Monday, Oct. 20, 2008

Miracle Mum Has Baby

Tracey was 17 when she got involved in a car accident.

Her body was so badly damaged, doctors described her as “like a rag doll”. They prepared her family for the worst…

She was in a coma for 5 weeks, passed 2 months in intensive care.

She needed more than 2 years of rehabilitation. Experimental surgery on her broken neck saved her from paralysis.

She had to learn to cope with memory problems, taking notes all the time to remember not only what she’s going to do but what she’s doing.

“I had to learn to walk and talk, and everyday things like getting dressed, going to the toilet and everything else we take for granted.”
Tracey Austin

Now, 16 years later, Tracey has been back to the same hospital that saved here life — this time to give live.

“I always wanted to be a mum but just didn’t think it would be this hard.

They’ve got all my records and the facilities in case anything went wrong.

It’s still all surreal that we are actually a family and at home with baby.”
Tracey Austin

The couple had been afraid her body would be too badly damaged to ever give birth but fertility experts disagreed.

Monday, Jul. 14, 2008

Woman keeps promise to war hero dad

ANN YORK will soon be making the journey she has always dreamed about – a poignant visit to a Canadian town which has honoured her late father.

She has won the chance to make the trip of a lifetime thanks to a Telegraph competition.

We asked readers to tell us where in the world they would most like to visit and why.

Hundreds of stories came in from across Coventry and Warwickshire, but it was Ann’s moving tale which got the judges’ vote.

The former dinner lady told how she had never been able to see the street named after her father, Frank Woodward, who fought in a famous battle in the Second World War.

Ann, aged 60, of the Hiron, Cheylesmore, Coventry, will now be able to proudly walk down Woodward Crescent in Ajax, Canada.

Her dad was a crew member on the HMS Ajax which, together with HMS Exeter and HMS Achilles, defeated the Graf Spee in the famous Battle of the River Plate in 1939.

The town decided to honour the crews by naming roads after them.

Ann had a letter from the mayor of Ajax six years ago inviting her to attend a tree-planting ceremony in the road.

But she was recovering from cancer at the time and couldn’t make it.

Now she will have that chance thanks to sponsors Birmingham International Airport and its partner airlines and tour operators which will pay for the flights and spending money to cover accommodation and other treats for Ann and a companion.

Ann said she would “jump for joy and probably cry as well” if she won the holiday and that’s exactly what she did.

She added: “I still can’t believe I’ve won – it still feels like a dream.

“I do feel sorry for the other contestants but now I can fulfil the promise to my brother and father which was to walk down that street and pay tribute.

Her father died 17 years ago and mother, Alison, passed away eight years ago. Her brother Howard died three years ago.

Ann said: “Losing my father was like losing my best friend. He meant the world to me and we were so close.

“He would always ask how my children were and see if I was OK and would do anything for me.”

Ann, who is married to Mick and has a son Andrew, 33, will be taking her daughter Alison, 30, on the trip.

Wednesday, Jul. 9, 2008

Man becomes miracle dad 25 years after cancer treatment made him infertile

Little Aisling Richardson never pestered her parents for a new Barbie or a pony. She craved just one thing – a baby brother or sister. And from the moment she could talk, she never stopped asking.

The youngster, who is now nine, little realised that her own existence was a longed-for blessing, and that another addition to the family would be little short of miraculous.

“She was desperate,” says mum Beverley, 39. “It was her one desire in life. She’d put coins in wishing wells, look at shooting stars and tell us she had asked for a brother or sister. It touched our hearts. We so wanted to make her happy.”

But Beverley’s husband Michael, a social worker, had been left infertile following cancer treatment 25 years ago. Aisling had been conceived using his frozen sperm and specialist fertility treatment – but this had failed when they had tried for another baby.

So imagine the family’s surprise and delight to discover that Aisling was to get her wish after all – miracle baby Eliza was on the way.

Astonishingly she was conceived completely naturally – a quarter of a century after doctors said Michael would never have children. “It’s incredible,” says Michael, 47. “Even the doctors are dumbfounded and haven’t heard of it happening before, especially after such a long period of time. I feel like I’ve won the Lottery.”

The Richardsons found out that Eliza, now five months old, was on the way last April, after Beverley, had gone to give blood.

“The nurse thought I had anaemia,” says Beverley, a primary school teacher. “She gave me iron deficiency tablets but they made me feel worse – nauseous and weak.”

Next she saw her GP and was shocked to be asked whether she had taken a pregnancy test.

She says: “I knew there was no way I could be expecting – Michael was infertile. But she needed to do it to rule it out. So I agreed.

“When the test came back positive, I couldn’t take it in.”

Michael was equally stunned by the news: “I thought Bev was joking. I was so surprised, I even joked that it couldn’t possibly be my baby. But obviously, it was.”

Michael from West Yorkshire, was 22 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – a form of cancer. He needed radiotherapy, but was told it would affect his fertility. In all likelihood he would never become a dad.

In 1990, seven years after having radiotherapy, Michael was told the cancer was unlikely to return. It was then he met and fell in love with Beverley.

After they got married in August 1993, Michael felt the true pain of his infertility. “We wanted kids. But even though we had an intimate, loving relationship, and never used precautions, nothing happened. We accepted it was because I was sterile.”

Fortunately, Michael had been advised to freeze some sperm before his cancer treatment. In late 1997, after an assessment at the fertility centre at St James Hospital in Leeds, it was confirmed that using his frozen sperm was their only option.

So the next January, Michael and Beverley embarked on ICSI, a form of fertility treatment where sperm is injected into the egg.

Unfortunately, Beverley had a bad reaction to the drugs. “I suffered Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome,” she says. “My lungs flooded with fluid and I ballooned, putting on two stone in 48 hours. I was kept in hospital for two weeks.”

Yet two months later, Beverley bravely decided to try again. And this time, they were successful.

“We were speechless,” says Michael. “My frozen sperm, which was 17 years old by then, had actually produced a child.

“It had been such an outside shot.

We couldn’t believe it.”

On February 16, 1999, Aisling was born. “Her name is Irish for ‘vision’ or ‘dream,'” says Beverley, “which is exactly what she was to us.”

When Aisling was three, they tried ICSI again. But it cost £4,000 a time, and, after four failed attempts, they had to call it a day.

Michael and Beverley resigned themselves to having an only child.

But Mother Nature had other ideas. And on January 29 this year, Eliza came into the world.

“Eliza’s gorgeous,” says Michael, proudly. “I keep looking at her in awe. It’s phenomenal.

“The doctors can put it down to nothing other than that I’ve taken care of myself. I don’t drink, don’t smoke and I have a good balanceddiet.

I feel like Superman!”

Beverley adds: “Aisling is on cloud nine. She adores her little sister. One day, we’ll tell her. We’ve beaten cancer and infertility. It’s taken 25 years – now our lives are definitely complete!”

It’s incredible. The doctors are dumbfounded and I feel like I’ve won the Lottery


Big sister Aisling, nine, was conceived using sperm Michael had frozen in 1982

21 years Sperm frozen for that length of time was used by a British couple to conceive their first child in 2004

Durga Thangarajah was delivered alive and well in Australia in May after growing in her mother’s ovary instead of the womb.

4 years after her father’s death from cancer Jaimie-Rose Roberts from Chepstow was born in March using his frozen sperm

Thursday, Jun. 5, 2008

Believe in miracles

Dan and Suzanne Isidor, of State College, were surprised but thrilled to learn almost three years ago that Suzanne was pregnant with twins.

Then came the worrying news. Nineteen weeks into

the pregnancy, they were told it would be a high-risk pregnancy. The fetuses were situated in a way that one of the children might not survive the birth.

The news hit hard. Then, one

evening, they decided to watch the Children’s Miracle Network telethon. And it gave them hope.

“When you hear the news about something like this, you think that you are all alone, but you’re not,” Dan Isidor said. “There is a network of support — financially and emotionally.”

Now the parents of healthy 2-year-old twins, Luke and Evan, and a 4-year-old son, Jackson, the Isidors will be one of the families featured on the Children’s Miracle Network Celebration telethon. It will air from 9 p.m. to midnight today and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday on WTAJ, the local CBS affiliate.

Proceeds from the telethon will benefit Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Danville, where the Isidor twins were born, and health care providers in State College, Altoona, DuBois and other Pennsylvania locations.

The telethon, the Isidors said, helped them realize they weren’t the only parents dealing with high-risk pregnancies or premature births. It’s also where they saw other parents’ success stories.

“We had never watched it before,” Suzanne Isidor said of the telethon. “The stories were so touching that we even donated money.”

Children’s Miracle Network requests donations annually through fundraisers to help children like the Isidor twins. Since 1984, Children’s Miracle Network has raised more than $36 million throughout the Geisinger Health System.

Telethon donations have helped Geisinger provide state-of-the-art pediatric care by funding support services, programs and pediatric equipment, said Jennifer M. Young, spokeswoman for Geisinger Health System and Children’s Miracle Network at Geisinger.

Types of equipment purchased with telethon donations include tele-echo equipment, used to transmit echo-cardiogram results immediately to a specialist, and Isolette incubators, used to transport neonatal patients by helicopter.

Vital signs monitors were one piece of equipment purchased with telethon funds that were used to help the Isidor twins survive.

Born prematurely in the 30th week of Suzanne Isidor’s pregnancy, the twins were delivered by Caesarean section. Luke weighed 2 pounds, 4 ounces. Evan weighed 3 pounds, 1 ounce.

The babies had to stay in Geisinger’s neonatal unit at the hospital. For weeks after Suzanne Isidor was discharged, she and her husband made countless trips between their State College home and Danville. Much of the time, she made the trip alone while her husband stayed home to go to work and take care of Jackson.

“It was hard when we had to leave them there,” Suzanne Isidor said, recalling the fragile twins as each being about the length of a Barbie doll. “Jackson didn’t understand when I didn’t come home with a baby.”

Family, friends and support groups associated with Children’s Miracle Network helped the Isidors through the rough times.

