Mother Behind These ‘No Touching’ Signs Still Fighting Battles
Johanna Ackerman started making signs about 7 years ago when her nephew was born with holes in his heart requiring significant surgery to repair. Her sister-in-law was very concerned with germs and infection before he was strong enough for his surgery and the best way she knew to support her was through creating a sign that did the speaking for her. After creating this first design, multiple moms on social media said that they’d love to have one and so she began creating signs by hand on Etsy to help mothers like her sister-in law.
On March 3rd 2016, her sister-in-laws struggle became her own. Her son Harrison was born 10 weeks early with zero warning; beginning a 10 week journey of watching him struggle to breathe, maintain a regular heartbeat, eat and perform normal functions people would take for granted. While this time was challenging and rewarding all at the same time, once it was time to go home it was petrifying knowing he was immune compromised and that something as simple as a common cold could send him back to the hospital.
Before he was born, Johanna and her Husband Josh promised to each other that they would continue living their lives WITH their children and not live solely FOR them. They used a preemie “no touching” sign when they went out to do just that as it allowed them to take Harrison out with their friends and family while limiting unnecessary exposure to germs/illness. Luckily, the signs worked and they went without any serious illness for a while.
Fast forward to October 17th 2017. Johanna found herself blessed after two miscarriages to be pregnant with twin girls and another clean pregnancy, until it wasn’t. Her daughters Everly and Emma were born out of nowhere at 34 weeks gestation. While this was much further than Harrison made and the NICU experience was less stressful, it just reminded them how quickly you can take the little things for granted such as our children’s and loved ones health. After 6 weeks they were back home as a family, happy and healthy.
Fast forward once more to Father’s Day weekend 2018. Harrison was running a fever which they soon found out to be an ear infection. After a bit of a struggle, they were able to heal him with normal antibiotics, but only days later they were in the same situation with yet another ear infection and a fever. Once more with the help of antibiotics they were able to fix Harrison’s ear infection. This time more easily and within a few days’ time. After a few calm days, Harrison was running a fever again and this time they went in expecting tubes for his ears, but instead they were told he looked healthy. He was prescribed steroids and sent on his way. The next 5 days Harrison was a rock star! Playing in the dirt, running, laughing and being the best they’ve ever seen. Harrison woke up Saturday morning, July 14th, to a different scenario altogether. He wouldn’t walk, talk or eat. Johanna immediately rushed him to the doctor and after 4 or so hours of tests they were sent to Riley Children's Hospital for further testing because his bloodwork had come back abnormal and his bone marrow appeared suppressed. At this point the best the Doctors could tell them was it was either a nasty virus or potentially Leukemia.
They spent the entire weekend holding their son and preparing for the worst until Harrison was officially diagnosed July 16th with B-Cell ALL Leukemia. Up to this point they held onto all hope that what he was battling couldn’t be cancer (I mean, honestly, how can a child that just ran, played, climbed and wrestled with his daddy for hours the day before have a devastating cancer?) Nonetheless, the doctor came in and confirmed a parents worst fears. Harrison was diagnosed with B-Cell ALL Leukemia. The Leukemia had already taken over 99% of his bone marrow and had completely depleted his immune system to zero which was why he kept coming down with common ear infections and was fatigued. He needed to start treatment the very next day. That being said, once the news broke, a switch was flipped. Johanna was going to do anything and everything it took to take this battle head on with her son. Whatever it takes! After a month of battling in the hospital, spinal taps, bone biopsies and multiple surgeries Harrison was on track and in remission. They were ready to go back home! On the way home she couldn’t help but realize how things had come full circle. All over again, the little boy she'd once taken home from the NICU who only days before was struggling to survive, otherwise looked healthy outside of having a suppressed immune system.
Johanna felt encouraged, empowered and terrified all at the same time to enter this new chapter, but one thing remained constant. She'd do anything in her power to protect her child, but at the same time keep a balance in life without living in fear. While he’s in a fragile state now, she takes calculated risks to keep him safe and help maintain a high quality of life. Johanna believes that’s how all new mothers feel. While the signs aren’t a silver bullet, they help keep folks that mean well from accidentally doing harm. Not to mention, they help keep new mothers a little bit more sane in an otherwise insane time.