Message of Hope

Family’s journey takes them in an unexpected direction

 

Wesley and Randi Binkley watched their two daughters, Evelyn, 4, and Eleanor, 2, peer at the rabbits and ducks at the Wilson County Fair animal exhibit two years ago when they got the phone call.

The couple loved being parents and wanted to give Evelyn and Eleanor a sibling to round out their happy family. Both had come from families with multiple siblings.

“It was my doctor on the phone,” Randi recalls.

The deflating and life-changing news blurred Randi’s vision and caught her breath. She was just 35 years old.

“He gave me the results of all my lab work and basically told me I would not be able to have another baby because I didn’t have any viable eggs left,” Randi says quietly from her home in Lebanon.

That phone call two years ago came in the midst of Randi and Wesley’s attempt to become pregnant with their third. The disappointing news propelled a quest that led them to a successful option to fulfill their desire to complete their family. They chose an option few understood or discussed.

It’s called embryo adoption. And because of this process, today Wesley and Randi have not one more baby, but two. The babies are not biological to this determined couple and are not biological to each other. This sometimes boggles peoples’ minds, until Randi and Wesley easily explain what embryo adoption is and how it’s completed their family.

“For some reason, infertility is not talked about,” says Randi, a certified nurse anesthetist at Lebanon’s Tennova Hospital. “Woman and men feel somehow ashamed or inept if this issue arises. It’s painful.”

She wants to debunk this, open a conversation and share the option they chose to expand their family when it could not happen the natural way.

While Randi works at Tennova, her husband is in real estate at Remax Exceptional Properties in Mt. Juliet. They celebrated their eighth anniversary in October. They moved to Lebanon three years ago from Davidson County, simply because they love Wilson County. Randi recently transferred to Tennova after nine years at Centennial Hospital in Nashville. Today, Evelyn is 6, Eleanor is 4 — and brother and sister Wynn and Elise are 10 months old.

The couple’s passage to an expanded family is detailed and arduous, but there are several highlights they want to share. They never had trouble conceiving with their two girls, and after about a year, they decided to round the kids out to a trio.

“We really didn’t think much about any problem,” Randi recalls. “But I learned at age 35, fertility drops quite significantly.”

After no success in about two months, they felt a niggling and started to pay more attention. “I knew if it didn’t come quickly for me, something might be wrong,” Randi says.

They were both tested for fertility, and Randi was told she was the “issue.”

“Yes, it was difficult to swallow,” she says. “They said I had premature ovarian failure. Basically, I was menopausal. I was emotional, and I got into that wrong mindset that as a woman you should be able to get pregnant.”

This is when their road to pregnancy began. It was bumpy, scary and eye opening. Randi went through five IUI’s (intrauterine insemination), which is a fertility treatment that involves placing sperm inside a woman’s uterus to facilitate fertilization.

The doctor gave them a generous 25 percent success rate for conception with this.  It was the same with IVF (in vetro fertilization), which is an assisted reproduction technology and process of extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample and manually combining them in a lab dish. Then, the embryo is transferred to the uterus. But, Randi was not producing viable eggs anymore.

Another option was an egg donor where a random female donates eggs, usually for money, and they are combined with the husband’s sperm.

“We already had biological children,” Randy said, and they rejected this option.

They thought of traditional adoption, but it’s extremely expensive, up to $50,000. They thought this could have a lot of potential heartache if the mother decided to change her mind.

Randi had a chance encounter with a woman on Facebook from Memphis who had a daughter through embryo adoption. Randi connected with a support group, learned more and then asked her doctor about it. He connected her to Nashville Fertility, which is the largest clinic in the Nashville area. They went to the facility’s embryo adoption program.

Randi and Wesley loved this option that implants a donor’s embryo into her uterus, and if it attaches, she would carry the baby full term. It was a fit for Randi because she loved being pregnant and felt carrying a child would bond her to the baby. There are more than 600,000 embryos preserved in Tennessee. Most come from couples who were successful in IVF and chose to donate their remaining embryos for those who wanted to adopt.

The couple waited five months on a list and then got to the top and were given 10 profiles. Since they already had biological children, they did not concern themselves with trying to find a match that resembled them.

It was suggested they choose two, in case one failed. They choose one genetically tested male embryo that had been frozen five years and one highly successful embryo that was frozen for 15 years. Each embryo came with a general profile of the donors for medical reasons and general information on the donors.

