Bubba Gets a Port

by Derek Markley

Owen, who we call “Bubba”, has hemophilia B. He had two bleeds in two months before his first birthday. Our physician made a recommendation that would change our world.

“Bubba” Markley

Bubba was going to get a port. A small circular piece of metal would be placed in Bubba’s chest. There is a line running from the port that would be inserted in a vein. We’d use the port to infuse him with clotting factor. We’d be able to do the infusions at home after being trained by a home health nurse.

I had so many questions. I furiously Googled terms to get a better idea of what was going on. The port images I found had an external line, a piece of plastic tubing outside the body. It didn’t look like it would be a great option for a little kid.

We were informed that the port would not have an external line. The only time Bubba would be accessed would be when we were infusing. The port is accessed any time a needlestick is done to push medicine into the port. Our physician also told us that we had the ability to use a low-profile port. This meant that the port was thinner than other models and would not stick out as far when implanted.

Even now, more than eight years after the surgery, I still have no way to accurately describe our feelings about what happened. I can describe the day in detail, but I can’t put my feelings into words. We had to be in St. Louis the night before the surgery at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital (SLCH). Bubba’s surgery would be early in the morning. He’d need to be in the hospital so they could give him enough factor to make surgery possible. We’d never spent the night in a hospital with a small child. But the decision was made. The Markleys—my wife Ashley, Bubba, daughter Abbey and I— were surgery bound!

Ashley’s mother had made the long trip from Washington D.C. to take care of Abbey throughout the process. She’d found a hotel room and Abbey would stay with her the night before the surgery. I would be spending the night in the room reserved for family of patients. The room had reddish-orange chairs. What appeared to be an ugly, uncomfortable chair was actually an ugly, uncomfortable bed. With the pull of a lever the front of the chair extended forward as the back simultaneously laid flat. Bam! It’s a bed—in the middle of a room where other strangers might choose to sleep, read, or otherwise hang out.

Ashley was going to sleep in the room with Bubba. The surprise came when we saw Bubba’s bed.

We were introduced to the Baby Hannibal Lecter line of beds. It was immediately noticeable that Bubba’s bed looked more industrial than the standard crib. It didn’t take long for a nurse to step in and show me exactly how this bed differed from most. Ashley and I were shown a demonstration of how the metal bars, which started on the bottom, slid upward and locked in place. It was a Bubba jail.

It looked like Trent Reznor designed it in the early 90s during his industrial phase. The experience was going to turn our kid into a little Goth in training. We’d need to get some black hair dye and a magnetic nose ring. He’d just mope around the house talking about things like the darkness in his stuffed duck’s eyes or the repressed aggression of the Backyardigans being the root of their imaginative adventures.

… and he looked absolutely pitiful when we put him in it the first time.

By pairing incarceration with surgery, I was certain that we’d taken two strong steps toward assuring that Bubba would never forgive us.

We would have a number of meetings that day. The people at SLCH were seasoned veterans and addressed many of our questions before we even had a chance to ask them. By far the most stressful time came when we sat down with the two physicians who would be performing the surgery.

I also had a moment in which I realized that I was not a child anymore. One of the physicians looked suspiciously young. Like most people I’d always visited doctors who were significantly older than me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was turning into the person that says, “I’m not letting that kid operate on my child.” I was a mere step from complaining about underage intruders on my lawn.

Once the doctors explained it to us, the process itself did not seem complicated, compared to other surgical procedures. My concerns were still firmly in place. You’re operating on my child who very recently celebrated his first birthday. The child going under the knife also has a small issue with blood not clotting. There is bleeding involved during surgery.

We were soon back in Bubba’s room ready to face the next challenge. How to entertain a toddler while sharing a hospital room with another family and their visitors? The answer is: Get out of the room. SLCH made a wise investment and bought plastic kiddie cars for use on our floor. They had a large handle on the back that extended upward so moms and dads could exert some control over their kid’s driving. It was the Hemophilia 500. Like many hospital floors, the hallways were laid out in a square with the large nurse’s station in the middle.

Bubba in the hospital

We went around.

We went around again.

… and again and again and again.

I began to curse the little red car.

But it kept Bubba happy and that was our goal.

Next week’s blog: Surgery!

Derek Markley lives in Saltillo, Mississippi with his wife Ashley and their children Abbey and Bubba. He is the executive director of two University of Mississippi regional campuses and an assistant professor in the school of education. Ashley is a fourth grade teacher in the Tupelo Public School District. Derek is author of The Bubba Factor, which can be ordered on Amazon.com.

