13 March, 2011

The Untold Story

There are three dates of supreme significance in my daughter’s life. Hannah was conceived on 25 July, 1989. She was delivered on 4 May, 1990. We celebrate the role that medical technology and surgical finesse played in her rebirth on 17 March, 2005. When it comes to Hannah, there is much to celebrate. When it comes to Hannah, so much has been joyous, but nothing has been easy.
Hannah did not take that first instinctual gasp of air when she was born. The drama took place in that instant of what didn’t happen. It took the efforts of a pediatrician and several nurses to coax her to breathe. She was a nine-pound baby whose lungs were filled with melconium. By the time Hannah was seven, we knew that something was not altogether right about her breathing. Our active, bright child was petite – she did even make the height and weight percentiles on the growth curves in every pediatrician’s office; her place in the front row, center, of every class picture was assured. Despite her size, she was reading by three, calculating volumes of spheres by the time she was five. Hannah had exceptional strength, coordination and flexibility. She was recruited to compete on an elite gymnastic team when she was seven. But the simple act of breathing challenged Hannah. She struggled with asthma, chronic respiratory infections and recurrent pneumonia.
Summers were the best for her. Winters stopped her in her tracks. She rarely complained about the cancelled plans, abandoned vacations and interrupted efforts on performances and competitions. Over time, Hannah developed allergies to all antibiotics. In order to take an antibiotic, she first has to go through a desensitization process under the care of an immunologist in Boston. Rather than bemoan her circumstances, she channeled her energy into academics and pushed herself to the limit. In high school, we discovered she had needlessly suffered for years due to a misdiagnosis of a congenital lung abnormality. By the time it was detected, her condition had deteriorated into a life-threatening situation. After a radical lung reconstruction and ensuing drug therapy for aspergillus, Hannah reclaimed her life. It took a year for Hannah to fully recover from her surgery and treatment. She did more than simply recover. She pushed beyond the physical limits she had always known. The young woman she has become is filled with grace.
Sometimes a story is told in terms of what we can’t see. In Hannah’s transcripts, we can’t see how self-directed much of her education has been. We can’t see the times she was overlooked and forgotten socially because she was unable to attend school. We can’t see her unique ability to make lemonade out of lemons – in three languages! On my bureau rests an empty picture frame; it is surrounded by photographs of my three children, a favorite quote and a picture of my husband. I keep the small glass frame empty for one reason. It holds all the possibility of a thousand untold stories. Hannah is like that empty frame. She rarely looks back at what might have been. Rather, her eyes are fixed on the future and focused on all the bright magic of the stories she will tell.

September, 2008

I wrote this essay to attach as the parents’ statement on Hannah’s application to Georgetown University. Fast forward three years – Hannah is a junior at Georgetown. I could never have guessed that Hannah would have to take a medical leave of absence in spring of her junior year. Her lungs, once again, have raised havoc with her plans. She intended to spend four months studying in Tokyo. Hannah withdrew less than a week before the recent devastating earthquake hit Japan. My departed mother would have offered her wry wisdom, sotto voce, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Hannah at 7

March, 2011

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