Photoshop Special CS6 Inspiration: Stella James Tranberry

Before I head off for a sabbatical this summer, I wanted to reflect on the past 11 years, and share with you why I do what I do, and share a story about the birth of my second daughter, Stella, and the greatest accomplishment ever achieved.

See, I’m the luckiest guy on the planet. I have two wonderful daughters and an awesome wife who’s into nerds, namely me. I’ve been lucky enough to find myself on the Photoshop development team for the past 11 years. I started at Adobe in July of 2001. Through the years, I’ve worked on number of versions of Photoshop, each with their own challenges and each with their own triumphs. From helping to deliver the first version of Photoshop to run on OS X, to asking “Why can’t I select more than one layer at time?” to helping rearchitect Photoshop for Mac OS Cocoa/64-bit, to the most recent release of Photoshop CS6 with all its customer driven enhancements. I’ve even recently realized a personal goal to author a published book.  And through all the years and developing many versions of Photoshop, I’ve worked with many amazing software developers, who above all else, are amazing people. And no-where is it better displayed than in the Photoshop CS6 splash screen:

Who is Stella James Tranberry? And why is she an inspiration?

Stella is my second daughter. She was born three weeks early in mid-August, 2011, with a serious heart defect: Pulmonary Atresia or Blue Baby Syndrome. Thankfully, a pediatrician discovered the problem prior to being sent home. We were rushed to Children’s Hospital were she was placed on prostaglandins to keep her ductus arterioles open. Here’s Stella and I day one:

I let my boss and friends at work know what was going on.  Despite my plan to take 6 weeks off for paternity leave, I was consistently reassured by everyone at every level of our organization – “Do what you need to do. Take as much time as you need. Don’t even think about work.”

Things were about to become more complicated than we ever imagined. Stella’s heart stopped during a catheter procedure when she was just 4 days old. Many of her organs had shut down. She had to be placed on life support in the form of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO. There was a 50/50 chance that she would make it. The odds of her being blind, deaf or having brain damage were high even if she did survive. We had about 14 days on ECMO before clots would form in the system and the odds of survival dropped lower. They didn’t sugarcoat it.

Bleeding on her brain was discovered from imaging done overnight. Babies vascular systems are very delicate and the trauma of CPR/chest compressions after her heart stopped probably caused some bleeding. He left lung collapsed. Things seemed like they were going from bad to worse.

I couldn’t bring myself to take a photo of her in this condition. It was too painful. I didn’t want any record of this experience for fear that it would only be a reminder of heartache. Stella remained on ECMO – but if there was ever to be a chance for her heart take over for the machines that kept her alive, doctors would need to perform another open heart surgery to repair a valve and place a Blalock–Taussig shunt or BT shunt. (Side note: see the movie “Something the Lord Made” for a touching story on how this procedure was pioneered.) On about day 10 she had stabilized enough for them to perform the surgery. I finally brought myself to snap a photo of her using my phone:

That same day, my buddy Dave Dobish, from our Minnesota office, stopped by the hospital to see how we were doing and also drop of a box of Tibetan style prayer flags that my coworkers had signed with words of encouragement for us to hang in her room. We had flags from coworkers all over the world: Minnesota, San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, Ottawa, and Beijing. We would need all the encouragement we could get. Time was running out for her heart to regain it’s strength and get off of ECMO.

Getting her off of ECMO wasn’t a smooth process. The first time they dialed it down, she wasn’t keeping up, and needed to dial it back up. Rachel and I were getting worried. It took another 4-5 days, but she finally did it. They were able to get her off of ECMO:

Stella’s left lung and kidney function continued to be a problem. She needed yet another procedure to plicate her diaphragm and Peritoneal dialysis (PD) since they could no longer help her kidneys through SCUF-ing her blood on ECMO. OK, one more procedure, and maybe we’ll be out of the woods.

