Ronald McDonald House

My Special Baby

November, 2004

By Valerie Melle, Kalaheo, Hawaii

My husband Gianfranco and I were so excited to find out we were to become parents again. We were finally on stable ground financially and our eldest son Simone was in preschool. I had gone back to work full-time and we were in the process of becoming first-time homeowners on Kauai. Life could not have been more perfect.

Baby Gianni arrives at Ronald McDonald House
Baby Gianni arrives at Ronald McDonald House
But on the fourth month of our pregnancy, my doctor on Kauai, Dr Teresa Birchard, noticed I had too much amniotic fluid in my stomach and scheduled an ultrasound by two doctors from Kapiolani Hospital for Women and Children via teleconferencing. Doctors viewing me over the TV confirmed what Dr. Birchard has seen. And there was something else the doctor had noticed—that my son’s stomach was too small.

We soon learned that he had a rare birth defect called Esophageal Atresia, which affects 1 in 4000 children. We were in shock, but with help from my doctor and the Internet, we learned that our son was born with a gap of about five inches from his Esophagus and his stomach.

He was not able to swallow fluid because of this birth defect, therefore causing me to collect amniotic fluid with no place to go. Around our 29th week of pregnancy I began to feel labor pains in my back. I called my doctor, and she asked me to come in. I figured I was being a little paranoid but I didn’t want to take any chances. Sure enough I was dilating! So off to the hospital we went and then on the Medivac plane to Oahu.

This particular night was storming with uncontrollable rain, lighting and thunder. I swear I felt like I was in a movie. My husband played co-pilot, which is funny, because he’s afraid of heights. He can’t even ride a Ferris wheel. But it comforted me.

We finally arrived at Kapiolani Hospital at five in the morning. I had been on magnesium to stop the labor pains so I barely noticed my arrival because the medicine made me dizzy I had to close my eyes.

October 22, 2004 - This was the day we finally brought our baby boy Gianni Keola home to the Ronald McDonald House. He was born on June 15, 2004 and had spent his first 130 days in the NICU at Kapiolani Hospital for Women and Children. I had been in the 3rd floor labor and deliver unit for 31 days before that. Because he was premature and had Esophageal Atresia, the only thing we could do was to wait. In the meantime, we met with several doctors and nurses who would be caring for our son. The one doctor that stood out the most was Dr. Daniel Robie. He was the surgeon that would do the operation on my son. He made us feel that everything would be all right.

The Melle family, finally all together at the Ronald McDonald House
The Melle family, finally all together at the Ronald McDonald House
For the month that I was also in-patient at the hospital, my husband flew to Oahu once a week and my son got to stay with me for two nights. Finally, I was discharged on June 17th; Gianni would need up to three more months to be well enough to go home. But where were we going to live? How could we still be there for Gianni?

I kept seeing the flyer in the NICU at Kapiolani Hospital about Ronald McDonald House and I finally picked one up. Arrangements were made and suddenly we had a place to stay!

On September 2nd, Gianfranco, our other son Simone and I moved into the Ronald McDonald House in Manoa. We have been here at the House for some time now and there are a lot of things I feel that I must say.

You’d never know, but one day your whole life could be turned upside down. It happened to every one of the families in the House and whether dealing with a disease, an illness or a birth defect, we all have had the same experiences. Some of us are separated from our families for months at a time. There are a few families here that have not seen some of their other children for over half a year.

To be away from everything you know, your family, work, and friends is so hard and we admire all of them for their courage. Just being in the presence of all these good people has helped us cope with our own experiences with our son. It’s nice to always have someone at “home” to ask you how your day went. And when you’re feeling down and out, watching the kids play uplifts you. We’re grateful that our whole family is together here in Honolulu. Just being in this House made a world of difference. The friends we’ve made here are ones we’ll never forget.

Now our son is out of the hospital and we know it will still be a long road to recovery. But we remain inspired by everything that we have experienced here in Honolulu. Just as Dr. Robie said, we will be all right. §

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