Know Your Factor Choices

It’s truly a new era in bleeding disorders with new products, new therapies and new indications. Octapharma’s wilate just got approval for indication in adults and adolescents with hemophilia A; previously it was indicated only for VWD. With this news, I realized that we should remind everyone to know what product they use, where it comes from, and why they are using it.

Who chose your product? Was it your hematologist? Did you have any input? You should, and this means bearing the responsibility to read about products, as questions about them and be part of the decision making process.

Back in 1990, when Raising a Child with Hemophilia was first published, we were the first ones to describe parents and patients as consumers, and to treat products like any other commercial product you would buy. We provided the question to ask your doctor, and we explained the different manufacturing processes, and the difference between safety and purity. And we urged parents not to be passive in the treatment process but to help make medical decisions.

It’s more important now than ever. We have a dazzling choice of products, and novel therapies like Hemlibra. Maybe there’s no reason for you to switch products, but you might want to get up to speed on what’s available. Please note: all US FDA-approved products are considered safe and efficacious.

We’ve been writing about products and product choice for decades. I hope you read up on them and be prepared! To help you, we created a chart of products that you can download. Take it to the HTC with you and discuss with your hematologist about choice. You can download it right from our home page or go here.

We also have a chart for VWD products too!

We did our part. Now do yours; know your product, manufacturer, and why you use it. Keep learning… more therapy choices are coming!

A Personal Approach to Healthcare


Ever hear of personalized healthcare (PHC)? PHC means tailoring a treatment regimen specific to an individual patient. It acknowledges that every patient is different, with different physiology, biology, reactions to medicine, and lifestyle. A treatment regimen that works for one patient may not work for another with the exact same ailment.

The goal of PHC is to improve your quality of life as a patient with a specific disease or disorder, by taking into
account your individual needs and lifestyle, and then tailoring a treatment plan. How does that happen? It’s a collaborative process involving you and your medical team. Your HTC medical team knows all the treatment options, but you know yourself, your body, and your lifestyle. To develop your own PHC, you’ll need to share with the team every aspect of your past health, current health, needs, and desires. Only then can you all explore treatment options that best suit you.

Your Personalized Healthcare Team

The best place to get help with hemophilia and all bleeding disorders is at a hemophilia treatment center (HTC). These are centers of excellence that specialize in diagnosing, treating, and monitoring bleeding disorders. There are over 140 HTCs throughout the US. They follow the model of comprehensive healthcare, which means that they’re not just treating bleeding episodes, but all aspects of living with a bleeding disorder. From orthopedics to psychosocial needs to genetics, the HTC team knows how a bleeding disorder can impact your life.

By using comprehensive healthcare, isn’t your HTC team already implementing PHC?

Maybe not. First, not all HTCs are created equal. Some may lack certain experts you need, such as a pediatric hematology department or a geneticist. And some may have strong beliefs, different from yours, about when—or whether—to start prophylaxis (prophy), or about whether you should try new products.

Parents and patients need to become partners in PHC. Are they ready for this collaboration? Parents of newly
diagnosed children may be too shocked at first, and not even know what questions to ask. Older patients may be overlooked for PHC because they’ve been on the same treatment plan for a long time, their blood work is good, and they don’t complain or ask questions.

It’s important for you to be ready to partner with your HTC and let the team know your needs. But even if you’re comfortable standing up and being heard, what will you say? What will you ask?


One of the first decisions you need to make about your PHC is which treatment to use. All products licensed in the US are considered safe and effective, but they’re not all the same. How do you find one that’s best for you?

You know that new products are entering the market. You can choose between plasma-derived (made from human blood) and recombinant (made from animal cells containing human genes). Within the recombinant products, there are categories: first, second, or third generation. And there are novel therapies, that are not even factor! So begin by asking your hematologist for opinions on all products.

Your decision about treatment may come down to lifestyle, when selecting a particular brand for prophy. Perhaps the brand you’re using now, three times a week, works well for you or your child. Does a product with an extended half-life offer fewer infusions, saving veins from wear and tear? Or would you benefit from a new, subcutaneous product? Some products might not be available through your insurance. Talk through these choices with your HTC.


Perhaps nothing is more personal than your individual bleeding pattern. People with hemophilia bleed differently, in different places, from different causes. Once your child begins getting bleeds, notice his bleeding pattern, if any. This is where you can really help your HTC team personalize your treatment. The information you share can help prevent a target joint from starting, or can compel the HTC team to put your child on prophy.