More bad news. The ventricles in her brain were growing larger. The bleeding in her brain had stabilized but she was no longer regulating the amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in her brain. Hydrocephalus. Her head was starting to swell, she was more tired, and her eyes were sundowning when she was awake. She needed brain surgery to place a catheter and reservoir above her hairline they could tap with a needle to drain the CSF from her brain as needed:

The neurosurgeons told us the reservoir was temporary – with her most likely needing a permanent VP shunt to continually drain the CSF from her brain. The VP shunt would have to wait in any case because it needed to drain into her abdomen which was currently occupied by the dialysis tube. We held out hope that she wouldn’t need the permanent VP shunt and used the reservoir for several weeks until her kidneys kicked back in and we weened her off the ventilator that helped her breath:

We eventually weened her off the vent – and started the slow process of teaching her to eat on her own. This was perhaps the biggest challenge we faced as parents. All the trauma she’d been through, having tubes going in her mouth and down her esophagus, had made it nearly impossible for her to take a bottle of even a nook and not have violent gag reflex. We worked for several weeks to try and get her eating on her own by the time we would leave the hospital.

Several days before we were to be discharged from the hospital we made the decision with our care team to remove the reservoir and replace it with a VP shunt. We also had to fit her with a feeding tube so we could continue to fatten her up while she learned to eat on her own:

In all, Stella spent close to 3 months in the hospital. From day one, everyone on my team at Adobe, along with family and friends, had rallied around us with texts, daily posts and comments on Facebook, as well as cards and care packages to help lift our spirits during this ordeal. Stella’s recovery was a team effort – a triumph grander than any release of software.

Here is a photo of Stella at home:

What does Stella have to do with software development? Throughout my career, I’ve faced many challenges while helping develop Photoshop into the product it is today. What I’ve learned from it all is that challenges require teamwork.  They require hard work and caring. They require listening, observing, getting your hands dirty, understanding and always focusing on the the customer. That’s what I’ve always tried to do while working on Photoshop. That’s what I do in my current role as a Customer Advocate for our Digital Imaging products. That’s how I approached Stella’s recovery.

See you in September.

– Jeffrey Tranberry
Product Manager – Chief Customer Advocate – Digital Imaging
@jtranber on Twitter

14 Responses to Photoshop Special CS6 Inspiration: Stella James Tranberry

  1. Estarmir says:

    Very touching story. Glad to know Stella survived the whole ordeal. She’s adorable!

  2. Mike says:

    Jeff; being father I can appreciate the angst you have gone through since the birth of your daugter, and to see and hear she is recovering is magic and you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers

    I can only imaging the joy of taking the picture above with that look of wonder on her face and I am so glad she is back home with you


  3. alan shapiro says:

    That last photo is exactly what I was hoping for.
    Hope Stella has a much less eventful but equally love filled remainder of her hopefully very long life.
    (He says while packing for his trip to California this afternoon for his grandmother’s 100th birthday)

  4. Jeffrey,
    being a father of a (now 6yo) girl who suffered for hydrocephalus caused by a cerebral hemorrhage during her birth, I admit the pictures you’ve shown have been tough to see – I save a (basically identical) collection of shot like these, and my wife and I use to keep them to remember what are the important things in life – and especially what are not.
    Enjoy the life with your family, kids have the almost miraculously ability to recover beyond human imagination (my daughter just came home from her Ju-Jitsu lesson screaming with joy, making very, very, very difficult for me to make the Photoshop script I’m working on decently collaborate with its author 😉 Isn’t this nice?!
    All the best from Italy!

  5. Marcia Cannon says:

    bless you all, she is very precious, a gift that will be with you forever…

  6. Dipanjan says:

    The last image of Stella was the one I was looking for. She is a Princess and a precious gift of almighty, Thanks for sharing this Jeffrey. May God bless!!… And yes, Teamwork is something which can create such amazing program that Photoshop today is, The world loves it 🙂

  7. alyssa says:

    very touching story! =)))))

  8. Thank you for sharing an extremely personal — and inspiring — story. I’ve been on board since Photoshop 7 and will soon have to upgrade to CC. That will be a bit easier now, knowing the kind of company Adobe really is. CONGRATULATIONS and God Bless.


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