Alison Lathrop is the proud mother of four lively, curious, adventurous kids. She takes care of her family, keeps the toys from over taking the living room and works to keep the household running day-in and day-out. But her days play out differently than most — while some mothers are running to the grocery store and registering for dance class — Lathrop is sterilizing equipment, checking tubes and monitoring her son Dominic’s condition. Lathrop married her husband Andrew in 2008 and started their young family. They have four children, Jaxon, five; Ruby, three; and twins, Vincent and Dominic, 16-months. Each has a unique personality and bright smile that brings light to the Lathrop household, but Dominic, the youngest of the twins, suffers from a life-threatening condition known as Hirschsprung’s disease. “Dominic was born with it. He has a one in a million variation of it. Basically he lacks nerves in the bowel. Less than five percent of his intestines actually work. He will be IV nutrition dependent for the rest of his life,” Lathrop explains. The twins arrived 10 weeks early. Dominic was missing his left kidney, but with that exception both boys appeared healthy. It wasn’t until two weeks and several tests later that Dominic was diagnosed. Dominic underwent his first surgery in September of 2013 and his second in October, which lead to the determination that he only had 13 centimeters of functioning bowel. “Once we started getting answers the doctors were very honest and let us know that we would have a lot of hard decisions ahead of us,” recalls Lathrop. While Dominic was in the hospital, the Lathrop family was splintered as Jaxon and Ruby spent time with family and Alison and Andrew traveled between Sparrow Hospital where Vincent was being cared for and U of M hospital where Dominic was being treated. But the family found strength in sharing stories and photos and focusing on what time they had with their sons. “We didn’t really know how much time we had, all the research points to the fact that this is not a disease people live with. I had a lot of time where I was just driving in the car and cried a lot and prayed out loud a lot and screamed because it was so unfair. But in those moments I tried to focus on what we had. So I took thousands of pictures to show Jaxon and Ruby and we would sit and talk with them every morning before we left to help them understand,” Lathrop said. Since Dominic’s diagnosis Lathrop and her family have had to face new challenges on a daily basis. Lathrop had to learn to manage Dominic’s equipment, his siblings learned to be cautious and caring about his condition and frequent doctor visits are scheduled on the calendar. But Lathrop didn’t let the fear of challenges stop her from taking control of the unknown situation. “We always take things as they come. Once we brought him home we were able to start focusing on what comes next. I would sit on my phone and research. I wanted to know what the doctors were saying when they would talk to me. I wanted to know questions to ask. I wanted to know our options. I became very knowledgeable and took control to figure out what was best for my family,” said Lathrop. Caring for Dominic requires dedicated time and attention. A simple mistake could lead to big problems for the little guy, but Lathrop has confidence, a mother’s intuition and her family to help her through the delicate procedures she does at home. “I think people look at this kind of stuff and can’t imagine doing what I do, but you become confident because you’re the one doing it. And the kids are great, they learn so quickly. They know not to touch Dominic’s line. Ruby will even tell me if something is wrong,” Lathrop said. “A lot of times I just know if something is wrong and I can fix it, but the biggest piece is planning ahead and having time to do everything.” And she truly does everything! She multi-tasks effortlessly, switching between making dinner, listening to Ruby’s stories, answering Jaxon’s questions, keeping Vincent away from the fire place and ensuring Dominic’s equipment is functioning without missing a beat. She is the true definition of a real-life superwoman. “When Dominic was diagnosed, life got a lot more stressful. But I’ve become stronger. I felt for a while that I had lost my sense of self. But who I am now is better than who I was,” Lathrop said. “When you’re put through really stressful and challenging stuff in life you learn what you are capable of and how to prioritize your life. You learn what has to happen and the rest can wait. You learn to not let stress or chaos consume you to the point where you can’t enjoy the time you have.” Currently, Dominic is a giggling, smiling, handsome 16-month old who is receiving the best care from doctors and an enormous amount of love from family and friends. Lathrop acknowledges all the people she has to thank for where Dominic is today, especially Andrew (Drew), her husband, who shared their family’s story. “Drew is a super involved husband and dad. He takes on the role of taking care of me, which I appreciate more than he knows. He encourages me to go out, or lets me sleep in and have a lazy Sunday. We are a team and our family wouldn’t be where we are if we weren’t,” said Lathrop. “But we have the support of a lot of other people as well. Our families, our friends, families in our support groups and all the outpouring thoughts and prayers we receive through social media. They all allow us to focus on what is important.” And focusing on what matters most is just what Lathrop intends to do moving forward. “I think a lot of people have stressful events in their lives and they get in a mindset of negativity. And there is this really great poem that says it best — basically it says if you’re always focused on where you didn’t end up, your wasting all the time you could be enjoying where you are,” Lathrop said. “So yes, Dominic has a life-threatening disease, but we are not focused on that. We are focused on living.”
Ami Iceman-Hauter is the Brand Manager at M3 Group in downtown Lansing. Iceman is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelors degree in creative advertising.