Baby Breeanna’s skin was delicate and her veins showed through her transparent little body. She was on a ventilator and her chances of survival were slim to none. All Cindy Belk could do was pray and go through the emotions she was feeling as a mother and the nurse who knew too much.
“As a parent it is overwhelming, but as a nurse, I knew all of the things that could possibly happen to her. It made it hard to be a mom and a nurse. I had almost wished I wasn’t a nurse,” Cindy admits, “at that moment ignorance would have been bliss.”
Each day was touch and go in the NICU. There wasn’t a single day that told Cindy that her baby was going to make it. The miracle baby was lovingly nicknamed “Breezy” though the beginning of her life was not such a breeze. In the NICU for a total of 93 days, Breezy struggled for her life several times. Cindy and Jamey praise the Ronald McDonald House for housing them while they went through the frightening ordeal.
“She was scheduled to go home three times. She started growing, doing well, the ventilator was taken out and put back in multiple times, “Cindy says.
When Cindy held her daughter for the first time, she was 14 days old and still very small. Cindy was allowed to hold her only for a few minutes at a time. “I couldn’t cuddle my baby with tubes on her. Each day in the NICU was different - it could be a total tragedy or it could be the best day of your life,” Cindy declares.
One of the harder days was when Breezy had a brain bleed after she was a month old. “Typically when that happens, they don’t walk or talk. It can cause a lot of brain damage,” Cindy says.
When Breeanna was a month old, Jamey placed his wedding band all the way up her arm to show how tiny she still was and it looked like a large bangle bracelet.
Each day that passed, Cindy felt deep down that her baby would make it even when there were problems. “When you see other babies have issues and not make it … at that very moment your heart drops. You think, ‘what if that was my baby?’” Cindy sobs, takes a breath and continues, “…but you can’t focus on that. You focus on what is going on with your baby that day.”
Cindy recalls the one time her heart dropped more than ever. Breezy’s heart rate plummeted to almost nothing.
“When we were scheduled to come home with Bree right before father’s day we went to work, all of her stuff was packed and we were going home. We called our family and told them we were coming home. Then we came back from lunch and we saw her being rushed out of the NICU,” Cindy says in a low tone.
Baby Bree had an IV in the center of her forehead and was in an isolette again. Cindy panicked and asked the nurse where they were going. Bree’s stomach started descending and they feared she could have what is called Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) – bacteria that kills the intestines.
They began antibiotics and the next 24 hours were crucial in knowing if Bree would survive.
“We were supposed to go home that day – this was supposed to be the rest of our life beginning,” Cindy says recalling her anger, “and that was probably my ‘this is not fair moment’… my break down moment.”
Little Breezy was a survivor. She pulled through and showed no signs of NEC which was ruled out completely. Not certain what had happened, the doctors felt Breezy would be going home before the test results would even come back.
Once again, the family was scheduled to go home and Bree began having dips in her respirations. When she started doing better again they planned to bring their four-pound daughter home with a heart monitor. There were no medical conditions to keep her from finally going home.
“I slept on the couch with her on my chest for over a month. She was just over three months old,” Cindy says.
Breezy wore preemie clothes, but they swallowed her until she was nearly five months old. There were many doctors’ appointments along with speech and OT appointments that the couple kept regularly.
“Speech really does a lot for them regarding sucking reflexes and development. Everything was going well so far.” Cindy says.
Little Breezy’s vocal cord was damaged from being intubated numerous times and it was thought that she may never speak.
“We started learning sign language and to just take it as it comes. We tried to get her to make noise. She made no noise. She didn’t coo, she didn’t babble …she did nothing – at all,” Cindy recalls.
Breezy only made muffled cries that sounded like a kitten. Because she was born so early, the couple had to count back in their minds how old their daughter ‘really’ was.
“Even if she was five months old, she was really only three months old. We had to base everything on when she should have been born and not when she actually was born. It makes it hard. Here you have this baby for a whole year and you realize, ‘no… she is really only nine months old’,” Cindy explains.
Breezy would smile when her parents looked at her, but Cindy became frustrated thinking maybe her child would never speak. She learned to stop being concerned with what Breezy may never do and she focused on what her daughter was doing for that day.
“Right before her first birthday, she stood up in her crib one day and I heard over the baby monitor ‘Daddy’. There was no ‘Da-Da’ and no babble – she said ‘Daddy’ as plain as day and I started bawling,” Cindy says.