The Isidors often stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Danville, sparing them the expense of hotel rooms.

Evan came home after five weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. Luke came home two weeks later.

The Isidors are now advocates for Children’s Miracle Network, saying the twins are living proof of the good the telethon does.

“The money goes to a great cause,” Suzanne Isidor said, holding Evan in her arms. “Obviously, it’s a cause that goes straight to our hearts.”

Tuesday, Jun. 3, 2008

Woman told she can’t have kids has 4 in 16 months

Confidently feeding and changing her baby daughters, Naomi Kesterton looks as though she was born to be a mother.

But a house full of children was once a distant dream for Naomi, 30, who years before was told she had practically no chance of conceiving naturally.

But she proved the doctors wrong – and just months after meeting her husband-to-be Toby, Naomi was pregnant and went on to have four children in just 16 months.

After daughter Ella was born in September 2006 she got pregnant again nine months later with identical triplets Catherine, Amelia and Sophia.

Incredibly, experts put the chances of natural conception identical triplets at 200million-to-one.

Naomi said: “When I think about how unlikely it was that I’d have children naturally, let alone identical triplets, I realise what a miracle they are.”

Former events organiser Naomi met internet publisher Toby, also 30, when she moved into his house in Bracknell, Berks, as a lodger in January 2005.

She said: “We had both just come out of messy relationships but we got on so well that within a few months we’d fallen for each other.

“Toby wanted a big family but when I was 20, doctors told me there was only a five per cent chance I would conceive naturally.

“It was devastating as I’d always wanted children but I had to resign myself to other options like IVF and adoption.

“Toby and I knew it was something we would have to face when we decided to start a family.”

But on a break to Scotland in November 2005 for Toby’s birthday, Naomi had an unexpected gift.

“We found out I was pregnant,” she remembers.

“It was a huge shock but a lovely one. We hadn’t been that careful with birth control because I assumed I couldn’t conceive. It wasn’t planned at all. We were both very career-minded and planned to get married after a couple of years and then think about a family.”

The couple flew to Naomi’s native Durban in South Africa to marry and, in September 2006, after a six-day labour, Ella, now 20 months, was born.

“I loved being a mum,” says Naomi. “But I warned Toby that I’d never be pregnant twice. Ella was my one miracle.”

Settling into motherhood, Naomi gave up work and starting planning a second wedding in the UK. She explains: “We got married in Durban because we wanted to be married when Ella was born but we still planned a big ceremony in the UK.”

Last summer, just weeks before her big day, Naomi began to suspect she was pregnant again. “I started getting sick and I began to grow,” she says.

A pregnancy test proved her intuition right and Naomi gave Toby the news on their wedding day in July last year. “He grinned like a Cheshire cat,” she says.

After a honeymoon in Cyprus that was ruined by morning sickness, the couple had their first scan.

Naomi explained: “I immediately saw two heads and asked ‘twins?’ Then we saw a third. Toby was grinning from ear to ear but I was thinking more about complications and risks. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I said, ‘Please don’t find a fourth!’

“I phoned my mum in tears and asked, ‘How do I do this?’ It was so scary. I came home and went on the internet and found statistics like 48 per cent of triplets don’t make it and in many of those cases the mothers don’t make it either.”

Her fears were intensified when another scan discovered that not only were the triplets sharing a placenta, two of them were sharing an amniotic sac and at risk of developing Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition where one baby takes blood supply and nutrients from the other. The Kestertons were given a stark choice.

Naomi said: “It was explained we could consider elective reduction – terminating one baby to make the pregnancy easier.

“I said to Toby, ‘No, if complications arise and the babies are at risk then maybe, but I am not going to terminate a baby just to make my life easier’.”

As doctors closely monitored the babies to check they were all developing at the same rate, Naomi struggled through a difficult pregnancy. She recalls: “The sickness was incredible. Normal morning sickness is bad but times that by three. I was a mountain. I measured my stomach at five-and-a-half months and it was 50 ins around.

“I was eating eight times a day, grazing on small meals because there wasn’t enough space in my stomach. My hips expanded so much I ended up on crutches. At six months I could hardly move. I would come down the stairs and not go back up all day because the effort was too much. I was immobile. I ended up with diabetes.

“It became a matter of getting as far through pregnancy as possible to give the babies the best chance. First, I had to make 27 weeks, when we got there it was 31 weeks because their lungs would be more developed then.”

In January this year, when the babies were 31 weeks and four days, Naomi felt back twinges and knew there was no space left.

After a steroid injection to allow the tiny babies a final chance to strengthen their lungs the three girls were delivered by caesarean at Basingstoke Hospital on January 9.

Because they were so rare, 15 assembled doctors and nurses supervised the birth. Amelia was born first, followed by Catherine and finally Sophia. They weighed 4lbs, 3lb 7ozs and 3lbs respectively.

They spent three weeks in incubators and two more in hospital before gaining enough weight to be allowed home. Naomi says: “They were so small and adorable. I’d always known they wouldn’t go full term and had to prepare myself not to be able to hold them at first.

“While I was recovering I picked up the winter vomiting bug and so there were days when I couldn’t even see them.

“It was awful to be away from them and breathtaking just to be able to hold them.”

Now the triplets are healthy five-month-olds and Naomi runs her household like clockwork.

She says: “I can tell who is who, but to anyone else they look the same.

“They all have their own distinct personalities. Amelia is the Earth Mother and looks out for her sisters, Catherine smiles the most and Sophia is the laidback one.

“Amelia and Catherine shared the sac and they have kept that bond. They hold hands and look for each other when they are apart.

“It’s not easy but the plus side is that we had our family all in one go. Most people have four children over a decade, we did it in 16 months. And we know how blessed we are to have them.”

Tuesday, May. 13, 2008

Behind the Badge brings department family together

Doing police work 24/7 can seem like a never-ending carousel — a revolving door of officers jumping on and off, at all hours of the day, as they serve the public.

It’s a different kind of public service. Different from working at City Hall or working 9 to 5. It’s constant, and often without reward.

It can wear on officers; hurt departmental retention. And, it’s something that not only officers deal with but it affects their families, too.

Sensing a need to find a morale booster and common denominator among his officers, Rolla Police Chief Mark Kearse, last October, sought to instill a more family atmosphere in the department. To accomplish that, Kearse assembled a group of people he knew would have his officers’ ears — their wives.

“It was my job to facilitate their meeting,” Kearse said of gathering spouses. “I got them together, and then I turned it over to them, and it’s been great.”

Now seven months old, the assemblage is a support group — not only for the officers, their wives and their children, but for others in the community as well.

Their commonality and desire to mutually assist led to naming their group “Behind the Badge.” It’s both a description and a motto.

“There is a huge network of spouses at the Police Department. We have answers, solutions and possibilities,” said D’ettra Kearse, who co-founded the group with Christy Moberly, Melinda Lauth and Paula Volkmer. Moberly is a 17-year receptionist whose husband is Sgt. Kenny Moberly. Lauth, who teaches first-grade, is married to Officer Anthony Lauth, and Volkmer is the department’s Director of Communications.

“We started having monthly meetings, and then this thing snowballed into a fantastic success,” said D’ettra Kearse, who said the group is not just about helping and supporting police officers.

“Just this (Tuesday) morning, we helped a woman in need get to Waynesville,” D’ettra Kearse said. “We support each other, but our group is about more than just helping each other.”

An example of that community spirit, was the group’s recent trip to Presbyterian Manor, where the police auxiliary group of wives, police staff members and children helped seniors with a spring planting of seeds.

“It was a great time,” Melinda Lauth said. “I think we enjoyed it as much as (the seniors) did.

“This started out as a group to support one another, but it’s grown to be much more than that,” Lauth said. “It’s not easy being a cop’s wife, and we support each other first. Then comes the outreach.”

Still, the intent of the group, that now numbers 30, is to bring the Police Department together.

“I think by bringing in the spouses, we firmed up the Rolla Police Department family,” said D’ettra Kearse.

It is that sentiment that appeals to Moberly, who is both an officer’s wife and who works as a department receptionist.

“It used to be, he didn’t have anyone but me for emotional support,” Moberly said.
“They don’t always want to bring that home, so they’d put that in a shell. Now, it’s different.”

Still, with officers, their husbands and spouses coming and going at various times, the women “Behind the Badge” strive to bring the department closer.

“We started having ‘shift-change gatherings,’” said D’ettra Kearse, explaining they have informal get-togethers at varied shift changes to include officers who work midnights just as they would include those who work daytime hours.

“It allows people a little exchange among the staff, and we try to do these on all shifts,” she said.

The group also conducts bake and garage sales, and most recently was instrumental in helping Police Department custodian Jim Duncan recover from flood damage to his home located along the Gasconade River.

“I was so proud of these ladies,” Chief Kearse said. “They probably raised $3- to $4,000 to help with his recovery effort. They arranged help from the Police Department and Sheriff’s Department. They probably got $6,000 worth of materials.”

Today, the group is sponsoring a bake sale during the “Get Your Picture with a Cop” benefit from 4 to 7 p.m. at Wal-Mart. The event is a precursor to National Police Week, which begins Sunday.

Another fundraiser later this month, on May 27, the group is doing a “Tip a Cop” benefit from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 27, at Pizza Inn, and they have plans for a concession booth during Summerfest.

During the holidays, when the group was less than two months old, it arranged to help 27 “Little Angels” during the holidays, buying gifts for needy children. They also contributed to the Sheriff’s Department “Shop with a Cop” benefit, which bought Christmas gifts for needy children.

“A lot of what we do is get back to the basics, helping family and friends,” D’ettra Kearse said.

Monday, Aug. 13, 2007

Mother’s ‘gift of delight’ inspires work

Nancy Iannone recalls always having had a “positive view” of people with Down syndrome.

Now she knows why. Nancy and her husband Vincent are parents of Gabriella, their fourth child, who was born with Down a little over two years ago.

“She’s just a delight,” says Nancy, a Washington Township resident, “but I didn’t realize she’d be delightful in so many ways.”

