A Parent’s Nightmare: The Fragility of Life

Lianne Dennstedt – Granddaughter

The nightmare of all parents is outliving their children. And by extension the same nightmare holds true for grandparents. Losing a child or grandchild is unthinkable to most of us. My oldest granddaughter, Lianne, is fighting for her life in Flagstaff, AZ where she attends college. She just celebrated her 19th birthday. She is fighting a battle with bacterial meningitis, a horrible infection that can kill within twenty-four hours. This is a disease of the young, typically striking adolescents and young adults in their prime. She is being cared for in a level one ICU trauma unit and has been in an induced coma since late Monday night.

This deadly bacterial infection has entered her brain through her spinal column, and has also produced pneumonia in both lungs. Both of her kidneys and her liver have also been compromised. Bacterial meningitis usually rears its ugly head at colleges and universities and at military training bases (anywhere that young people live in close dormitory-like housing can be susceptible). My first experience with spinal meningitis was at Camp Pendleton, CA in 1965 as a young Private First Class going through Marine Corps infantry training. Lianne’s case was different—she wasn’t infected by an outside contaminant but rather a sore throat that morphed into something more horrific.

Lianne’s longterm prognosis is still uncertain—the doctors tell us she has leaped back from the fire and back into the frying pan (their words). In other words, she remains in extremely critical condition but is now stable. My son, Shawn, told me on the phone that the hospital has done an amazing job so far and he has been very impressed with their effort, expertise, concern and compassion. Over the long Labor Day weekend they called in as many as ten different doctors (pulling them away from their families and holiday celebrations) for consultation and treatment. No matter the outcome Shawn says their efforts have been nothing less than heroic.

Shawn A. Dennstedt – Father

Lianne remains in her induced coma with a drainage tube in her skull to help with brain swelling and a chest tube to drain her pneumonia infected lungs. A C.A.T. scan completed early yesterday morning revealed that her brain had swollen a bit more overnight but the doctors said that was to be expected and fairly typical. Although her kidneys are compromised and not functioning at full capacity she has avoided the need for dialysis to this point. Before her diagnosis was confirmed they had her on about ten different antibiotics but have reduced that number to the two that are most effective with this particular disease.

Although she remains in incredibly serious and life threatening condition we are hopeful. Without being too specific, the doctors think they will try to bring her back from her coma in about three to five days. In the meantime she remains on life-support and on a ventilator. My son, her mother and her sister all remain by her bedside while Joel and I hold down the fort here in Murrieta (basically feeling like the useless old men we are). This post might be viewed by some as inappropriate for a blog but my writing has always allowed me to clarify my thoughts (and feelings) and gives me some comfort when dealing with difficult situations.

I am not a formally religious man but I do believe in the power of positive intention (what many call prayer). If you have young folks in college you might consider vaccinating them against this potentially fatal disease—I believe there is a vaccination available for Meningitis B). If this post has helped to educate you at all then maybe its been worthwhile. In the meantime please keep my granddaughter Lianne in your thoughts and prayers, and also support my son Shawn (and Lianne’s mother) and my granddaughter Jaimee in their vigil. There will be long, hard days ahead and they can use all the strength they can muster. Thank you from the scared shitless grandpa—me.

Stephen F. Dennstedt – Grandpa


26 responses to “A Parent’s Nightmare: The Fragility of Life

  1. Wow Steve. Thank you for sharing this and our thoughts and prayers are with with her . Katie just graduated from NAU so I do know she is in a great place with very caring people. Please keep us up to date.

  2. Steve
    Our thoughts and prayers go out to your beautiful granddaughter and you and your family. God bless you.
    Margaret & Jay LaSalle

  3. You are all in my prayers. BTW: In my opinion, your post about Lianne and what you are all going through is not inappropriate for a blog. What sorry creatures we would be if we could not empathize with and support our fellow humans in their times of need! Stay strong, Steve, Shawn, Joel, and all the family.

    Best Wishes, Prayers, and Hugs,
    Colleen A Parkinson

    • Thank you for that Colleen. Social media is a tricky thing when dealing with personal things, but I promised myself a long time ago to be honest with my blog (and it does help me to sort things out).

  4. Steve, sending prayers for your granddaughter. Sounds like she is in good hands and hope things get much better these next few days.

  5. What shocking news. Best to all of you and we will keep her in our thoughts and prayers. You are so right to stay positive and so glad you reached out to all of us. Power of thought, prayers, and everyone uniting together for the positive. Hang in there Grandpa you may not think you are important but I’m sure you are. Please keep us updated.

  6. Steve, we haven’t met yet, but my Steve (Lambert)has shared some of your experiences throughout your friendship. Obviously, I’ve read your devastating thoughts, and you are absolutely right, that is the worst thing that could happen to a grandparent or parent. My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family. The first thing family needs in these life bumps (mountains) is to stay calm and I think your heartfelt thoughts were your way of trying to do that. Bless you all

  7. Oh Steve, I am very sorry to hear what she, and all of you, are going through. My thoughts and best wishes are with you.

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