Ronald McDonald House

How Koa Earned His Name

June 2013

By Gene Davis

Brian and Julie Romias have been able to reach many of their goals in life, including becoming medical doctors, but the one thing they wanted more than anything else seemed elusive to them for many years. They wanted to be parents. Then, one day last summer came the wonderful news that Julie was expecting! Finally, their dream was coming true. But it turned out to be far from easy. The Manhattan Beach, California couple couldn’t have possibly expected all the obstacles that they would end up facing, nor the monumental efforts that it would take by not only Julie, but Brian and baby Koa too.

Baby Koa overcame many hurdles before gaining enough strength to go home
Baby Koa overcame many hurdles before gaining enough strength to go home
Brian, 48, and Julie, 43, had made numerous trips to Hawaii over the years to visit relatives on both Oahu and Maui, and back before they were married, Julie (Bremner) traveled here with her UCLA Women’s volleyball team to compete against the University of Hawaii. She was the setter for the Bruins’ 1991 NCAA National Championship team; became a member of the United States National Team; and played on the pro beach volleyball tour. Their most recent trip, around New Year’s Day, was what they called a ”babymoon”, sort of a last chance to vacation together before their first baby arrived.

But the pleasant one-week Hawaiian vacation that the couple was enjoying suddenly took a dramatic turn when Julie developed serious complications with her pregnancy that threatened both her baby’s life and her own. “I was starting to go into kidney failure and liver failure, recalls Julie. “The only treatment for that is to have the baby.” An emergency C-section saved her, but their baby came into the world nearly three months early and weighing just 1 lb., 10 oz.

Born with an extremely low white blood cell count making him susceptible to any and all infections, Koa was also “extremely growth restricted”, meaning that he was even smaller than a 29-week baby should be. Then, there were the “spells” he suffered in the days after he was born, where he would stop breathing and his heart rate would dip down. “It was really scary,” Julie says.

During it all, the newborn showed so much strength and courage as he fought for his life that Brian and Julie spontaneously chose to name him Koa instead of the name they had settled on earlier. “The meaning of the name Koa is strong and brave,” they explain.

The Romias family waited patiently at the Ronald McDonald House before heading home to California
The Romias family waited patiently at the Ronald McDonald House before heading home to California
It took Koa 77 days of hospitalization to grow strong enough to be released. When he was, he still needed another month of monitoring before he could travel to California. So Koa and mom Julie bided their time at Ronald McDonald House. Brian joined them as much as possible, although he continued to work on the mainland. “I thought it was going to be easy to commute,” Brian says. “But it became more and more difficult. When Julie was first hospitalized and I had to go back to the mainland, it was really hard because I was so worried about her.”

Brian agrees. “Families need a place to get away from the sterile environment at the hospital and get away from people giving them bad news all the time. Someplace to decompress and have their own space, and commune with other people who are going through similar difficulties and just kind of lean on each other.”

Koa has brought a new level of excitement and contentment to Julie and Brian. They remain philosophical about their three months of tribulations. “You know, nobody wants this to happen to them,” Julie reflects. “But Baby Koa has touched so many lives. When I think about the outpouring of love that we have had and how Koa has inspired so many people, I just know he is going to go on to great things. We know he’s a gift from God on loan to us and we just hope we can be the best parents we can.”

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