The two embryos were thawed and transferred to Randi’s uterus on May 2, 2016, and four days later Randi was already experiencing nausea, which was a terrific sign.

“I never felt so sick when I was pregnant before,” Randi says with a smile.

The doctor confirmed their pregnancy with two babies, and it was a bit rougher because it was twins and she was older. They say they both secretly hoped both embryos were viable and broke into tears when they realized they had two babies.

Wynn and Elise were early Christmas presents. Born Dec. 6, 2016, six weeks early, they soon flourished. They each came from separate donors.

Ironically, though not biological, they both look like their parents, with Elise taking after Randi’s blue eyed, blonde features and Wynn after Wesley’s darker features. People are astounded when they learn about the embryo implantation. The cost of the adoption was about $7,000 and another $1,000 for special medication.

At 11 months, Wynn is high strung and all boy, and Elise is “chubby with fat cheeks” and loves to smile.

Because of other couples’ generous donations, Randi and Wesley now have two beautiful babies. Also, full circle, because Randi could not produce enough milk to breast feed, she connected with a wonderful group where mothers donate their extra breast milk.

“I know,” Randi whispers. “Other people have given us so much.”

Mom and dad are adapting happily to their new normal with four children. It’s their dream. It’s busy with a lot of give and take and little sleep. But, they say it’s miraculous.

“Embryo adoption is a wonderful option not a lot of people research,” Randi says quietly as she looks at her twins asleep. “I want people to know being infertile is not a failure. It’s life, but there are options. If I had to walk this road again in order to educate people, I would. I’m okay I walked the road and got to the other side.”

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Ellie and Kellie

A country star and a local girl recovering from surgery cross paths

 

By Laurie Everett

Country music singer Kellie Pickler’s got that Dolly-Parton’ish shine and glitz on the outside, but the glam shines even brighter on the inside and her heart glows like the sun.

Her heart was sending some rays toward local Ellie Denton, 10, an honor roll student at Byars Dowdy Elementary School where her mom Rachel teaches kindergarten as well. Dad, Jason, is a well-known trial lawyer.

This blue-eyed blonde young lady is a big fan of Kellie’s and watched her on American Idol some years back. She now catches Kellie’s reality show “I love Kellie Pickler,” produced by multi-talented Ryan Seacrest. How Ellie ended up crooning and cuddling on the lap of evervescent Kellie on nationwide television has its own “reality” background that surpasses some milestones most of us won’t see in a lifetime.

If you look in Ellie’s eyes, you see an old soul for one so young and vibrant. To say she’s been “through it” is a major understatement. It’s fun to note, Ellie is one of four siblings, and used to being “in the middle” of the organized, wonderful chaos that is this family’s life.

“I can only say how fortunate and happy I am to have a wife who paid attention and listened to her mother’s intuition,” Jason said as he reeled back to when Ellie was just three months old. “We both noticed issues with one of her eyes; it was bigger, and her nose was a little crooked.”

Everyone chalked that up to pressure from the birth canal.

Dad was in Memphis when his wife called him and blurted out something “just was not right.” When mom pressed on Ellie’s eyebrow it gave way in a way it should not.

A surreal few days with three radiologists and a CAT scan revealed the bubbly baby was diagnosed with craniosynostosis. It’s a big word even for these educated parents. In layman’s terms they could understand it’s a birth defect that has a baby’s skull formed together too soon and doesn’t allow the brain to grow as expected.

“One in 2,000 children have this condition, and they are not sure it’s genetic,” Jason said.

Another fast forward and Vanderbilt surgeon Dr. Kevin Kelly operated on Ellie to reshape her head by manipulating her skull. He also straightened her nose and reformed the orbit of her eye.

It was a scary nightmare for these young parents whose daughter was born seemingly healthy.

Jason said his little baby “lost a lot of blood” during the intricate surgery and even had six blood transfusions. She was in ICU four days and in a regular room three days before she could go to the comfort of her own home.

 

Life’s a blast

Things went great for years. Ellie grew strong and tall. Her daddy’s dark hair she was born with turned blonde from the meds and therapy. She squeezed in regular eye doctor and neurologists’ appointments as she learned to love horses, raise chickens and become a major component in an award winning clogging team called “Evermean, Evergreen Cloggers.”