You may hear severity levels described like this: Children with severe hemophilia will bleed from trauma, or spontaneously, with no known trauma. Children with moderate hemophilia may bleed on average once a month, with known trauma. Children with mild hemophilia may bleed only after dental extractions and surgery. But what’s the reality? Some children with severe hemophilia bleed only monthly; some with moderate bleed every week, with no known trauma. Your child’s bleeding is unique!

And know his personal symptoms of a bleed: Tingling? Hot? Swollen? Your HTC staff can help you identify symptoms, so you can infuse more quickly at the first sign of a bleed.


Personalized healthcare really shines when it’s time to devise a treatment plan. You can use the new, subcutaneous novel therapy. Or you have two options for infusing factor: on-demand (also called episodic) or prophylaxis. On-demand means infusing at the first sign of a bleed. Prophy is the scheduled infusing of factor. It’s designed to keep factor levels in the bloodstream high enough—greater than 1%—to prevent most spontaneous bleeds.

Prophy is the recommended therapy for children with hemophilia in countries like the US with ready access to clotting factor.

And what about your schedule for prophy? This is about as personal as PHC gets! Your HTC team will offer a schedule based on your child’s needs: your family lifestyle, activity level, perhaps pharmacokinetics (PK) data to determine how quickly factor is cleared from the blood after an infusion, and any breakthrough bleeding that might happen.


Personalized healthcare is not the same as personalized medicine, a common term. Personalized medicine often refers to using a person’s genetic profile—genomes and specific genetic markers—to guide therapy for cancer and other diseases and disorders, including hemophilia. But PHC includes personalized medicine, and it’s worth discussing with your HTC team because more and more, the hemophilia community is focusing on personalized medicine.

National Hemophilia Foundation (NHF) recognized the importance of this genetic research and launched My Life, Our Future (MLOF). Through this program, you can get a blood test that enables you to learn more about the specific genetic mutation that caused your child’s hemophilia.

So PHC uses personalized medicine to examine your genetic makeup, help predict which medical disorders or diseases your child is most at risk for, and suggest which treatments will be safe and effective (or not) for him. This is particularly important for complications like the risk of getting inhibitors.

We’ve shown you examples of treatment and lifestyle areas to focus on, potential needs to address, and questions to ask your HTC team to design the best life possible with your bleeding disorder. Your HTC team will become one of your most important partners.

Teaching Your School-Age Child About Hemophilia

Published in August 2018 PEN

With the start of the school year comes new teachers, nurses, and caretakers for your child. You may be explaining to many adults what hemophilia is and how they should properly respond if your child has an issue. But, how do you go about teaching your child about their hemophilia? In this excerpt from our latest issue of PEN, we delve into how children understand their bleeding disorders and what you can do to help present information  for them to digest. 

Teaching Your School-Age Child About Hemophilia 

One of the biggest challenges we have as parents of children with hemophilia is teaching our children about their disorder. We often use words like hematoma, factor, and deficiency; and concepts like prophy, coagulation, and heredity. But children understand these words and concepts very differently than adults do.

If you don’t know how your child’s mind works at various stages of his development, then teaching him about hemophilia becomes hit-or-miss. But when you know how he thinks, you can tailor information in a way that he can easily understand. So to teach your child about hemophilia, you need to know how he processes his world in general, and hemophilia concepts in particular.

The School-Age Child’s Thinking Tools

Between ages 7 and 11, the school-age child is in a fascinating stage of cognitive development. “Cognitive” refers to how he thinks, how he processes incoming information about his world—basically, his ability to think logically. Just as he has a skeletal structure that develops as he grows, he also has a mental structure that develops as he matures, filtering information in a way he can grasp.

Your child’s mental structure is characterized by five major thinking tools that are constantly evolving:

Causal thinking: Figuring out when something causes something else, using a step-by-step process. A preschooler doesn’t typically think step-by-step.

Internalized thinking: Moving from understanding his world mainly through his senses—where things happen outside him—to realizing that things can happen inside him.

Gradient thinking: Knowing that the world isn’t just polar opposites, like good guys and bad guys. There are now shades of gray, degrees of intensity. A good guy might do something bad. Your child can also distinguish parts from the whole.

Empathic thinking: Starting to see the world from another’s point of view.

Time: Understanding that he doesn’t exist just in the present, but that he has a past and a future.

For understanding hemophilia, the most important of these five thinking tools may be causal thinking. Your child can now try to figure out how one thing causes another. Like…What causes bleeding? A blood clot? What is genetic transmission? It’s hard to explain these concepts when your child doesn’t understand causality. These are more sophisticated thinking tools than he had as a preschooler, yet a school-age child, ages 7 to 11, is most comfortable using his new thinking tools on things and places he knows best—the tangible, visible world. So let’s see how he uses these thinking tools on various topics in hemophilia, starting with blood.

