Joslyn's Journey

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Joslyn Mehringer, 12, of Ireland, stands in the kitchen at dinnertime while her mother, Adrienne, gives her an insulin injection for her Type 1 diabetes at their home on Thursday. Joslyn was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in July. She was born with Pierre Robin sequence, a condition that can lead to difficulty breathing and problems with eating early in life, and was diagnosed with scoliosis in 2017.

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

Joslyn Mehringer doesn’t remember every step of her winding journey. But how could she?

It began just after she was born.

Sitting outside their Ireland home on Thursday, her mother, Adrienne (Schwenk) rattled off the long list of medical afflictions her 12-year-old daughter has fought in her short life.

Pierre Robin sequence. Advanced scoliosis. Type 1 diabetes.

None are connected. But they have all shaped young Joslyn.

Those separate battles have matured the caring and loving preteen’s outlook. She has been in and out of hospitals since birth, and as more surgeries and procedures loom in the distance, family and friends have organized a November benefit to help the Mehringers cover upcoming travel and medical expenses.

“The pouring of local support is just phenomenal,” Mark Mehringer, Joslyn's grandpa, said of the response to the benefit, which had already sold nearly 1,200 meal tickets by press time Friday. “It just blows me away.”

Adrienne and her husband, Eric, brought Joslyn into the world on April 24, 2008. Mom remembered how her eldest child struggled to eat and sleep in the first couple weeks of her life.

A photograph of Joslyn's first smile, at 2 months old, lies on top of a scrapbook filled with memories of her medical procedures at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Joslyn was in and out of the hospital several times per month during her first year of life for sleep and swallow studies.

“We would eat for an hour, we would try to sleep for an hour and then she would cry for an hour,” Adrienne said, recalling her experiences with her daughter before taking her into the hospital. “And it was kind of like that all the time. And I’m like, I don’t know if this is how a normal baby is supposed to be. But I’m pretty sure not.”

Her hunch was right. A local pediatrician diagnosed the girl with a soft cleft palate and sent her to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. There, medical professionals determined that the hole in the roof of her mouth was part of her Pierre Robin — a multi-faceted condition that can lead to difficulty breathing and problems with eating early in life, according to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

The Mehringers visited Riley more than 10 times in 2008 after Josyln was born, and the trips north didn’t stop at the end of the year. Doctors conducted sleep and swallow studies and taught Eric and Adrienne how to anchor a feeding tube in Joslyn’s nose and deliver oxygen into her body with another tube. Her parents were also given sleep apnea monitors and trained in infant CPR.

Joslyn’s sleep improved, and when she was about 6 months old she was able to eat baby food. Near her first birthday, Joslyn no longer needed to use the tube daily. Her palate was repaired in February 2010.

Her speech did not progress after that repair and speech therapy, so the family visited Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt to see what more could be done. An endoscopy showed that she needed to have a pharyngeal flap procedure, which would stitch tissue from the back of her throat to the front.

“And that seemed to help,” Adrienne said. “It wasn’t like an immediate, and really prominent change like right away. She still had to learn to use those muscles and talk.”

Joslyn poses for a portrait with her scoliosis back brace outside her home on Thursday. She wears the brace every day at school and when she sleeps.

Joslyn also used to wear hearing aids due to complications of her Pierre Robin, but because she contracted so many ear infections, the devices would frequently clog and stop working. She still requires a couple surgeries that will improve her hearing.

The discovery of another condition, however, put them on hold.

Joslyn was diagnosed with scoliosis in 2017. Doctors told the family that it was significant and would eventually require surgery when she was a little bigger. After a recent trip to Shriners Hospitals for Children Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky, however, the Mehringers were told that the timetable had been expedited.

The scoliosis had progressed and needed to be stopped quickly; medical professionals worried about the pressure that the curves in her back place on her heart and lungs. That surgery will take place in the near future.

And Joslyn’s journey doesn’t end there. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes after being rushed to the hospital in late July. She will carry that disease with her for the rest of her life.

Seeing her daughter go through so much makes Adrienne feel awful. She works as a nurse at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center, so she can view Joslyn’s journey through a pragmatic, medical lens that many parents don’t have. She knows the lingo and can catch what doctors are saying.

But that doesn’t lessen the emotional toll. She still breaks down. She still feels pain. After Joslyn was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Mom cried and cried.

“It’s absolutely hard to see her go through that,” Adrienne reflected. “And we’ve cried together, too. And I’m like, ‘I wish I could take this away from you.’ And she’s like, ‘No, I don’t want you to have it.’”

Adrienne explained that Joslyn “really doesn’t make too much” of her medical battles. She’s a tough kid, but when she does get down, playing with her family’s cats and kittens cheers her up, and so does going to her classes at Jasper Middle School, where she is currently in seventh grade. She also loves to talk to friends and family and finds strength in prayer.

Joslyn, right, plays Jenga with her brother, Bryant, 8, at their home on Thursday. Through all of Joslyn's medical diagnoses, spending time with her family, friends and cats cheers her up. "She loves people," said her mother, Adrienne. "She's always so huggy and lovey."

Joslyn’s grandfather, Mark Mehringer, spoke of how caring and sweet his granddaughter is. She enjoys looking after younger children and is just a “typical 12-year-old-girl,” he said in a Friday phone call.

She’s a trooper, he said.

When Adrienne looks to the future, she believes there is no limit to what Joslyn can accomplish.

“I think that she’ll go on and live a full and long life,” Adrienne said.

Sunday, Nov. 1, a benefit for Joslyn will be held at The Rock Bar & Grill in Ireland. Barbecue chicken dinners with green beans, potato wedges, and bread are currently being pre-sold for $12 a ticket. Few tickets remained at press time.

Those dinners can be picked up on Nov. 1 at the restaurant between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

For more details regarding meal tickets, message Kelsey Hopf by text at 639-4422, or contact Sarah Danhafer by text or phone 630-3177 or Mark Mehringer at 309-4491.

A baked goods table will also be set up on that day, with donations going to the Mehringer family. Along with food, T-shirts will also be sold for $15, and long-sleeve shirts will sell for $20. Those shirts can be ordered at joslynsjourney.itemorder.com.

Donations can also be made at any Fifth Third Bank location.

Joslyn lives in Ireland with her mother, Adrienne, her father, Eric, and her two siblings Bryant, 8, and Emery, 7.

Joslyn checks her blood sugar level by pricking her finger before she eats dinner, while her mother, Adrienne, fills out her insulin log, left, on Thursday. Joslyn checks her blood sugar levels multiple times every day and calculates the amount of insulin needed for each injection.



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