dolloff. “They were bagging Gabriel.”
Amy Dolloff soon found out where to find the softest tissues at the hospital.
Gabriel ended up pulling through and doctors brought Gabriel out of the comma and soon the family was able to bring their son home. However, doctors decided it was best to stop treatments.
“It was hard for us to hear,” said Amy Dolloff. “My husband wanted to get in the car and drive to any hospital that would help.”
However, Gabriel was too weak to receive any treatments.
February will make it two years since he's been in remission. If leukemia returns, Gabriel will receive hospice treatment because he is not a candidate for bone marrow treatment.
“He’s here and he’s healthy,” said Amy Dolloff as she hugged Gabriel and looked at the Christmas tree in the corner of the room.