How He Understands Blood

Unlike a preschooler, your school-age child understands the concept of the whole and its parts. So you can explain blood in terms of what it’s made of. Children between ages 7 and 9 believe that blood is a red liquid, but also that it’s composed of “stuff—water, food and energy.” Children between ages 9 and 11 tend to describe blood in more abstract terms. “It’s cells. Little roundish stuff. They’re red and blue.” A child develops from concrete to more abstract thinking, so this is perfectly acceptable!

Now you can introduce the idea that blood has components: white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. While preschoolers focus on things outside the body, mainly what they can see, hear, and feel, a school-age child realizes there are things inside him that he can’t see. So he’s ready to learn about simple blood components, especially those related to his hemophilia.

How He Understands Hemophilia

Because he understands a whole and its parts, your child can now categorize things. A preschooler might describe hemophilia as “blood,” or “something I have,” but a school-age child can classify hemophilia as a “blood disorder,” or “when blood doesn’t stop bleeding.”

He also progresses from describing hemophilia as his own specific injury (“It’s when I get a hurt knee”) to seeing it as a condition (“It’s when someone gets hurt and bleeds a lot”). This is the empathic thinking tool: he knows he is not the only one to have hemophilia. He now says that hemophilia is when “boys with hemophilia have to go to the hospital sometimes.” Compare this to the preschooler reply, “When I have to go to the hospital.”

Your child also has matured from an external to a more internal focus. A preschooler might say, “Hemophilia is bruises,” but a school-age child will say, “My blood doesn’t work right.” What is it that doesn’t work right? Well, he understands the concept of a whole and its parts, and he’s ready to know that blood is composed of parts. So he can deduce that hemophilia means “something’s missing” in his blood. Some children say that they have “lost” something, or that their blood is “too thin.” These answers reflect the “something’s missing” idea. For example, “It’s when you’re missing some factors that help to make it so if you slam your knee against something it doesn’t swell up as much. You’ll have to replace the factor.”

Misconceptions and medical inaccuracies abound as your school-age child struggles to understand hemophilia. “It’s a blood disease. You lose part of your blood and you need to get more blood.” At this stage, what’s important is not so much that his answers are right or wrong, but how he arrives at his interesting conclusions.

So teach your child that hemophilia is a “blood disorder.” Teach him that blood is made up of parts, and that he is “missing” a part. There’s no need to get too specific at first, for example by mentioning factor and proteins; just stick to general concepts and ideas. To help him visualize, use a concrete example, like the falling dominoes. Remember that a school-age child is increasingly able to understand more abstract terms, but he needs the help of concrete examples.

How He Understand Genetics

Learning about heredity is a great way to exercise the “missing step” concept in a step-by-step sequence. To a preschooler, hemophilia is just something he was born with. To a school-age child, something had to happen to cause hemophilia.

What is that something? His parents are usually the missing step. Your child possesses the thinking tool of time, so he may realize that hemophilia could have started in his family many years ago, even centuries ago.

But how exactly does hemophilia get from one person to another? Most school-age children name a causal agent—the thing or event that caused hemophilia to happen. This can be a parent, blood, a chromosome, sperm, or even “vibes,” as one boy phrased it.

Understanding often differs among younger children (ages 7–9) and older children (ages 10–11). When asked how they got hemophilia, younger children may simply reply, “Mom” or “Mom and Dad.” Some children name blood. “It streams through your family, through their blood. I got it when I was two or three. My uncle gave it to me.” This child is medically incorrect, but he’s trying to sort it out logically: a family member had hemophilia, I have hemophilia, and…maybe my uncle gave it to me?

School-age children may also understand or accept some basic heredity rules, such as “mothers are carriers.” This makes sense to them, because a “carrier” is a causal agent.

From ages 9 through 11, a child’s answers and thought processes become more sophisticated. The causal agent may be chromosomes, which only a few children can discuss at this stage. Remember that school-age children are still very concrete—more comfortable with things that they see, hear, feel, and smell. Chromosomes are abstract. Some children identify an “X thing” as the causal agent, but don’t understand the idea in purely scientific terms. To them, X and Y are not parts of the cells. They’re more like “germs” that other family members “catch.” One boy explained, “Mom’s a carrier. She has two little things inside her, little Xs. They’re like little eggs. She has a good X and a bad little X in her. My brother got the good carrier and I got the bad carrier.”

Ask your child, “Where did your hemophilia come from?” and let him figure it out on his own; don’t judge his answer at first or try to answer for him. You can work on the details later, supplying more accurate information once you’ve listened to his explanation and understood his thinking.

