It is amazing when you hear a miraculous story over and over again how ordinary it becomes. It is like a song that is played repetitively on the radio – you can’t wait to hear it, but then it is requested constantly so it doesn’t seem quite as special anymore.
I cannot count the number of times I have heard about my birth. It was told to me so many times that I almost believe I was there to experience the whole thing as an observer!
I was born premature, a 23-week, one pound eleven ounce baby girl who was thirteen inches in length. I was no bigger than a Barbie doll. My father’s wedding ring slid the whole way up my arm to my shoulder. A baby, who was predicted to die the same day she was born, but didn’t.
My early arrival began in the emergency room at the Carlisle Hospital. I was not able to breathe on my own so doctors – who were unprepared for my arrival – began trying to resuscitate me. A respiratory therapist who happened to be picking up his paycheck was able to rig up a primitive system to help me breathe. The doctors then worked to stabilize my condition and later that night I was transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Harrisburg Hospital.
In the beginning, any hour I survived was a miracle. My parents and relatives received hourly updates on my condition. The first 24 hours would determine my fate. Luckily, I was strong enough to stay alive; however, I had many setbacks along the way. My right lung collapsed and then the left, then my intestines ruptured. I had four operations the first week of my life.
Just about the time things were improving, I would have another setback. They also determined that I could go blind. My eyes were operated on to save my sight, but the doctors weren’t very hopeful. My family was informed of all the problems I might have. They were told that premature babies usually develop: cystic fibrosis, mental retardation, spina bifida, blindness and attention deficit disorders.
My family believed that I would lead a normal life; they never gave up hope that I would beat the odds.
I remained in the NICU from July 25th until November 20th. I was sent home with more equipment than soldiers take into battle. I had monitors to keep an eye on my heart rate, my pulse rate, and to ensure I was breathing.
I was home for 10 days before something terrible went wrong. It was late evening and I was asleep in my crib. My cat, Rascal, went nuts! He kept meowing at my door until my parents were ready to strangle him. He actually saved my life. I had begun to turn blue from not being able to breathe. My parents immediately took me back to Harrisburg Hospital. I was only 8% oxygenated out of 100%. I stopped breathing three times that night and almost died. Of all the battles I had fought this would be the toughest. I was transferred the next day to Hershey Medical Center, where I remained until December 24 when I finally came home to stay.
When I think of all the events that happened when I was born, I feel so grateful. I am happy to be alive. I never take anything in my life for granted. I believe I am here for a particular reason. I never developed any of the terrible diseases that could have occurred. My only disability is being legally blind. I don’t view it as a disability but as an ability. I was made this way for a reason.
My world was shaped by many coincidences that went my way: the respiratory therapist picking up his paycheck, my family praying and always believing, Rascal the cat saving my life (afterward, he was taken care of better than any person I know!), and my ability to overcome the odds.
Sometimes people feel sorry for me because of my poor vision. I want to shout, “Don’t feel sorry for me, I am the luckiest person alive!” I have been blessed with many gifts, so I will continue to work hard, never give up, and always believe in miracles!
Ashley Kauffman is from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and is employed as a teacher with the Mechanicsburg Learning Center. She has enjoyed writing since she used her imagination to bring her first story to life in second grade. Ashley received her B.A. in English, and is currently working to obtain her M.A. in Children’s Literature through Penn State University. She is an avid collector of vinyl records, Golden Books, and vintage typewriters. Ashley is legally blind and considers herself to be a differently-abled person who has spent her life envisioning the world with the turn of each page.