A former attorney and teacher, Nancy is one of 63 mothers of children with Down who have written chapters in a new book, “Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children With Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives.” Her chapter (No. 30) is titled, appropriately, “The Gift of Delight.”

The book is on sale at Barnes & Noble in Deptford, where Nancy recently took part in a book signing. She also was among six interviewed by Channel 6’s health reporter Anita Brickman.

Nancy admits when she was told her unborn daughter had Down she had difficulty accepting the news: “I slammed the door in my brain to hold back the flood of grief that was threatening to take over, and I shut down to everything but pure logic. Abortion, there it was, right in front of me.”

But a few days later she knew “everything is going to be OK.”

And then Gabriella was born.

“After awhile, I realized that we had moved beyond surviving to truly living. Gabriella was amazing, endearing, loving, and beautiful. My other three girls adored her, and my husband, who originally was nervous for them, saw that Gabriella would only enrich their lives.

“Gabriella continues to amaze us. She loves to sway to music, splash in the bath or the pool, and squeeze her sisters’ faces. We went away this weekend and took Gabriella with us because she is still nursing. When we came home, a near-riot ensued as her sisters fought over her. She is learning sign language at a pace that has amazed her sign teacher.

“Though I delight in her physical and cognitive progress, the true joy I receive is seeing her shining, laughing face, especially when she thinks she is playing a trick on me.”

She closes with this: “My baby is not a diagnosis, not a list of her potential woes. She is a beautiful person, full of laughter and grins. There is a world of possibilities laid before her, and I love exploring those possibilities with her.”

A 1985 WTHS graduate, Nancy married Vincent “during the blizzard of 1993.” They also are the parents of Samantha, 9, Maria, 7, and Elena, 5. She has not practiced law since their birth of their second child. She is a member of the board of trustees of The Sensory Playhouse, an open-play facility for kids with special needs.

Nancy’s goal is to comfort and give hope to parents of children who are diagnosed with Down.

Meanwhile, she is thrilled to witness her own daughter’s rapid development.

Gabriella recently won an award from the Gloucester County Special Services School District for progress in early intervention.

Friday, Jun. 29, 2007

Mum rescues her babies from house fire

A QUICK-THINKING mother rescued her two young children from a house fire minutes before it engulfed their home.

Jayne Willis, of Windermere Drive, Warndon, Worcester, said: “”I’ve lost everything, but I haven’t lost my babies.”

She was at home with one-year-old Mckenzi and four-year-old Jordan when a smoke alarm alerted her to the fire, which started in the television set in the lounge at about 10.30am yesterday.

The 41-year-old, who was in another room, rushed into the room, and ran outside.

Minutes later, the house was engulfed by flames.

Speaking outside as firefighters investigated, she said tearfully: “I walked in the front room and saw the smoke so grabbed the little ones and ran out of the house.

“There was a small lot of smoke and by the time I came out to get the fire extinguisher and come back in it was everywhere and I couldn’t see. There was black smoke everywhere.

“Everything was so fast. All I know is it went up and went up fast.

“I’m angry and shocked.”

Miss Wallis said her three other children, 10-year-old Reece, nine-year-old Tammi and seven-year-old Conni were thankfully at school when the fire happened.

Firefighters extinguished the fire within an hour, but it caused severe damage to the house.

Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Alec Mackie said the family was lucky to escape.

“The fire spread to other combustible materials that burn very quickly and caused a lot of smoke and fire,” he said.

“Had it happened at night it might have been a different tale.

“Thankfully the smoke alarms worked and it alerted her.

“She did very well to do what she did.”

However, Mr Mackie said the service did not recommend people going back into a burning building.

Police were on hand to divert traffic and Red Cross victim support volunteers were also there to assist Miss Wallis.

Monday, May. 14, 2007

A Mother’s Day Miracle

It’s a Mother’s Day miracle for one Tucson woman. She is able to celebrate this day, with her family, thanks to a lifesaving organ transplant.

“I’ve been given three chances now to have my life back,” says Annette Jones.

At just 25, doctors diagnosed Annette with kidney failure.

“I was in disbelief for a while because I felt fine and then very slowly, you start feeling sick,” she explains.

In 1990 Annette underwent a kidney transplant. But after just three years, her body rejected it.

“There wasn’t anything they could do except just give it time and see what happened,” says Annette.

Months later, a second miracle. Doctors found another kidney match for Annette. More than a decade passed and her body, once again rejected the transplant. Doctors said Annette’s kidney wouldn’t last long. She would have to wait on the transplant list for up to five years. So in 2004 her family was faced with a harsh reality.

“What if tomorrow comes around and something happens and I don’t have my mom,” says Annette’s son, Michael.

Doctors suggested she search for a living donor. But Annette felt it was too much to ask until a friend stepped in to help. Over dinner one night in 2005, Annette mentioned the situation to her husband’s boss and his wife.

“It never crossed my mind during the dinner that I would donate to her, never,” says Donna Davis.

But that night Donna had a change of heart. She says a spiritual calling inspired her to be tested and find out if she was a match for Annette.

“Sometimes us moms, we just need a cup of sugar. Well, Annette needed something, it wasn’t sugar. It was a kidney but it’s the same principal and I was just there at the right time,” says Donna.

In March 2005, Annette had the transplant that saved her life. A gift from one mom to another.

“Now she can be there for her kids and her kids can have a mom,” says Donna.

Annette was there when her son graduated from high school. Next week, her daughter will be married in Paris. She says Donna is part of every happy moment.

“I’m very, very thankful to her. I think about her everyday, always keep her in my prayers. I don’t think words can express how grateful I am to be here, to be with my kids, my husband on mother’s day,” adds Annette.

Tuesday, Mar. 13, 2007

Single mom balances school, family, named USA Today Academic All-Star

Single mom, non-traditional student, double major, honors student; all words that can describe a variety of students at UW-Eau Claire. But add USA Today’s Academic All-Star team member to the mix and only one student can use all these words to describe her.

Unlike most traditional students, senior Lori Scardino has to juggle Girl Scout outings and school board meetings with her demanding academic schedule.

The 30-year-old chemistry and biology double-major maintains a nearly perfect GPA while raising her two daughters and participating in numerous clubs and organizations.

A rocky beginning

Scardino said she never planned on the life she has now. Born in Florida, her family moved to Wisconsin when she was very young. At age 12, her parents divorced, and she lived with her father until age 15.

“I was placed in foster care by child protective services when I was in high school, and bounced around to different high schools and foster homes.”

She eventually moved in with her mom and graduated from high school her junior year so she could start college. But during her second semester at UW-La Crosse, she was dealt another blow when her father died and she had to leave school to take care of her brother, who was living with their father in Tomah at the time.

In 1996 Scardino married, something she now says was “not the best decision” she’s ever made. She had two daughters, Alexandra, 10, and Olivia, 8, by 1999 and in 2002 she divorced. That was the same year she said she decided to go back to school.

“I decided to return to school after my divorce. I was working a job full time at a hospital that I really liked but the pay wasn’t that great,” she said, adding she had to work every weekend. “I wanted a career that was more financially beneficial to my family and would allow me to have more time with my family.”

The first time Scardino tried to enroll at Eau Claire she said she wasn’t accepted because her GPA was too low, a fact she now says is ironic. When she left La Crosse she didn’t withdraw from any of her classes, which destroyed her GPA.

After spending a year at Chippewa Valley Technical College, Scardino brought up her grades enough to enroll at Eau Claire in the fall of 2003, where she said she planned on majoring in math education.

Discovering science

Scardino said science had always interested her, but it was an accident that prompted her to major in chemistry. She said she signed up for general chemistry her first semester but almost didn’t take it because her schedule wouldn’t allow her to take the lab and the lecture with the same professor.

“It was the only one that fit into my schedule so I decided to take it anyway, and it was the best thing that ever happened,” she said. That’s when she met chemistry department chair Scott Hartsel, who persuaded her to major in chemistry.

“She knew she loved science, and she knows she always did well in it, but she didn’t really know what she could do with science,” he said.

After Scardino switched her major, she said she figured she would teach high school chemistry after she graduated. Hartsel then tried to convince her that she could go on to become a professional scientist.

“He asked me what my plans were for graduate school, and I sort of laughed at him and said, ‘Are you kidding me? I can’t afford graduate school. I can barely afford to be here,'” Scardino said.

That’s when Hartsel told her that graduate schools pay for students to complete their programs, and everything changed for Scardino.

“It opened a whole new world for me,” she said.

Scardino started working on research projects the summer after her freshman year. Her first big project came when Hartsel had her work on a project he and other professors were collaborating on.

“I put her on a project that I didn’t really think was going anywhere on some new fluorescent molecules that could be used to visualize structures inside cells,” Hartsel said. “She just took that project and ran with it and we got amazing results – better than I ever expected to see. And we started to realize that this was something that could be patentable.”

He said the project gave them some great data and led to some patent applications. He attributes much of the success of the project to Scardino’s hard work.

“Not only is she nearly a 4.0 average (chemistry) major, but she’s a natural in laboratory work, she can see what needs to be done in an experiment, she does it carefully and keeps great notes.”

Right now, she and junior Vinay Rao are working on a project involving methanobactin, a protein-like molecule.

“We’ve been using instruments to analyze its structure,” Rao said.

Along with working on projects, she has even had some of her work published, something students strive for at the graduate level, Hartsel said. She has also already given three presentations at national and international meetings.

“Graduate schools are jumping all over her with offers,” Hartsel said.

Academic All-Star

Scardino’s hard work paid off in January when she was honored by USA Today as an Academic All-Star and was one of 20 students named to the all-USA College Academic First Team. The honor, Hartsel said, puts her in a very elite group of students.

“In a way it’s as prestigious as a Rhodes scholarship. In fact several of the students on the (team) are also Rhodes scholars and many of them (attend) places like Harvard or Princeton,” he said.

Scardino said she didn’t think she had much of a chance when Hartsel nominated her for the award.