To read more on this topic download our August 2018 PEN today at


When to Suspect an Inhibitor

Let’s face it: an inhibitor is a major complication of hemophilia. It develops when the body’s immune system does not recognize infused factor as a normal part of blood. Instead, the body thinks that factor is a foreign invader, like a virus or germ, and it develops antibodies to attack the factor and make it harmless—and useless. So despite an infusion of factor, your child continues to bleed. Prolonged bleeding, even after a factor infusion, is the most common sign that your child may have an inhibitor. But other symptoms may also tip you off.

Unresolved bleeds

You may suspect an inhibitor the hard way: when factor no longer works well to stop bleeds. If you’re new to hemophilia, this may be difficult to judge—how long should it take for a bleed to stop after an infusion? It may not immediately dawn on you that the infused factor isn’t working properly, especially if your child is already well into a muscle or joint bleed. It’s common for parents to think that they simply need to give their child more frequent infusions, or give a higher dose per infusion. If you think your child’s bleed is not resolving normally, or wonder whether you should dose higher or more frequently, please call your hemophilia treatment center (HTC).

Increased bruising

Bruising in young children with severe hemophilia is common. But if your child is on prophylaxis and you notice increased bruising, this may be a sign of an inhibitor.

Routine clinic visit

A blood test at your child’s HTC comprehensive clinic visit can identify an inhibitor. Low-level inhibitors are often diagnosed in this way. It’s wise to have a child with hemophilia tested for inhibitors routinely. Learning that he has an inhibitor prior to surgery or a major bleed allows parents to have a plan in place and the correct treatment on hand.

Breakthrough bleeds while on prophylaxis

Prophylaxis is the scheduled infusion of factor to help prevent bleeding. Many children with hemophilia on prophylaxis receive factor two to three times a week, enough to allow circulating factor to prevent most spontaneous bleeds and abnormal bruising. When a child on prophy starts bruising or bleeding more often than usual, an inhibitor may be inactivating some of the factor, lowering his factor level and increasing his risk of bleeding.

Bleeding after surgery

Any kind of surgery on a child with hemophilia requires careful planning and monitoring of factor levels, and any child who continues to bleed following surgery, even with adequate factor, should be immediately tested for an inhibitor. Ideally, all children with hemophilia should be tested for an inhibitor before any surgery. If you see any kind of bleeding following surgery, call your HTC immediately.

Reaction following infusion

An allergic reaction is a response by the immune system to environmental contaminants such as pollen, animal dander, or food. It can also happen after an infusion of factor. Symptoms may include sneezing; itching; hives; rapid swelling of the skin, neck or face; wheezing; faintness; fast heart rate; low blood pressure. Allergic reactions are especially worrisome with hemophilia B. An allergic reaction after a factor IX infusion is sometimes the first sign that an inhibitor to factor IX has developed. A whopping 45% of people with hemophilia B and inhibitors also develop allergic reactions at about the same time that they develop inhibitors.

Don’t downplay allergic reactions. They may start out mild but then increase in severity after repeated exposure to products containing factor IX, often to a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. If your child has severe hemophilia B, his first 20 infusions of factor IX concentrate should be done in a hospital or clinic with expertise in treating severe allergic reactions.

Following a major bleed or emergency

Whenever your child receives large amounts of factor—in response to a major bleed or during and after surgery—he may be at higher risk of developing an inhibitor. Experts aren’t sure if large amounts of factor stimulate inhibitor development, or if the body is more susceptible to inhibitor development during a medical crisis because the immune system is on high alert. But whatever the reasons, be aware that the risk of developing an inhibitor is slightly higher during an illness or surgery.

Later in life

If a person with hemophilia develops an inhibitor, it’s usually while he’s a child, almost always before exposure day 100. And he probably has severe hemophilia. But in rare cases, an inhibitor develops in a teen or an adult—usually in people with mild or moderate hemophilia, and usually after intensive exposure to factor during and after surgery or traumatic injury.

Inhibitors are scary to contemplate. Even when your child passes exposure day 100, don’t be lulled into thinking that he may never develop one. You can always request an inhibitor test from your HTC. Never try to diagnose on your own, or change your child’s dosing regimen on your own.

In your favor? A great array of educational resources, listed in this issue, and a wonderful team of medical experts. Don’t be afraid! Be proactive, just as you were when you learned about hemophilia. Inhibitors are one obstacle to overcome on your family’s hemophilia journey.

PEN 2.11     © 2011 LA Kelley Communications

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