God blessed us with a precious gift

Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Linda McKinnis and her son, Dustin. (Submitted photo)

Dustin, our only child, was born on a cold January morning in 1984, and in the blink of an eye, our lives were forever changed.

As I was holding our beautiful newborn baby just moments after his birth, critical problems were detected and before we knew it, he was literally whisked from our arms and immediately transported from Cape Girardeau to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis, where he was admitted.

Little did we know that Cardinal Glennon would become our "home away from home" for the next 22 years. Dustin was diagnosed with extremely rare congenital defects in his trachea and esophagus. He underwent two risky thoracic surgeries before he was even a week old. More than a month was spent on a ventilator. Words cannot describe what it was like seeing our precious baby surrounded by tubes, machines, beeping monitors, medical equipment and never knowing the peace and quiet of home. Early on, we learned just how very fragile life can be.

Lifelong, Dustin has breathed dependently with a tracheostomy. He has courageously endured 126 surgeries and has battled endless life-threatening complications. We have faced situations that no parents should ever have to face: innumerable pneumonias, code blues, collapsed lungs, ongoing surgeries, neverending medical bills, emotional heartbreaks and disappointments -- but Dustin's contagious smile and positive attitude is our inspiration! He is an extraordinary example of endurance and faith.

Our son has been a miracle from day one and has defeated incredible odds. We are so proud of the young man Dustin has become. In 2009, Dustin graduated with a bachelor's degree from Southeast Missouri State University. It was an indescribable day seeing Dustin, persevering his many obstacles, crossing the platform to receive his college diploma. Without a doubt, God has huge plans for his life!

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." -- Psalm 46:1

Our personal relationship with Christ is what keeps us grounded, and without his grace, we could not face tomorrow. Every day we thank the Lord for the strength to carry on.

In 2006, Dustin was referred to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (Massachusetts General is the country's leading airway hospital). A complex, extremely risky, 11 1/2-hour tracheal reconstruction was performed during the summer of 2007. Miraculously, the surgery was considered a success and Dustin's dream of a life without a trach was finally a reality! Almost a month was spent in Boston. The hospitalization and recovery was nothing shy of brutal. Sadly, only days after being home from Boston, Dustin was rushed to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis in severe respiratory distress. Dustin awakened days later, on a ventilator, realizing his tracheal reconstruction had failed. Our hearts were absolutely broken when his trach was again reintroduced. Although devastated, we remain hopeful for new research. We are truly blessed with gifted, renowned surgeons. Over the past seven years, we've traveled to and from Boston for Dustin's needed surgeries for his extremely rare and complicated tracheal condition.

There are times in our lives when the winds around us seem too powerful to stand against -- yet in the mist of the storm, the presence of the Lord is stronger than ever.

It is hard to comprehend how anyone could face situations like ours without God in their lives. People often ask us how we've endured. Well, it's a simple answer: Our strength comes from above. Prayerfully and patiently, we face one day at a time knowing that Dustin's life is in the hands of our precious Lord.

"For I know the plans I have for you -- plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -- Jeremiah 29:11

So our journey continues one day at a time, like a roller-coaster ride, with its ups, downs and unknown curve. We walk by faith, knowing God will never forsake us.

We're grateful for our many caring friends, loving family and especially our faithful prayer warriors. We are truly blessed!

"I can do all this through Him who gives me strength." -- Philippians 4:13

About the McKinnis':

Mike McKinnis works at Saint Francis Medical Center and Linda is a self-employed designer. They are very active in multiple charitable and civic organizations. The McKinnis' are dedicated members of La Croix United Methodist Church.