“I honestly didn’t think I would fit the mold or their view of what an undergraduate student was because I’m a non-traditional student and a single mom and I do so many other things,” she said. “Because of those things, I’m limited to doing things here in my community.”

She said the committee judged her on criteria including community involvement, campus involvement and research she had done. She said national presentations and publications were also considered.

She said she was shocked when she received the award, which included a $2,500 award, a trophy and a feature in USA Today.

“I can’t think of a more deserving student,” Hartsel said of Scardino.

A balancing act

Besides her accomplishments in science, Scardino is constantly participating in campus and community organizations. She volunteers at Lakeshore Elementary School, is a troop leader for both her daughters’ Girl Scout troops, is the chemistry department tutoring coordinator and grows her hair out to donate to Locks of Love, to name just a few.

“I don’t know how she does it,” said Rao, who has done research with Scardino over the years. “She’s able to do it all.”

Scardino has an hour-by-hour schedule printed out for every day of the week.

“Time management is crucial,” she said.

“I try to put my children – the time that we have together – as my first priority. I don’t do my own homework or things like that until they’re in bed.

“Sleep deprivation is definitely the key to my life,” she said laughing.

Although she has a busy schedule, Scardino doesn’t complain.

“I’m in college because I want to be here and I want the degree. I’m a double major because I want to be. No one forced me to do any of these things.”

She also stays organized by prioritizing her activities.

“I try to be somewhat selective about the campus organizations I’m involved in so that it’s things I’m really passionate about and that are important to me,” she said, adding she keeps a list of all her activities to remember them.

What the future holds

After she graduates in May, Scardino said she and her daughters will move to Madison where she will begin attending graduate school and hopes to get her doctorate.

“I want to do biomedical research while I’m there,” she said. “I definitely want the work that I do there to have some pragmatic application. I want to help people in some way.”

Ultimately, she said she would like to become a professor at a university such as Eau Claire.

Hartsel said he hopes for the best for her.

“Lori is one of the hardest working students all around that I’ve ever been associated with, especially considering all the extra things she’s dealing with, as a parent and a non-traditional student, that most students don’t have to deal with,” he said.

Rao echoed Hertsel, saying that what he admires most about Scardino is her perseverance and persistence.

“Some of the unique or distinct things I get to see, other than her academics and what other teachers get to see, is who she is as a person,” he said.

One thing that really stands out about her is that she always takes the time to help others before helping herself.”

Of all the things Scardino has accomplished so far, she put it best when telling a story about when the USA Today photographer came to take her photo for the article. He said he wanted a picture of her doing something outside the classroom and asked what some of her proudest moments were.

“When (the photographer) asked me what my proudest accomplishment was, I told him that was an easy answer and it wasn’t on his list,” she said. “I said the thing I’m most proud of is being a mom.”

Friday, Mar. 9, 2007

Miracle Mother looks forward to 90th birthday

Brenda Busby calls her mother, Rose Lybrand, her “miracle mother.”

After falling into a coma in 2001 at 83 years old, Lybrand was hospitalized in an intensive care unit, where doctors told her family that the prognosis did not look very good.

“She was very sick; doctors said that she was probably going to die,” recalled Busby, also saying that during her mother’s hospitalization, she was on a respirator and undergoing dialysis.

For Busby, the miracle was in watching her mother pull out of the coma and go on to make a full recovery.

“The lord has brought her through some terrible times,” she said.

Perhaps it was because of Lybrand’s faith, which according to Busby plays a major role in her mother’s life. “She is a very virtuous woman,” she said. Busby said what she admires most about her mother is her giving nature. “She has quite a legacy; after the Lord, she has always put her family and others first,” she said. “She’s just a wonderful woman,” Hailey Cadden said of her great-grandmother. Cadden said that Lybrand had a hand in helping to raise her and her brother.

The love Lybrand has for her family can be seen just by walking into her room at Mattie C. Hall Healthcare, where she now resides. The walls are filled with pictures of her family, which spans five generations on each side. One of her favorites is a picture of her and her late husband William, both all smiles, on their wedding day, Jan. 14, 1945. To this day, Lybrand still remembers vividly how he proposed.

“First he talked to my mom and dad and then he got down on his knees and asked me to marry him,” she said, her eyes shining. Lybrand said that she met her husband while volunteering in a hospital in Virginia during World War II. A solider, William was being treated for injuries sustained during combat.

She said they were married in a small wedding at her brother’s house, moving to Aiken soon after.

These days Lybrand stays pretty busy at Mattie C. Hall. She says she enjoys taking part in games and activities such as Bingo, checkers and puzzles as well as enjoying the company of the residents and the staff whom she says are like family. She also said that she tries to attend services when she can at her church, First Baptist.

“I really love it here,” said Lybrand, who was named Miss Mattie C. Hall in the assisted living center’s beauty pageant several years ago.

Affectionately called “granny” by all of her family members, Lybrand is looking forward to a big day in a couple of months: Her 90th birthday is on April 8. She said her family plans to go all out in celebration this year. “They told me to invite everyone that I know,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Monday, Feb. 19, 2007

Father rides to the rescue over bicycle

A student was reunited with her stolen bike after her dad made a 360-mile trip to come to the rescue.

Mitali Manuel, a law student at New Hall, Cambridge, lost her treasured Raleigh bike when it was stolen from a cycle rack outside her college in Huntingdon Road.

When she told her father Arnand, 53, what had happened, he offered to drive from Manchester with a replacement bike.

But, in a bizarre twist, as he was dropping it off, he spotted Mitali’s original bike, and ran after the teenager who was riding it to confront him.

He said: “My daughter had called me really stressed and mad, because her bike had been stolen and it had disrupted her studies and routine – she couldn’t get to her faculty and library as easily as she had before.

“I offered to come down with my wife with a new bike for her, but when I was outside New Hall we saw a young man on a bike which looked just like hers.

“He was a good 100 metres away, so I ran after him along Huntingdon Road, and fortunately he stopped at some traffic lights, allowing me to catch up.

“He said he had found the bike in a bush and handed it over straight away – so I was able to return my daughter’s bike, which had a lot of sentimental value to her.”

Mitali, 21, said: “Dad ran through traffic, weaving his way across the road to reach the teenager on my bike, and I couldn’t believe I had got it back.

“It is my bike from my childhood – I did my cycling proficiency on it, and in Cambridge you grow very close to your bike because you spend so much time on it, so I was really pleased to be reunited with it.”

Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007

Dad rescues baby from River

A Hamilton father was still emotional yesterday after diving into the Waikato River to save his baby daughter on Wednesday.

Jared Bruning, 26, said he thought five-month-old Holli was dead as he dived into the water after her pram rolled off a river path and plunged down a cliff into the water.

Mr Bruning, a Fonterra worker, said Holli was under water for up to 20 seconds until he was able to free her.

He had been walking on the west side of the river with his wife Alicia and two-year-old Lily at 3.30pm on Wednesday when the incident happened.

The family was taking their usual route along Awatere Ave and Ann St towards the St Andrews Golf Course.

Both children were strapped into the buggy but Lily wanted to walk, so Mr Bruning put her on his shoulders, where she kicked off his hat and sunglasses. He and his wife reached for them at the same time and when Mrs Bruning let go of the pram, it shot off.

They watched it cartwheel several times, throwing their possessions out, before plunging down a 10m cliff into the river.

“It took all of about five seconds and it was in the water,” Mr Bruning said. “I just ran down the hill and just jumped off the edge.”

He swam to the pram, which was upside down.

While they were under water, he managed to unbuckle the straps and get Holli above the water.

“As soon as I got her into the air she started screaming. It was magic,” he said.

“I just held her on my tummy and I started swimming towards the shore.”

From on the other side of the river, Megan Muldowney heard the screams and assumed it was teenagers. Then she saw Mr Bruning in the water. She ran to a house and yelled out to call police.

The current took the pair about 100m downstream.

Mr Bruning said he managed to find a branch sticking out and grabbed it.

“Luckily there was a little rock shelf that was only a foot deep in water.”

Mrs Bruning, who could not see the drama, saw a water bottle floating in the river and thought they were dead.

Mr Bruning yelled that they were okay and sat in the water for 20 minutes “to compose myself”.

Two men reached him with a rope and took Holli.

Police and paramedics arrived on a quad bike borrowed from St Andrews Golf Club and took Holli and Mrs Bruning off the river path.

The family was taken to Waikato Hospital and discharged several hours later. Mr Bruning and Holli had swallowed water but were otherwise fine.

Mr Bruning said he was “pretty emotional”, unable to sleep, and would take a few days off work.

Holli was oblivious, he said.

The incident was similar to the death of Australian triathlete Kerry Lucas’ baby last month.

Her baby died after his pram rolled into Adelaide’s Torrens River when she answered her mobile phone.

Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007

Father and daughter reunite in modern miracle

Ricky Rawlins has been blessed.

“It seems like since I’ve been going back to church, things have been falling into place in my life,” he said.

Rawlins’ faith was bolstered by what he and wife of ten years, Gail Rawlins, both of Manning, call a modern miracle. In 2006, Rawlins was able to meet his long lost daughter Danielle for the first time since she was a one-year-old.

The story begins years ago when Rawlins was married to his first wife. One day he returned home from work to find both his wife and daughter Danielle, just an infant, gone.

“My first wife left me,” said Rawlins. “She left while I was at work. I came home and the baby was gone; she took the baby to Pennsylvania.”

Rawlins tried throughout the years to maintain contact with Danielle, trying to track her down through letters.

“I wrote letters, but they always came back ‘Return to Sender,’” he said. “The only picture she (his ex-wife) sent me was when she (Danielle) was one year old. That’s the last one I had seen of her.”

Rawlins’ ex-wife took Danielle to Washington, Pennsylvania before going on to live outside of Atlanta. She left Danielle to be raised by her grandmother, who for many years didn’t even know that Rawlins, Danielle’s father, existed.

