Christmas with the Applebees: A story of loss, love and gratitude

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From left, Marc, Ivy, Wyatt, Max and Nicki Applebee

Marc and Nicki Applebee pull their rented, 12-passenger van up to the Boston Children’s Hospital main entrance. The couple, along with family friends and their three bundles of joy — Wyatt, 2, and twins Max and Ivy, 1, travel over five hours from their hometown in Surry, Maine, to deliver several hundred new and donated toys to the hospital.

Their annual holiday visit, called “Christmas for Olive” is a labor of love, and one dedicated to the memory of their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Olive Hope, who passed away in July of 2013, due to complications following her third open-heart surgery.

Nicki and Marc say their visit is also a day of gratitude — an opportunity to visit Dr. Richard Yu and the urological team who repaired Max’s kidney function when he was 6 months old. “We have been donating toys to Boston Children’s in Olive’s memory since December 2013,” says Nicki, whose jacket has a “Christmas for Olive” emblem engraved on it. “We also enjoy visiting with Dr. Yu and the nurses that took care of Max while he was here.”

Counting blessings, building family

When Olive died, the Applebees didn’t plan on having children again. But their family journey took an unexpected turn. A relative was pregnant and unable to care for her baby. So, the Applebees did what they know best — they opened their hearts and home to the beautiful baby boy, Wyatt.

“We offered to adopt Wyatt and love him as we did Olive,” says Marc.

As Wyatt grew, the Applebees had another unexpected turn – they were pregnant with twins. During regularly scheduled check-ups, quiet uneasiness set in. “The 20-week ultrasound was the most nerve wracking for us, because that’s the same time frame Olive’s heart defect was detected,” recalls Marc. “We wanted so badly for two healthy babies with two perfect hearts and four perfect lungs.”

The ultrasound showed two healthy, growing babies. But one — their unborn baby boy — had a common urological condition called hydronephrosis. Nicki’s Maine-based doctors weren’t overly alarmed, because the condition is treatable and would likely correct itself after the baby was born.

Welcome Max Everett and Ivy Hope

The big day arrived — Dec. 10. Nicki delivered the twins at their local hospital. They felt “pure bliss” when Max and Ivy were born, because all were healthy.

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But over the next few months, it became clear Max wasn’t outgrowing the hydronephrosis. A renal scan at a local hospital showed a severe blockage and poor function of the right kidney. Doctors told the couple that surgery was not necessary at this time, but Max might ultimately need to have his right kidney removed. The Applebees traveled to Boston Children’s for a second opinion and met with Yu, director of the Robotic Surgery Program.

Minimally-invasive surgery

Yu quickly scheduled a DMSA renal scan and the results showed the right kidney actually had very good function, but drainage was severely impaired. Yu performed robotic-assisted pyeloplasty and found Max’s right kidney was significantly enlarged and occupied almost one-third of his abdomen. The procedure was successful and Yu restored Max’s kidney function.

“Max was a trooper and his recovery was remarkably fast,” Yu says.

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Happy, healthy and at home

Today, Max is thriving and doing all the things rambunctious toddlers do. Nicki and Marc say they are extremely grateful for the care Olive and Max received. They look forward to seeing those who cared for both Olive and Max, especially Dr. Yu.

“Part of us feels at home in the hallways of Boston Children’s — almost like visiting an old friend,” Marc says.

“When we return every holiday season to bring gifts, we nearly always run into someone who remembers our Olive. They always want to hear the rest of our story and tell us they see ‘big sissy’ in Max and Ivy.”

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Learn more about the Boston Children’s Department of Urology and our locations of care.

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