Shelby Hubbard is a little nervous about her 17th birthday coming up at the end of November.
The Tuscaloosa County High School sophomore isn’t worried about who to invite or who will show up. She’s worried about whether she’ll get to have a party at home, or end up spending her big day in a hospital — for the second year in a row.
Hubbard was born with portal hypertension, a condition caused by the main vein from her liver to her heart being closed. And her mother, April Hubbard, says it’s caused problems, like life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding, that have had Shelby in and out of hospitals all her life.
But last year’s birthday was brightened by a visit from country music star Sara Evans, who sang to her while she lay in bed at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. And this year’s might be a little brighter — wherever it’s spent — thanks to a wish recently granted by local sponsors and the children’s charity Kids Wish Network.
“She had had a wish to go to Disney World granted when she was six,” April Hubbard said. “And a few years later, the Wish Network people called and told us she might be eligible for a second wish. She’d been doing better at the time, but when she started having issues again, I remembered that she might be able to get a second wish, so she wrote and asked for a shopping spree.”
The Kids’ Wish Network, Kiwanis of Tuscaloosa, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 10, Walmart and Prestige Limo Service worked together to grant the wish, and Shelby was able to spend a blissful couple of hours buying things like an Xbox and a flat-screen television.
“She was able to just go through Wal-Mart and grab whatever she wanted,” April Hubbard recalled, and said in a press release that “The Wal-Mart here was wonderful! They had signs, a nametag, personal shoppers, roses, a cake and a separate checkout aisle just for her! They really went above and beyond.”
Shelby is in a hospital in Boston, preparing for a surgery that she and her family hope will improve some of her symptoms. She could be there for a month or longer, but says she’s used to the uncertainties her condition creates.
“I’ll plan birthdays and then have to go to the hospital, and I also have to make up a lot of stuff at school because of my condition,” she said. “But all of my friends and everyone understand.”
She says she picked out new pajamas and a pile of movies to use during her hospital stay. Her mother says the operation is new but promising.
It’s only been done once before. But by removing a vein from Shelby’s leg and placing it in her liver, doctors think it may help her function normally.
That would be a huge change for the Hubbard family.
“There’s been no way to get used to it, we call it our abnormal normal,” April Hubbard said. “Anybody who has a sick kid never knows when they might be in the hospital again, or what will happen the next day, but no one is guaranteed a tomorrow.”
April Hubbard says her daughter’s shopping spree helped calm her nerves, and Shelby says she’s spent hours playing Crazy Taxi on her X-Box in an effort to get her mind off the upcoming procedure. But both look forward to a better quality of life when she returns home.
“A normal day when everybody goes to school, no one gets sick, everyone has dinner together and goes to bed in the same house,” April Hubbard said, laughing. “That would be a perfect day for us.”