“It was a messy deal,” said Rawlins. “I couldn’t find her. Danielle’s grandmother who raised her got all a one-sided story, nobody wanted to hear my half.”

Years passed and Danielle grew up in Pennsylvania. She knew some details about her father, like his full name and date of birth, but she had no idea where he lived or how to get in contact with him.

So she started a letter writing campaign, using the Internet and phone books and registries to track down as many people named Richard Rawlins as she could. She sent them letters asking them to get in contact with her if they knew about her dad.

Flash forward to a scene years later, after Rawlins and Gail were married.

“I was in the shower, and when I came out I saw Ricky was on the couch crying,” said Gail Rawlins, who still gets choked up when she describes the scene. “He was holding a letter and I knew it was from Danielle.”

“I was totally shocked. I was scared to even open it,” said Rawlins. “I kind of figured it was her when I saw ‘Danielle Slesh’ on the letter. I had a feeling she got married and it was her new name. Five minutes later I picked up the phone and called her.”

Tears were shed and greetings extended. Danielle came to Manning for a short visit two weeks before Halloween last year and father and daughter were reunited.

Rawlins has two sons and a daughter besides Danielle, and he always told them through the years, “You have a sister.”

“He was always talking about her,” said Gail Rawlins. “At Christmas time he would always get depressed.”

But this past Christmas was a little different. Rawlins and his sister went to Pennsylvania for three days to visit with Danielle and her family over the holidays.

Danielle is a nurse and is married to husband Corey Slesh, who works for Lens Crafters. The couple has a son, Kyle, and a daughter, Lucy, both of whom Rawlins got to meet for the first time.

Danielle presented her father with the best Christmas present he’s ever received, a photo album of Danielle with pictures from major events in her life throughout the years. He can see pictures of her graduations, her wedding and other moments he missed in her life.

The wounds from the past are healing and both Rawlins and Danielle are looking forward to the future. Rawlins has been accepted by Danielle’s grandmother and he says they’re good friends.

“When she gets some vacation time this year, Danielle’s planning on coming here for a week,” said Rawlins. “She says she loves it down here.

“And I’ll go to Pennsylvania if I have to,” he said. “We want to make up for the time we missed. She’ll come here once a year, I’ll go there once a year.”

Gail Rawlins believes that the story is testimony that miracles happen.

“I just think it’s a feel good story that says prayers can be answered,” she said. “God works in mysterious ways.”

“I definitely think it’s a miracle,” said Rawlins. “That’s what I would call it. I never dreamt that I would see her again.”

Friday, Jan. 12, 2007

Discovering the real heroes

On the first day of class in a course at Macon State College, I wanted a short sample of the writing of each student. I picked the subject out of the air: “Write me a few paragraphs about a person you consider a hero.”

The answers turned out to be thought-provoking. A large majority in a class ranging in age from late teens to 40ish selected a close relative. Mothers were the most common, then fathers, sister or brother, a grandparent.

The qualities of a hero? Apparently being helpful, caring, always there when needed and willing to sacrifice one’s own comfort for another. Some were living examples of striving for goals or persistently pushing the writer to do his or her best.

One writer’s hero was his father, a surgeon, who saves lives, prays for his patients and weeps when they die.

Another hero was remembered for a single act: When the writer’s house caught fire, she rescued two of her children but could not get to her baby. A neighbor went back in, climbed burning stairs covered with smoke, and saved her daughter. Today, she said, her former neighbor, a man, is homeless and mentally troubled.

There was only one sports hero, an undersized baseball player from the writer’s home town. He got on a college team only as a walk-on, and the pros weren’t interested. But, said the writer, through determination, belief in himself and trust in God he wound up with two World Series rings, one as MVP. That was 5-foot-7-inch David Eckstein.

By coincidence, I had also been preparing to teach some ancient literature. The adventures of the “heroes” Gilgamesh, Achilles, Odysseus and the like were on my mind. But they were heroes of a very different sort.

According to the Oxford English dictionary, the word “hero” was first used for warriors of noble or royal birth who were especially favored by one god or another, and had superhuman strength. Some came to be regarded as almost-gods themselves.

The Hebrew Bible told of leaders to whom God temporarily gave great strength or wisdom to meet a national crisis. (Sometimes they were called “judges.”)

Later, “hero” came to mean warriors of exceptional – but not superhuman – courage or strength. (It is still used to honor our warriors.)

In time “hero” came to refer to people who led exemplary lives of success and courage. And in our day, it is often used for people, possibly quite ordinary otherwise, who perform some act of strength, courage or sacrifice.

That’s the sense in which New Yorkers Wesley Autrey, Julio Gonzalez and Pedro Nevarez received wide acclaim and publicity as men who took action to save strangers from almost certain death.

Autrey, as everyone knows, jumped onto a subway track and held down a student having a seizure so that the train passed over them harmlessly.

The next day the other two men spotted a diapered infant crawling out on a fire escape four stories above them and positioned themselves to try to catch him. They succeeded.

My students used “hero” for people who performed less spectacular feats, but kept up the long, every day grind of being helping and caring, showing strength, courage and sacrifice in different ways.

Now we also have “superheroes,” people with superhuman powers – like the ancient Greek heroes. They probably began in the comics, with Superman in 1938. Now they dominate comics and Saturday morning cartoons. Unlike the heroes of old, not the gods but some other cause empowered them.

They, too, are supposed to battle the bad guys and prevail. But like the ancient heroes, they are just not like other men and women. They are celebrities and can do things otherwise impossible for human beings.

When we’re kids (and even later), we fantasize about being like these heroes. Then we will be to other people what adults are to children. Beings of superior strength and wisdom can impose their will.

It takes some living to understand who the real heroes are.

Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006

U.S. man reunited with daughter on German TV show

A U.S. man who fathered a daughter in Germany 22 years ago was reunited with her on German television, according to a media report. [Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know]

Glenn Godau was a U.S. Army warrant officer when Jennifer S’rgel, 22, was born near Ansbach, West Germany, before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

He was contacted in August by a German TV-production company to appear on “All You Need is Love” — a show that brings together long-lost family members, the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus reported.

A friend contacted the show after hearing S’rgel talk about wanting to meet her biological father. The father-daughter segment was filmed in mid-October in Cologne, Germany.

“They successfully got Jennifer there without her figuring out it was going to be her being surprised. It was pretty emotional,” Godau told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus of Howell. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, let’s put it that way.”

After the show, Godau and his daughter spent 12 days together at her home in Bavaria. Godau learned S’rgel, a pediatric nurse, is engaged and gave birth to a daughter, Cecile, 12 weeks ago.

“Twelve days was not enough time. I jammed a lot of stuff into 12 days, I can say that,” Godau said. “It was the best time of my life.”

After Godau’s visit, he and his daughter are keeping in touch through phone calls, e-mail and text messages.

Godau learned that part of the reason he and S’rgel had trouble connecting was because her biological mother changed the last name on her birth certificate. [Daughters and Mothers: Making It Work]

Godau’s brother attempted to find S’rgel during business trips to Germany. Family members also tried to find her online for years.

Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006

Son Recalls Fight To Rescue Mother From Blaze

The son of a Johnston County woman attempted to rescue his from her burning house, but his efforts failed. Now he’s dealing with the loss of both a parent and his childhood home.

A smoke alarm [get one] awoke Frank Jones and his family, including his 77-year-old mother Lorraine, early Monday morning. The front section of the family’s home was engulfed in flames as Frank Jones’ sister rushed their elderly father out through the back door.

Frank Jones said he tried to help his mother out the front door. But just a few feet from safety, debris crashed down to the floor.

“The debris hit me and my mother, knocking us down, and it knocked me right through the wall,” Frank Jones said.

He landed on the front porch, with his mother trapped inside.

“I could hear my mother asking me for help, but at that time I wasn’t able to really grab her,” he said. “I was still on fire myself.”

Frank Jones couldn’t see his mother through the heavy smoke.

“It was burning my eyes, but I was still trying…trying to search,” he said.

Flames and fallen debris blocked the path back into the house.

“(As) far as I ever made it was at my mother’s foot, and at that time I pulled,” Frank Jones said.

But more debris fell, and he lost his grip. That’s when Lorraine Jones, a woman of strong faith, began praying aloud. [Understanding the Purpose and Power of Prayer: Earthly License for Heavenly Interference]

“My mother was real strong,” said Frank Jones. “She said it was OK. She said, ‘I know you cannot save me, but its OK.'”

Frank Jones never gave up. But when firefighters arrived, they found his mother’s body nearby.

“To lose your mother and be in the sight of her it really hurts,” he said.

Frank Jones said he knows he did all he could. His sister and father made it out alive. They lost everything in the residence, but they said they have friends and family to lean on.

“I’m a little bit stiff and sore, but other than that, I thank God to be living,” he said.

Investigators said they believe candles may have started the fire, but Frank Jones said he thinks an electrical outlet is to blame. Lorraine Jones’ funeral service is set for Saturday.

True meaning of “hero”

Superman, Spiderman and Wonder Woman are all fictional heroes who save the world everyday. They entertain kids of all ages with their super powers, cute costumes and witty one-liners. My hero has never been in the pages of a comic book or on television, he doesn’t wear a spandex costume, nor can he fly. His secret identity and everyday persona are the same and I’ve never seen him leap over a tall building.

He has done something that with every passing day the world is ever grateful for doing. [We Are Leaving at a Rapid Rate: A WWII Veteran Writes: Before, During, and After]

The way he speaks about his adventures makes my head spin. I can sometimes feel wind in my hair, the sun on my face and a tear in my eye. He has done things I can’t imagine, seen things I could never see and heard things that would make me cry.

He has sacrificed many things in his life so I could have a better future, so many things that in time will count in someone’s future. He has lost a good friend, but in return got to know someone new. He has married the woman of his dreams and a family that I am proud of.

Today is not only for those who have fallen, but it is also a day for those who came home and passed on their stories to the next generation. I could go on from now until forever and never have enough time to say that I want to say. Thank you, my hero, for everything. Thank you, my hero, for putting everything on the line for me.