But then this idyllic childhood born from strife was shadowed by some persistent headaches. Fall 2015 Ellie noticed some lumps on the top of her head. Coupled with unusual headaches, this portended something was “off.” A CAT scan revealed a shocker: two holes in her skull never healed.

“Yes!” said her dismayed dad. “She was clogging and riding her horse and her brain was unprotected!”

May 2016 Ellie went under the knife again. A vivid description was “she was cut from ear to ear.” But, these parents are on their knees grateful the operation was a great success. Ellie was discharged days before predicted.

“Ellie is very strong,” said her dad. “It was smooth sailing. We kept our eyes on her in case of rejection of materials used to seal up her skull. She is in her Christian faith and baptized. God and Jesus are a big part of our lives.”

And, yes, those blue eyes are mature for her age.

“Her pain and tolerance are more than most of us adults will ever endure.”

An aside. Ellie’s parents know her ability to persevere. When Ellie was three, her right finger was cut off in a bizarre accident. It was reattached, but she immediately learned to be a lefty.

Ellie does not live in a bubble. She’s a social butterfly. Images capture her trotting on “Spanky” her horse, surging down a slide into the pool and clogging up a storm in competitions. She’s the queen of the family’s 10 acres and is immersed with the goats, chickens, dogs, and cats as well.

 

The special Kellie Pickler

L-R: Rachel Denton; Andi Zack-Johnson, Kellie’s friend/cast member from show; Ken Johnson, Andi’s husband; Kellie Pickler; Ellie Denton; Jason Denton; Kyle Jacobs, Kellie’s husband.

Let’s get back to singing “Red High Heels” with private idol Kellie. Seacrest tours the country with Kellie and other stars. They pinpoint childrens’ hospitals to bring the warmth and love of superstars to children just out of surgery and recovering. He and Kellie visited Vanderbilt where Ellie was recovering in May.

“I remember, Ellie felt terrible the day Kellie visited the hospital,” said her dad. “She had tons of swelling and was in pain.”

Ellie could not resist and walked into the room where Kellie and her husband Kyle were visiting other sick children.

“Kellie was so warm and loving,” Jason recalled with emotion. “She’s so highly intellectual and carries herself well. She asked if anyone knew ‘Red High Heels’ and Ellie perked up and said yes. She crawled into her lap and sang.”

The moment was played on Kellie’s show and the superstar said she might have a run for her money from Ellie.

“You have such a great voice,” she quipped. “I’m going to have to watch out. You are going to take my job.”

When they captured this scene with Ellie, it was clearly a special moment. Ryan Seacrest, whose permanent charity studio at Vanderbilt was the place where the little Vanderbilt concert was filmed, later shared the clip on his Instagram. (To see this episode of I Love Kellie Pickler, search YouTube for I Love Kellie Pickler S02E09 Giving Back”—Ellie’s scene is around the 22 minute mark.)

Ellie said it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. She’s practicing for the cheer squad for next year and is really into her American Girl dolls, and of course, Spanky.

“We were very blessed this Christmas to be surrounded by family and friends,” said mom. “We received way too many gifts.”

Medically, Ellie is also soaring. She still takes meds for headaches and they visit and receive positive reports from her regular doctors.

One “angel” moment in all this was a special “angel nurse.”

Jason said the same nurse who gently cared for little Ellie when she was five months old was at the hospital in May and Jason “heard a familiar voice.”  That voice was the same nurse from years before. She sought out Ellie and reached out again.

“That’s how memorable our Ellie is,” Jason said quietly. “That’s how lucky we are.”

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Good, clean laughs

Lebanon original Brian Bates has gone pro… as a comedian

 

By Laurie Everett

You could say Brian Bates is a thriving late bloomer. He’s blossomed in the comedic world after working in corporate America for nearly 20 years. And by “corporate America,” I mean News Channel 5, where he worked in all realms of upper management, including as the executive director of Talk of the Town and also producer of News Channel 5 Plus.

And, no, this seismic career shift was not a mid-life crises, but more of a wild hare for someone who truly believes you only live once and if you don’t take chances, untapped talents will go, well, untapped.

To leave a steady paycheck, a loving work family and a comfortable future wasn’t necessarily a piece of cake for Bates, 44, who admits the last six months he worked at Channel 5, he squirreled that paycheck away and lived solely on earnings from his budding career in comedy.