Running in her child’s room with excitement, Cindy tried to get her daughter to say her first word again, but she wouldn’t. Cindy called her husband who was close by and told him that their little Breezy had spoken …and her first word was ‘Daddy’. Jamey rushed to the house in tears.
“We tried to get her to say it again about 900 times and finally she just looked at him and said ‘Daddy’. It was so exciting! We knew all of the work with her was not in vain and she was going to be just fine,” Cindy maintains.
The next progression for Breezy was to take her first steps. All the other babies around her age were walking, but Breezy wasn’t and the dedicated parents had to count back again and continue her therapy process. Breezy was 15 months old when she took her first step and started walking.
The speech therapist told Cindy that her daughter was not going to babble or pretend to talk as most babies did. They learned that Breezy was saying the words in her head before speaking them out loud, making sure they came out exactly right before speaking them.
“As she got a little older she continued to do that and we could hear her audibly whisper to herself before she would say it out loud to us,” Cindy says.
Breezy practiced her words with that same method until she was three years old. In knowing how important the forming of words was to her daughter, Cindy made sure not to use baby-talk.
“Instead of telling her, ‘no-no’, I would say, ‘that was disrespectful’ or ‘that is unacceptable’ and Bree would repeat that, but you could watch her say it to herself before it ever came out of her mouth,” Cindy affirms.
Breezy was truly a miracle baby and with the blessing of their daughter surviving came other blessings in the journey.
“The Ronald McDonald house was such a blessing – not just to have a place to stay, but it helped to not have the travel time or cost of gas you would spend going back and forth and the fact that we could be right there at a moment’s notice when something happened,” Cindy affirms.
The Belks live in Cleveland and the drive to Chattanooga would not have been feasible for all that was required while helping their baby survive. The Ronald McDonald House provided them with food and housing, but more importantly – peace of mind.
Another blessing The Ronald McDonald House provided the couple was to be around the other families who experienced the same emotions.
“They may not be going through the exact same thing – they may not have a one-pound baby, but might have a baby with leukemia or another hardship. They are in a struggle just as you are and it is amazing when you walk into a house …that on the outside seems like it holds these tragic stories… but when you sit down with someone as a parent going through it; you don’t talk about the struggle of it …they know the struggle of it …you talk about what you are rejoicing about and what happened that day that made it great,” Cindy says.
Today Breezy is a healthy, vibrant eight-year-old and is above her grade level in reading. The only comments Cindy hears today of her daughter’s progress is how well she does.
We tell her all the time she is a miracle for a reason. Life isn’t going to hold her down – she can do anything. Whenever she says something is hard we tell her, ‘There are a lot of things harder and you have already done them, so don’t worry about that’,” Cindy laughs.
Cindy and Jamey were blessed to have two more children in spite of Cindy’s health complications and previous struggles. Their son Braxton was born in 2003 and daughter Emerson was born last year – both with very few complications.
“We knew what we were doing this time. I took the Loveox injections again, and Braxton was born at 36 weeks at six pounds three ounces and was only in the NICU for three days from respiratory issues and he went home like any other baby. Emerson was five pounds and 15 ounces - also at 36 weeks. She went into the NICU for respiratory distress and she was there for two and a half weeks for feeding issues. She wouldn’t eat and her sucking reflex wasn’t developed. She had a feeding tube through her nose, but she came home. Breezy and Braxton stayed with us part of the time and some of the time with family. The Ronald McDonald House is fabulous because they have a play room, a game room, a library – all of this stuff for the kids to do so they aren’t just stuck there doing nothing,” Cindy praises.
Still not forgotten, Cindy and Jamey visit their son Trey at the cemetery. His funeral was a whirlwind for Cindy as she was on auto-pilot just going through the motions. It was important to her to bury her son next to her grandfather.
“Breezy and Braxton know exactly who he is and they know they had a big brother before them. They know there are days when it is hard for me and sometimes …on a drive I will look in the backseat at my children and realize, ‘there is still one missing’,” Cindy says through tears.
“The kids enjoy putting flowers on his grave and big brother was a good way for us to teach them that death happens and that he is living with Jesus. That is what we strive for every day and we will see him again,” Cindy says.
Being a mom is the greatest privilege in the world. It is such a blessing and it is God-given and something that I don’t deserve. And …when you think of that and you see all the things you are doing wrong, you realize that your children don’t see that at all,” Cindy says enlightened, “they look up at you and they see everything that you are doing right.”
For part one of Cindy’s story, click on the link: http://chattanoogan.com/2014/5/8/276100/Chattanoogan-Cindy-Belk--Meant-To.aspx