Thank you, my Papa, for being my hero.

With love,

Roxann Hoppe

Friday, Nov. 3, 2006

Mother delivers surprise “miracle baby”

If nothing else, you could say Amanda Brisendine had an easy pregnancy.

It was so effortless, in fact, that she didn’t even notice it — until doctors broke the news Saturday that she was 37 weeks along and ready for delivery.

On Tuesday, the stunned mother held her healthy, newborn boy as the glare of news crews surrounded her bed at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue.

The media asked the same questions she’d asked: How could this happen? How could a woman carry a baby for nine months, not knowing, not feeling a new life budding inside her?

To the skeptical reporters who crowded around her hospital room, she could only offer up what she knew — the story of what she called her “miracle baby.”

With microphones clipped to the neck of her nightgown and cradling Alexander Joseph Britt in her arms, Brisendine explained how the normal warning signs never showed up.

She had what she thought were her periods every month. She’d gained 30 pounds in the past year, but figured that was from quitting cigarettes and eating too much of her grandmother’s buttery cooking.

“I didn’t feel like the brightest person in the world for not knowing,” she said, but she hoped her story would make others realize it could happen to them.

The pain began Wednesday. Brisendine, 26, said she felt a sharp ache in her abdomen. The intensity reminded her of when she had to have ovarian cysts removed five years ago, she said. By Friday, the pain was so bad that she called in sick to her deli job at Albertsons grocery in Eastgate.

She showed up at Group Health Cooperative’s Eastside campus the next morning. After “being poked and prodded,” the doctors gave her a pregnancy test that came back positive, she said.

“I was so shocked, I was nauseous,” she said. “It took me a minute to realize what they were saying.”

When Brisendine was pregnant with her 14-month-old daughter, she’d had morning sickness and cravings. She also felt Melodie kick her constantly, she said.

But with this baby, she couldn’t feel anything. That worried the doctors. Ultrasounds showed there was low amniotic fluid in the placenta and the baby wasn’t moving like he should have been, said Danica Bloomquist, Brisendine’s doctor. She delivered Alexander by C-section on Sunday at 7 pounds, 5 ounces.

“From our assessment, the baby wasn’t doing well in utero,” Bloomquist said. “He needed to come out.”

What happened to Brisendine isn’t unheard of, doctors say.

George Macones, chairman of the OB/GYN department at Washington University in St. Louis, said he’s seen about a dozen cases in his nearly 20-year career. He specializes in high-risk pregnancies. Sometimes, the pregnancy isn’t obvious when a woman is overweight, he said. Or she will have spotting or bleeding during the pregnancy and mistake it for her period, he said.

Brisendine’s boyfriend, Jason Britt, 33, the father of Alexander and Brisendine’s daughter, said he thought Brisendine was lying.

“It was the quickest pregnancy that I’d ever seen,” Britt said.

Brisendine said she will return to her home in Renton today. She’s kept a few things from her last pregnancy that will come in handy, she said. As for marriage plans, Britt and Brisendine said they’ll take that one step at a time.

The couple and their families are still adjusting to what she said was the “biggest and best surprise of my life.”

“We’re in for a really, really big adventure,” Brisendine said.

Friday, Oct. 27, 2006

Their prayers were answered: Families reunited with Marines

Alexander Mejia’s deployment to Iraq was difficult on his parents.

“My faith was tested many times,” Ciriaco Mejia, 57, said yesterday, fighting back tears.

His wife, Consuelo, said she found comfort sitting with her son’s photograph and reading Psalm 121 – “The Lord will keep you from all harm. He will watch over your life.”

But the Mejia family can rest easy now that Alexander is home in Lawrence.

He was among hundreds of Marines, members of the 1st Battalion, 25th Infantry, who arrived in Massachusetts yesterday after seven months in Iraq.

The Mejia family and others from the Merrimack Valley were on the grounds of the former Fort Devens as the buses carrying their Marines rolled in. The crowd broke into thunderous applause. Then there were hugs, kisses and tears.

Methuen native Sgt. Brian Vitale, 24, was among the returning Marines.

Vitale said he could not wait to spend time with his “huge Italian family” and his fiance, Kaitlyn Gallant.

Of course, he also wanted something good to eat.

“That’s all I want to do right now. Get a bite to eat and hang out with my family,” Vitale said.

A 2000 graduate of Methuen High School, Vitale has been a Marine for six years. While in Iraq, he worked on a personal security team for a member of battalion command staff, he said.

Vitale, who grew up on Bonanno Court, is the son of Linda and the late Jack Vitale. His arrival at Fort Devens was not only his journey back from Iraq. It’s also the end of his active duty with the Marines, although he said he is considering joining a reserve unit now that he is back in the United States.

The unit was activated last December, and after three months of training they were sent to Fallujah. Their mission included humanitarian relief, uncovering weapons caches and working with local Iraqis to reopen an asphalt factory to rebuild roads.

“Not having your son by your side is worrisome enough. I can just imagine how those families (who lost loved ones) feel,” Ciriaco Mejia said.

October has been an especially violent month in Iraq with 96 U.S. troops losing their lives. As of yesterday, at least 2,809 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Eleven members from the 1st Battalion, 25th Infantry, were killed during their deployment in Fallujah, said Sgt. Peter Walz, public affairs chief.

Mejia, 23, a 2001 graduate of Greater Lawrence Technical High School, said he joined the Marines three years ago to help pay for his college education. He was studying business at UMass-Lowell before he was deployed.

His girlfriend of two years, Albeyri Gonzalez of Haverhill, was at Fort Devens to greet him.

Mejia would call Gonzalez every three days and talked about how their lives were going. They also e-mailed each other regularly.

“I tried to stay positive, but I always wondered what he was doing and what was happening where he was,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes I was just scared because I was afraid of losing him.”

After seven months away from home, Mejia said he also craves his mother’s cooking.

She had been cooking for three days, making meat pies, Dominican-style stew, angel food cake, cheesecake and her son’s favorite meal – rice, beans and steak laden with onions.

She said that was the least she could do. For the past seven months, she has been able to sleep only two or three hours a day.

She would wake up around 3 a.m., get on her knees and pray for her son. At one point her blood pressure was so high she was hospitalized for several days.

“I feel better now because my son is home, and I thank God for that,” Consuelo Mejia said.

She watched the news constantly to keep abreast of the latest events in Iraq.

“I knew it was bad, but I always trusted that God would bring him home safe,” she said. “The house felt so empty without him.”

His brothers, Eggar Mejia, 24, and Claudio Camacho, 33, agreed.

“The three of us were always joking and horsing around,” said Camacho, a Lawrence police officer.

“If we didn’t hear from him for a couple of days, my mind would start to wonder,” Camacho said. “We always try to keep happy thoughts, pray and stay positive.”

Throughout the Mejia home yesterday there were “Welcome Home” signs, yellow happy face balloons and homemade posters in both English and Spanish.

The Mejias’ front door was open as family members and friends streamed in to welcome their neighborhood hero.

Oscar and Lillian Vasquez did not have to travel far. They have lived next door to the Mejias for nine years. Oscar said he also was proud of Alexander’s service.

“I’m happy that he defended our country and protected our freedom,” Oscar said. “He did a good deed for all of us.”

Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006

Mother’s praise for baby catching fire heroes

A MUM who threw her two-year-old daughter from the first floor window of her burning home has thanked the men who caught her.

Christine Grey, 39, was forced to throw her daughter Jessicca from the window after fire swept through the downstairs of their house in Grimshaw Lane, Newton Heath.

Luckily for Jessicca, Manchester council workers Patrick Morrisrowe, John Johnson, Jeff Dawson, Andrew Boland, and Paul Atkinson, were working nearby.

When they saw Mrs Grey waving frantically from the window they rushed to her aid and managed to catch Jessicca. Mrs Grey then climbed on to a drainpipe and was rescued by firefighters.

The mother-of-four said: “I’m really grateful for what the workmen did. They were brilliant. They saved my baby’s life.”

Wednesday, Sep. 20, 2006

Angels in Adoption

One couple has much more love to give

We often hear of angels – but usually never see them. Until now.
A Midland County couple are Angels in Adoption – an award given to someone who’s made contributions towards the lives of so many children.

It started with one child, and for the Streu’s that’s all it took to get hooked.

“We extended our license so that teens wouldn’t have to leave our house,” explained Randy Streu, a foster/adoptive parent. “Then we extended to have more children and we’ve been falling in love with them ever since.”

Pam and Randy Streu were honored today at the Midland County Courthouse for being an angel in adoption.

Rep. Dave Camp nominated the couple for their commitment and love to kids. “You hear the life story of this family,” said Camp. “The love and hope they’ve brought to so many children, 49, it really is a special day.”

“I can think of so many families out there that do so much more than we do and they picked us,” said Pam. “It is so indescribable.”

Pam and Randy have also adopted seven and have a total of 10 children, including a son serving in Iraq, and three grandchildren.

Those who have known and worked with the Streus for the last 12 years say once a child is in their care, that child is loved, has faith and given hope.

“All it takes is a loving heart,” Randy said. “We don’t need a lot of knowledge. You just need to open your heart and your home; that’s all the kids want.”

Father repairs school’s climbing frame

A VANDALISED school climbing frame is set to be rebuilt by the dad of a pupil left heartbroken by the attack.

Colin Farrar had no hesitation in reaching for his toolbox after his nine-year-old son Lewis told him that the £1,000 play facility at St Peter’s Primary School in Hindley had been destroyed by vandals.

He went down to the Kildare Street school, assessed the damage and declared that he could repair the climbing frame with the exception of the smashed plastic slide.

Undaunted, his wife, Debra, then contacted Solowave, the makers of the climbing frame which was destroyed in an attack on Monday September 11, and they agreed to send a free replacement slide.

Local timber firm Laycocks, which is based in Ince, also agreed to supply some wood to help Colin with the reconstruction.

Now the couple have even managed to get another firm, GET Security Systems, to step in to provide a CCTV camera to deter vandals from launching another attack against the school.

