A Victorious Angel Story
Our prematurity journey started on a night so cold that helicopter transports were grounded and the 5500-foot mountain pass to advanced medical care closed. It appeared as if sound and movement had frozen. It was remarkably peaceful with only the lights of the ambulance outside the window as medics rushed us to a fixed-wing plane for critical transport.
Seven months earlier, my husband John and I were elated to discover we were expecting our first child. Life appeared secure and we were ready to embrace this challenge as older parents. At 6-weeks pregnant the secure life we built began to unravel: 1) I experienced a pathological enchondroma fracture 2) our home was flooded 3) I closed my small business 4) I got the Swine Flu 5) I was called for Jury Duty 6) I had hand reconstructive surgery 7) and, I developed pre-eclampsia. The hand reconstructive surgery left me with a huge cast three times the size of my forearm – and blood pressure of 155/115. Advanced medical care was a necessity requiring I be airlifted to a regional hospital with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
I should have been fearful and scared. I wasn’t. The event unfolded like a Nutcracker ballet – endless medical professionals all contributing to a perfectly choreographed event. There was beauty in the midst of the crisis.
On the fourth day in ICU, a neonatologist came in asking if we’d like to induce labor or elect a c-section. The neonatologist counseled that a heartbeat could not be detected and our son’s condition uncertain. We elected a c-section. An hour later I was rolled in to a brightly lit surgical unit that hurt my eyes. The anesthesiologist pricked my back and laid me down. The metal table was cold on my hands. And then I felt nothing. Numb. A blue paper tarp blocked my view. All I could see was my husband to my right and a nurse monitoring drip medications to my left. I felt a pulling on my stomach much like rubber and heard, “surgery has started; baby out; baby crying”. My husband touched my face and asked if he could go with the baby. I said yes. Turning my head to the left, I saw the nurse turn a nob. I woke up several hours later in my birthing center room.
I slept on and off throughout the day as feeling in my toes slowly grew to regaining feeling throughout my body again. Around 6pm a nurse invited me to meet my son Giovanni Victor Angelo Cascamo. He was beautiful – and full of personality! Born 2 ½ months premature at 2 ½ pounds, Giovanni had a name to grow into.
Giovanni never experienced complications from his premature birth. Before I even met him during his first 10-hours of life, he quickly built a reputation for his flirty, charming personality. Some preemies are born to shine. This little sparkler lights the world on fire.
Our family team, consisting of John and I and my parents, spent 56-days in the NICU learning to care for a medically fragile infant. By the time he graduated, he was a porker at 6lbs, 8oz.
Following our NICU graduation, we spent one year in the rural Southern Oregon community. With minimal medical care, fear that led to post-partum depression gripped me. Exactly 365-days from our NICU graduation, our family relocated 600-miles south to San Luis Obispo, California where our son could receive the medical, therapeutic and educational opportunities he needed. As a parent highly stressed by the lack of medical availability for his first year of life, I was beyond grateful for the advanced medical care just a few miles from our new home. While we have not needed advanced medical care, it is comforting to know it is just a short distance away.
Giovanni blossomed in our new community. The sunshine, easily accessible fruit and vegetable diet and additional intervention therapies and parenting classes led to a child that thrived. He first sat up at 10-months, he crawled at 12-months, he walked at 19-months and talked at 2 ½ years. Our new community had the resources and support to provide wrap-around care for our miracle child. By Giovanni’s 2nd birthday he reached the 70th percentile, as if he had been born full-term.
I thrived as well. Once Giovanni was healthy I envisioned returning to work. Our NICU experience led me to develop a passion for organizations that serve families who are experiencing prematurity or special needs. Recognizing I needed further training and education I began my graduate studies online through Gonzaga University, a small, Jesuit-Catholic University. I am completing my Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership with a concentration in Servant-Leadership degree in December 2015.
My graduate studies led me to work for an organization called Hand to Hold whose mission is to, “provide comprehensive navigation resources and support programs to parents of preemies, babies born with special healthcare needs and those who have experienced a loss due to these or other complications” (www.handtohold.org).
Giovanni will be six-years-old on December 12th. Our journey is both humbling and has grown in us a resiliency to embrace challenge with authenticity. As he emerges from developmental delays resulting from his prematurity, he now struggles with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and the challenges that come with executive functioning challenges. At times it feels his A.D.H.D. far exceeds the challenges set out by our NICU journey for one reason: it is a lifelong issue that will never fully resolve itself. Most premature infants overcome prematurity within two to five years provided there are no additional complications. A.D.H.D. is a lifelong complication that provides both challenge and opportunity. Some of the world’s greatest thinkers had A.D.H.D. though they never fit in the traditional box of society. As parents we delicately weave opportunities for creative ingenuity and expression and the need for integrating our child in society. It is an ongoing balancing act better set forth for our emerging gymnast then real life.
As the parent who has had the privilege of participating in this journey, it feels like I am watching a masterpiece in action. I am honored to be part of this journey. Onward and upward.