335985_10151649869056992_1139501176_o“I loved my job in the news business,” says Bates, who is a Lebanon native. “And, yes, it was hard to leave that family, but everyone was so supportive.”

Along with support from work colleagues and friends, Bates’ number one supporter is mom Helen. It’s because of his love for his mother, Bates is in rare form behind the mic as a celebrated “clean performer” in an oftentimes vulgar world.

“I was raised to be a Christian,” he says simply. “I do not talk dirty and vulgar. That’s not me. Sometimes it’s a challenge to follow comedians who use shock humor.”

And it takes a lot more creativity and talent to get the laughs without using racy, titillating, down in the mud antics. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of work out there in the corporate world on stage, and at churches, civic halls and comedy clubs; all places that want a “clean” opening act.

For a guy who was raised in a rather well known Lebanon family – his dad was Denver Bates of the realtor world and passed in 2006 – to shine on stage at Nashville’s Zanies Comedy Club this past May was “a dream come true.”

On his night, the club was packed, almost without his beloved mom, though.

“Yes, it was ‘church night,’” Bates says with a smile. “And mom doesn’t miss church night. I finally convinced her a bigger miracle that night would be watching me perform at Zanies…”

Helen made it to her son’s Zanies debut, but only after she attended church at a nearby church that enabled her to get both accomplished in one fell swoop.

 

Road to comedic chops

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Bates with Tim Allen

A common irony, Bates says he’s a bit of an introvert. So true for many comedians, Bates has a quiet demeanor off stage, but has always been told he’s “funny.” When his dad passed in 2006 he found himself looking for a “cathartic boost of spirit.” In 2007 he took a random plunge and enrolled in a four-week comedy class at Zanies.  He was 35 years old at the time.

“The teachers and students were great,” he recalls. “I enjoyed it so much. You don’t know what you don’t know. Rik Roberts was my teacher and now my mentor.”

Bates learned entry-level comedy writing (a far cry from the news casts he wrote so many years) and performance. Right away, Bates knew he loved it so much it became a “very serious hobby overnight.” He began to get booked more and more often. For eight years he juggled his full time news gig with making people laugh on the side.

His comedy is hilarious and unabashedly self-deprecating. His extensive experience in the working world gives him a wealth of material.

“I get a lot of material from the newspaper and local events,” he explains. “I practice and try out my jokes and look for ways to improve.”

His practice run at saving all his corporate earnings for six months proved it worked, and in December 2014 he resigned his job at Channel 5 and became a full time comedian. He tours the nation as a headliner stand up comedian in comedy clubs and theatres, as well as touring with some big names like Henry Cho and Nate Bargatze.

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Bates as a guest on Talk of the Town

Just recently he showcased at the Ryman in Nashville. Many times he sees fans he met while in school at Lebanon High and Middle Tennessee State University.

 

Back to his insanely funny material

“My mom is a big inspiration in my act,” he says with a laugh. “I talk about family life and daily encounters. I point out that basically we are all the same. We all have the same insecurities and concerns. I just share examples of them.”

His mom’s struggles with technology get laughs, as well as his dating life, “or lack thereof.” And while he admits in the real world, he’s not the life of the party, but is a very keen observer, which makes for endless possibilities with his comedy career.

“Yep, my brain is wired more to observe and take things in,” he says.

And when he’s not polishing his material for the next show, Bates “takes things in” like utilizing his Titan’s season pass, going to the movies at Providence Theatre, reading on his Kindle, being a “meat and potatoes type of guy” and frequenting Cracker Barrel and Demos’.

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A selfie with Jon Lovitz

As for future acts, they will delve deeper into what it’s like being a single guy in his 40’s and “desperately searching for a wife” in this day and age.  However, that quest will be challenging because the work is pouring in. One night recently he managed three open mics. It’s seven days a week, lots of travel and no vacations.

He loves the view from his home in East Nashville, and he might even go out on a limb and get a dog. His idols in the comedy world are Jerry Seinfeld and Brian Regan. And this month his first album will be released, called “Easy Out.”

His cosmic career shift has been a home run, however, from the looks of his huge fan base, locally and afar.

“Goes to show you can fulfill your dreams, no matter what stage of life you’re in,” he says.

To see where he’ll be next and to get the latest go brianbatescomedy.com

 

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