DM Posters has also provided signs to warn people that there is CCTV installed at the site.

Debra, of Crompton Close, Hindley, said: “We didn’t want to rebuild it and these vandals to destroy it again. That would just upset the children more than ever. We wanted a CCTV camera and were hoping that a local company could donate one.

“People might also see the CCTV and it might deter them a bit.

“I just don’t understand what goes through these children’s heads.”

Lewis suffers from a little-known genetic illness, Common Variable Immunodeficiency, which affects him immune system and means that he must be injected with anti-biotics every three days.

Debra said that Lewis would often use the play area as a “quiet area” with other sensitive children wanting to get away from the more frantic atmosphere on the playground.

“Lewis came home in absolute tears because it had been broken. He was heartbroken. He always used to go and plays in that area. That’s his quiet space,” said Debra.

“We decided that there must be something that we can do. So Colin went to the school and he’s come back and said, ‘I can fix it’

“The school has been really good with Lewis so we really wanted to so something to help. We want to give something back and it would be great if we could get them a camera.”

The school has been experiencing a string of problems with vandals but the destruction of the climbing frame was the most costly so far.

Headteacher Carol Close was delighted that the climbing frame was being rebuilt and a camera was being installed.

She said: “It is fantastic. I was over the moon when I was told. It really is an answer to our prayers. The great majority of people are fantastic but the minority are affecting it for them

Tuesday, Sep. 19, 2006

She was expected to die: This week, she bore a son.

They wheeled Kelly Jo Blosser into the labor and delivery room.

They lifted her legs for her. They propped up her body.

Then, as tears welled in their eyes, the doctors and nurses helped the quadriplegic deliver her baby.

Kelly Jo Blosser and 5-pound, 7-ounce baby Chad Allen Stanford are miracles, the medical professionals say.

In a split second on a winding Arkansas road last March, Blosser’s life shattered.

That Blosser and Chad Allen are here at all is a tribute to the commitment from the doctors, nurses and staff at Good Samaritan Hospital who took her in as a patient when facilities in Tennessee and West Virginia said the pregnancy and delivery were too risky.

“She’s a miracle mother,” said Dr. Kim Brady, the director of obstetrics at Good Samaritan.

Neither mother nor baby was expected to make it on that sunny March Monday morning when Blosser was driving her 7-year-old daughter, Kaitlin Nicole, to school.

After rounding a curve, Blosser’s car slammed into the rear of a garbage truck stopped in the road.

“It was too late for her to swerve,” said Robin Blosser, Kelly Jo’s mother.

The impact sheared the top off the car and killed Kaitlin Nicole.

A single mother, Blosser, who had just discovered she was pregnant when the March 14 crash happened, has been hospitalized ever since. She has never been well enough to go back to Arkansas and visit her daughter’s grave.


The crash broke Blosser’s neck in three places and severed her spinal cord. The injuries have seriously affected her central nervous system. Stabilizing her blood pressure is a constant chore.

Blosser, 25, will never walk again, doctors say. She will never be able to pick up Chad Allen or her other two children, Destiney Lynn, 4, and Gunner Todd, 2.

After the crash, both Blosser and Kaitlin Nicole were flown to Nashville, Tenn.

The little girl, although technically dead, was kept on a ventilator until Robin Blosser arrived to say goodbye. Kaitlin Nicole’s heart, liver and kidneys were harvested for transplant into four different people.

Kelly Jo Blosser’s doctors predicted she would die in a matter of hours. The fetus in her womb was expected to spontaneously abort.

Blosser and Chad Allen proved those Tennessee doctors wrong.

“I think this is what has kept her going,” Robin Blosser said.


Blosser faces a lot of obstacles.

She has not accepted Kaitlin Nicole’s death.

“I can’t do this anymore,” a tearful Blosser said Thursday as her mother explained the accident.

Still, Blosser never gave up her fight to survive and be a mother again.

On Thursday, Robin Blosser carefully placed Chad Allen onto Kelly Jo Blosser’s chest.

Blosser, paralyzed from the upper chest down, crooked her head toward Chad Allen and kissed his temple.

“I was so scared,” she said of his vaginal birth at 10:08 a.m. Wednesday.

“She didn’t know if she was going to make it or if the baby was going to make it,” Robin Blosser said.

As Blosser and her son spent a quiet moment together Thursday, tears filled the eyes of the two hospital employees in the room.


Early this morning, Blosser is expected to say goodbye to Cincinnati, a city – save for two brief visits outside the hospital doors – she has only seen through her window or from TV images since she arrived here in July.

She’ll be going to her mother’s home in Spencer, W.Va. Her other children will join them.

“We got used to her around here,” said Good Samaritan nurse Lori Holland, who joined other nurses two weeks ago and threw Kelly Jo a baby shower. “If she hated the world and had had that attitude, she would never have made it this far. She really taught us a thing or two.”

Life will change radically for Robin Blosser, too.

The 41-year-old grandmother now has a quadriplegic daughter, that daughter’s three children, and her own 12-year-old son to care for. She quit her job as a cashier the day of the accident to be with her daughter.

“She’s going to need 24-hour care,” Robin Blosser said.

Robin Blosser, who is also a single mom, knows her life back in West Virginia will be a struggle, but she says it is nothing compared to what Kelly Jo has gone through.

She doesn’t know how she’ll do it. She just knows she’ll never stop being a mom.

“All I can do is take it a day at a time,” she said. “I know I’ll never be able to go back to work, because she will be 24/7. But I’ll be there for her; and I’ll be there to help those babies grow up.”

Friday, Sep. 15, 2006

Mum saves children in fire horror

A MOTHER saved her two children in a dramatic rescue when the bedroom above them exploded.

Suad Suleiman, 37, was eating dinner and watching cartoons with her son and daughter in the lounge of their home in Whalebone Lane North, Dagenham, at 5.30pm on Friday, when they heard a loud bang from upstairs.

“I ran to my bedroom and the noise I heard was my bottles of perfume exploding,” said Mrs Suleiman.

“There were flames everywhere; it must have spread very fast.

“I was very frightened. I was panicking. I got the children and quickly ran outside to call for help.”

Smoke filled the house as the blaze destroyed everything in its path, and the heat blew out the windows.

Mrs Suleiman’s husband, Seif, 38, who was at work when the blaze started, believes it began in the floorboards when electric wires shorted.

He said: “Thank God fire didn’t come downstairs – it’s very dangerous because of the boiler and gases there.

“And thank God my wife’s OK – and the children.”

The fire gutted the couple’s bedroom and the family, who had only lived in the house for eight months, lost most of their possessions.

“Our passports, my jewellery, clothes – we kept everything in our bedroom,” Mrs Suleiman added.

Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus battled the flames for nearly two hours, and managed to extinguish the blaze.

Barking and Dagenham Council has promised to rehouse the family this week.

Rescue mum may get life-saver award

A SPALDING mum who saved her son from a submerged car and then ran more than a mile to get help could be in line for a national life-saving award.

Jo Bellars is already a regional winner in the Vodafone Life Savers’ Awards and could be on her way to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair if her story is selected as one of the ten most inspiring by a panel of celebrity judges.

Back in January Jo battled heroically against bitterly cold water and knee-deep mud to free George (8), who was trapped upside down underwater after their car crashed into North Drove Drain, near Tongue End.

George was underwater for between ten and 15 minutes and had stopped breathing when Jo finally managed to free him from the passenger seat.

She then dragged him to the bank as water filled the wreckage and gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Jo then found a group of workers dredging the river and one of them drove her back to the scene and called an ambulance.

George was flown by air ambulance to Pilgrim Hospital, Boston, and despite paramedics voicing fears he may not survive both he and his mum were well enough to return to their Meadowgate Lane home the next day.

Jo, who was nominated by Lincolnshire and Notting-hamshire Air Ambulance, said: “I was very surprised. I’m just a normal mum trying to do the best for my kids. It would be nice to be picked now I’ve got this far.”

Vodaphone’s awards were launched in April to honour unsung heroes behind the country’s most remarkable rescues.

The awards were created five years ago and highlight how mobile phones have revolutionised the link between the public and emergency services when minutes matter.

Jo now joins the 25 other regional winners before the judging panel, which includes Falklands War veteran Simon Weston, Nell McAndrew and Martin Kemp.

They will choose the most inspiring ten stories.

The winners will be honoured at a ceremony in London before attending a reception at 10 Downing Street.

Friday, Aug. 25, 2006

Finally back together: Malaysian prince meets long-lost Australian mother

A MOTHER, son and daughter separated by one of Australia’s most notorious custody battles embraced in a Melbourne garden today – all together for the first time in 14 years.

Jacqueline Pascarl was rejoicing at the surprise arrival in Australia of her 23-year-old son, Iddin.

He was following in the footsteps of his sister Shahirah, 21, who was reunited with her mother in April and now lives permanently with her in Melbourne.

Iddin, then nine, and Shahirah, seven, were snatched from their mother in 1992 during an access visit to Australia by their father, Malaysian prince Raja Bahrin.

Then known as Jacqueline Gillespie, Ms Pascarl fought a protracted and unsuccessful battle with her former husband for her children’s return.

She secretly rekindled her relationship with them through emails and phone calls and finally, in April, Shahirah travelled from Malaysia to be with her mother.

Today, Iddin also held his mother and told reporters:”I’ve got two homes now.”

Asked why he had returned to Melbourne, he said: “Because I want to see my mum. I miss her a lot. I love her a lot.”

Iddin indicated he would stay in Melbourne “a really, really long time” but did not say if he intended to stay permanently.

“Well, he’s had 14 years to think about this,” Ms Pascarl smiled.

“Australia is his home, too.”

Ms Pascarl, who has two other children from a later marriage, said Shahirah and Iddin had surprised her with Iddin’s arrival in Melbourne.

“It’s absolutely blissful and wonderful,” Ms Pascarl said as the three stood arm in arm outside her home in suburban Hawthorn today.

