It’s been a long couple of months for Wildwood Elementary School student Abigail “Abby” Lacayo, but the fourth-grader who went through an extremely complicated surgery in December has plenty of reasons to smile these days.
For starters, the honor student recently celebrated her 10th birthday at the Ronald McDonald House near the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.
Abby blew out the candles of her beautiful birthday cake on Jan. 12, exactly one month after having her pancreas, spleen and gallbladder removed and islet cells transplanted into her liver – new friends joined in the celebration. Prior to the surgery, she had been suffering from Hereditary Chronic Pancreatitis and gastroparesis, which caused her severe pain and bloating.
Going into the difficult 12-hour surgery, there was some question as to whether Abby’s gastroparesis – she had suffered from the disease for 2½ years – would be eliminated. And after the procedure, as the waiting game progressed, the young girl with the constant infectious attitude and million-dollar smile was on a feeding tube and faced some tough days.
When Abby would eat, it would cause pain and nausea. There were bouts of vomiting. And whenever doctors took her off the feeding tube, she lost weight.
But through it all, Abby kept on smiling and Gina and her husband, Denis, maintained their positive attitude. And Abby’s doctors told them to be patient and hang on, because her stomach basically had been asleep for 2½ years and needed some time to wake up.
Last week, the news the Lacayo family has dreamed about for years – “the miracle,” as Gina calls it – became a reality. Abby suddenly developed a voracious appetite, prompting doctors to run a gastric emptying study, a procedure using radioactive chemicals that measures the speed with which food empties from the stomach and enters the small intestine.
“The results came back completely normal,” Gina said.
And that meant one very important thing – Abby was no longer suffering from the gastroparesis, meaning it had been brought on by the pancreas inflammation she suffered prior to the surgery.
“For two and a half years she couldn’t eat,” Gina said. “And now she can. It’s amazing how quickly things turn around. I am still in shock to hear that it is gone.”
That great news, Gina said, means two very important things. First, Abby’s feeding tube is coming out. And even more importantly, if things continue to go well this week, she’ll be released and allowed to come home to Wildwood very soon.
“It is still sinking in,” Gina said of the rush of good news they’ve received in the past week. “My biggest fear was that even with the pancreas gone, she would still have gastroparesis.”
Of course, Abby’s good news also meant one other important thing – the freedom to eat whatever she wanted. And that required an immediate trip to a nearby Chick-fil-A restaurant.
“She got a 12-piece chicken nugget meal and a strawberry shake,” Gina said. “She was sure to ask the cashier if it came with fries, too. And then she got another 8-piece chicken nuggets.”
With that delicious meal behind her, Abby offered her mom another suggestion.
“She said she wants to enter a food-eating contest,” Gina said. “I told her let’s not push it.”
Abby, who is looking forward to cheese pizza and vanilla cake, also enjoyed a special meal at the Ronald McDonald House.
“Volunteers came and cooked dinner,” Gina said. “And there was sprinkle cake with strawberries and whipped cream.”
Needless to say, Gina said the family is looking forward to coming home. They’ll have appointments with the doctors in Minneapolis every three months for the first year, meaning they’ll have to make a return trip very soon. But being home and spending time with family and friends is something they’ve thought about for quite some time.
“We are very excited,” Gina said, adding that the drive will take three to four days. “I am so ready to get back to a normal life. Hopefully, Abby will be fully recovered soon. Then we can enjoy life even more.”
Gina added that she’s been extremely proud of Abby’s courage throughout the entire health ordeal.
“I have learned so much from her outlook on life,” the proud mom said. “She focuses on helping others even when she, herself, is hurting or in need.”
Villager Faye Scher, a volunteer at Abby’s school and a member of the charity-oriented Gilchrist West Social Club, has been with the Lacayo family every step of the way. She’s done everything from encouraging people to send cards and letters to Abby to purchasing winter coats for the family to starting a GoFundMe account to help offset some of the enormous expenses they’re facing. And she’s been in constant contact with Gina to stay apprised of Abby’s condition.
Needless to say, Scher also is quite proud of the little girl who has made it clear that she hopes to be a doctor someday so she can help others like she’s been helped.
“Everyone has been pulling for Abby,” Scher said. “During this journey, I have had emails and messages from strangers about prayers being said for Abby – prayers for a little girl they don’t even know. The support and love from our community has been an experience that shows how much a community can do to help each other.”’
Gina said she’s thankful for the support from so many people and she is looking forward to seeing Abby grow and prosper in the coming days, months and years.
“I know she has big plans for this life. Just wait and see,” she said. “And to all of you who have believed in us and have been so supportive, thank you so much. We couldn’t have done this without you.”