“I have four beautiful, unique and amazingly individual children and a wonderful husband and we are overjoyed to be together as a family for the first time in 14 years,” Ms Pascarl said.

“We need to get to know each other and they (Iddin and Shahirah) need to get to know me, and they need to get to know themselves, which is really important.

“I’m just so overjoyed that my children are at home together and they’re here with me, and we are happy.

“We want to thank everyone for your support and the generous good wishes all through the years, and the people who have just sort of stuck in there with us.”

Ms Pascarl married Raja Bahrin in 1980 and Iddin and Shahirah were born in Malaysia.
She returned to Australia with the children after the prince took a second wife under Islamic law.

He abducted Iddin and Shahirah in 1992, driving them to Queensland, where they were smuggled by boat to Indonesia and then Malaysia.

Ms Pascarl was married to former journalist Iain Gillespie but the couple separated in 2000, after 10 years of marriage.

She later married Bill Cocaris, a former schoolfriend.

Monday, Jul. 31, 2006

Children vote parents as #1 heroes

The Every Child Needs A Hero report by the Australian Childhood Foundation released yesterday revealed children overwhelmingly admired their parents over a range of other people of influence, including stars such as singer Delta Goodrem and cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Mothers scored the top vote, with 42 per cent of the nearly 1000 young people aged 10 to 17 surveyed for the report rating them the “most admired”.

Fathers were ranked second, followed by friends, siblings, grandparents and other relatives.

Goodrem and Armstrong ranked ninth and tenth.

“Children admire people who they directly know and engage with over pop stars and sports stars,” the report said.

“This finding confirms the critical importance of relationships with children and the role that parents, siblings, other relatives, friends and teachers play in the lives of children.

“It is the everyday things that significant adults do that become heroic in the eyes of children and worthy of admiration.”

Nearly 90 per cent of the young people surveyed also said family was the most important thing to them.

Reflecting the difficulties many parents face juggling work and family commitments, however, 37 per cent said they would like to do more things with their parents and almost one in five said they would like their parents to spend less time at work.

The report said the children’s sentiments mirrored those in a 2004 survey of parents who believed they did not spend enough time with the children.

On other issues, nearly 80 per cent of young people thought they were growing up faster than children used to, with 44 per cent saying they did not believe their generation would be better off than their parents.

Large numbers admitted to being worried about facing things when they were older such as cancer (49 per cent), terrorism (39 per cent) and being a victim of crime (31 per cent), while one in four were concerned the world would end before they grew old.

A significant number of children also admitted to having low self-esteem, with nearly one quarter saying they never felt like they were doing well enough and 43 per cent reporting they would like to feel more confident.

Two-thirds reported feeling angry in the last month.

While 84 per cent of the young people surveyed reported feeling happy in the last month, two thirds also reported feeling angry and about a half said they experienced worry and stress.

The report said the findings “challenged the traditional idea that childhood was a carefree time of life, focused on having fun in the here and now”.

“The incidence of anger, worry, stress and sadness portrays a picture of children experiencing significant degrees of emotional turmoil,” the report said.

The findings also suggested that society was struggling to reassure and build the self-esteem of a significant proportion of children.

Monday, Jun. 12, 2006

‘Less is more’ works for D.C. mom

Michele Humble traces her decision to home-school to watching a TV newsmagazine about a woman who home-schooled her six children while running a family store. The children completed college before most students finished high school.
“That’s what I would like to do,” Mrs. Humble remembers thinking, “and that was before I had any child of my own. I always wanted to be a teacher, and I felt that I’d be the best teacher of my children because I would know their strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else.”
Today, Mrs. Humble and her husband, Carmichael, are parents to four girls, ages 10, 8, 6 and 2 weeks. While their dad goes to work every day for the D.C. government, the three oldest girls study at home with mom using the Robinson curriculum, Saxon math and a number of other resources. Mrs. Humble has home-schooled the children since her oldest was 5, and she hopes to do so until they graduate from high school.
“Some people say to me, ‘Are you going to do this until they’re grown?’?” Mrs. Humble says. “I tell them that is my plan right now. I enjoy that I’m the one teaching my child. It’s the desire of my heart.”
The Humble family is part of a home-schooling cooperative, the Christian Home Educators of D.C. Together with 15 to 20 other home-schooling families, they go on field trips, do special study segments on topics such as the rain forests or the Civil War and celebrate the students’ accomplishments with a closing ceremony and potluck dinner.
Although the family enjoys trips to the Smithsonian museums, the library and other places where they can learn about interesting topics, Mrs. Humble’s rule is, “No stress, no strain, no struggle.”
“I’m a great believer in ‘less is more,’?” she says. “If I’m getting too stressed out and frazzled, it’s not good for the kids. Kids are like sponges. I have to have peace, so if something is too stressful, we don’t do it.”
The three older girls take ballet classes each week, and each one is learning piano or violin.
“This is the time of all the recitals,” their mother says. “I’ll be happy when they’re over and we have more time.”
Balancing the demands of motherhood and education isn’t easy, but Mrs. Humble says she draws her strength from her faith and the impact she sees on her family.
“Every day, I think, ‘God, please give me the wisdom to do this,’?” she says.
“I enjoy seeing my child ‘get’ something, really understand something. For Black History Month, I teach about a different historical figure each day, and I was telling my oldest daughter about Frederick Douglass and the Underground Railroad,” Mrs. Humble says. “Her younger sister was just lying on her back, feet up in the air, and seemingly not paying attention. But when I asked the question ‘Who else was helping with the Underground Railroad?’ and my oldest daughter didn’t respond, the younger one said, ‘Harriet Tubman.’ That really makes me happy.”
Mrs. Humble treats a trip to the doctor’s office or on the public bus as a “teachable moment.” People remark on the children’s calm and polite deportment and their ability to focus.
“I used to get really offended at comments people made that I was being selfish or overprotective, but now I realize that it’s my job to protect them. If we’re on a bus on Georgia Avenue, they’re being exposed to all kinds of things. It’s my job to instill in them the right values,” she says.
To parents afraid that they aren’t experts in every subject, she advises, “You are more qualified than any teacher, and you can do a better job with your children than anyone else. People get lost in the shuffle. Children do act out. But the teachers are not able to espouse the same values we teach in the home.”

Monday, May. 15, 2006

Our house blowed away, and Mama became a hero

Amy Hawkins believes she will walk again, though her doctors tell her differently.

Sometimes, she wheels away from them, her chin stubbornly set. God willing, she says, a wheelchair won’t be her legs forever.

Amy Hawkins, paralyzed from her waist down during a tornado last month, has two reasons to walk — her sons, Jair, 6, and Cole, 3.

Her love for her sons is so great that Amy almost died so they could live when their home came thundering down during the deadly storm.

Amy lives apart from the boys for now, in the Shepherd Center, a rehab hospital in Atlanta. The boys and their father aretemporarily living in a donated yellow farmhouse their mom has never seen.

Amy, 34, no longer remembers April 7, the day of the tornado. Her husband, Jerrod, her family, her friends, even her sons, have helped re-create the day for her.

“Our house blowed away and Mama became a hero, didn’t she, Papa,” Jair says. “She covered us so we wouldn’t be hurt, didn’t she, Papa.”

The back story begins with Amy tracking the tornadoes that lashed the Midstate that day.

She was standing on the deck at her Hendersonville home. Jerrod was at work at the Brentwood Fire Department, tracking the tornadoes himself.

When he saw that one was headed toward his home, he called Amy.

Her last words to him were something like, “I know it’s here. Gotta go.”

Jerrod tried for 45 minutes to call Amy back. “I was thinking she dropped her phone,” he says.

Then he received a call from a neighbor: The boys were OK, but his wife was badly hurt.

At first, the neighbor hadn’t been able tofind Amy, Jair and Cole in the rubble, but on a second search he saw Cole’s face in the corner of what was left of the Hawkins’ basement.

He saw an unconscious Amy, an arm wrapped around each boy, her body shielding them from the debris.

Amy was rushed to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the boys to the children’s hospital there. Amy had a head injury, lacerations that required at least 50 staples, and a severed spine. Surgeons have since placed a steel rod down her back.

Later, Amy asked Jerrod if she’d been in a wreck.

“I remember nothing that happened on the day of the tornado,” she says. “I have a chunk out of my life. … But I know some of my ribs were crushed every time I try to take a deep breath.”

On an X-ray of her left side last week, her ribs looked like a crumbled cookie.

“Though she’s in terrible pain,” Jerrod says, “I’ve never heard her say a negative word. … I know the therapy she’s getting in Atlanta hurts her, but she keeps trying. … She calls the boys every morning and every night.”

The dad tries to keep their sons’ lives as routine as possible, taking Jair to baseball practice and Cole to soccer. His mom helps him tend to the boys, who have never had an official baby sitter because Amy and Jerrod, onetime college sweethearts, have always doted on their boys’ company.

The boys have been to see their mother twice and will go again today.

On their first visit, Amy’s wheelchair scared her sons, but it wasn’t long before they were giving their mom all the hugs she had missed.

Jerrod Hawkins isn’t back at work yet; he’s tending the boys and driving back and forth to see Amy.

“I will be in the hospital for a while,” Amy says. “Doctors want me here until June, then they want me as an outpatient, coming back for therapy every day. I had rather have Jerrod with the boys, watching them, than I would want him here with me.”

Amy’s mom stays with her and will until Amy gets to come home to Tennessee, tentatively in August.

Jerrod and Amy plan to rebuild their home. The first thing Amy wants in the plans: a safe room for her sons.

At night, the boys say their prayers with a picture of their mom between them. Amy goes to sleep similarly, kissing her fingertips, then pressingthe kisses on pictures of the boys.

She also goes to sleep with the most important element of all: high hopes.

She dreams of running the bases with Jair and of kicking the soccer ball with Cole.

“I want to walk,” she says, “not for me as much as I do for my two sons. I love those boys. I miss giving them their haircuts, taking them out for pizza.

“I’m not a hero … I’m just my boys’ mama.”

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