Last week, I adopted a kitten that had been rescued from the Washington Park garage. She was so tiny I had to bottle-feed her. Every two hours, I was putting that bottle in her mouth when I could have been doing laundry, watching Netflix, or cleaning my house. The kitten cried some the first night. I remember thinking, ‘this is a lot of work. Maybe I’m not cut out for round the clock care of a baby kitty with needs’. That thought was soon put into perspective.
I first met Necco foster parents, Troy and Dianna Harris, in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit waiting area of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. I was there to interview them about their foster son. I wanted to know more about them, how they got here, why they are here and why they spend day after day, week after week in the hospital with him. The answers to those questions didn’t come so much from what they said to me, but how they said it. Their actions, in the short time I spent with them, spoke volumes. I sat down on the couch and began to open my laptop. They sat closely on either side of me. Before I could type anything, they directed me to look at the pictures on their phones. As soon as I finished looking at one picture to the left ,the other parent would have a new photo pulled up to the right. “Watch him grin! Ain’t he gorgeous”, they would exclaim.
Their pride in this child rivals that of parents of a newborn. However, the baby that Troy and Dianna foster is almost two. He has been diagnosed with a very rare disease. The boy uses a tracheal tube to breathe. In his two short years of life, he has experienced more surgeries than one can count. One thing that can be counted, are the blessings of having Troy and Dianna as his foster parents.
A nurse stuck her head in the waiting room to announce that the baby was out of surgery. The two immediately jumped up and headed toward the corridor. I was still jamming my laptop into my backpack as the double doors opened to the PICU. The foster parents entered the dimly lit hospital room to see their sleeping cherub. Dianna’s fingers brushed his curly hair to the side of his forehead and then re-positioned his favorite blanket. She stood quietly by his bedside and invited me to come over to take a peek. “You can come over here. Come over and see him”. Cocking her head to the side and gazing at him, she commented, “The love he has. It’s amazing. He’s an amazing baby”.
The Pediatric Intensive Care doctor came in shortly thereafter to discuss medications. The doctor knelt on one knee as he explained, eye-level with the foster parents, the post-surgery medication plan. Troy and Dianna asked him about side effects, tapering, dosages, and reasons for medications. It was clear that these foster parents had a close relationship with the doctors and nurses caring for their foster son. It was also clear how involved these foster parents were.
A nurse came in to check on the baby and silence a beeping i.v. pump. She walked around it, stared it up and down to figure out which one was making the noise. “It’s this saline, here”, Troy pointed out to her, as if it were second nature to the foster dad who has spent countless days in post-surgery with the baby.
The Harris’ explained to me that they have been foster parents for seven years. When I asked how long they had been fostering special needs children, Dianna reported, “Since day one. Since day one.” The Harris’ also have biological children and adopted children at home. “The older ones are pitching in and helping out with the younger ones. Sometimes, they drive up here to visit for a day and drive back." I remembered a story that was circulating in our office. Rob Goodwin, Necco’s Chief People Officer, offered to treat Troy and Dianna to dinner together somewhere other than the hospital. The Harris’ response, “Well, don’t do it on Friday, because we might get to hold him that day”. Point taken, Troy and Dianna. Point taken.
The baby began to move and Dianna immediately jumped from her seat and began to gently rub his arms, saying “Are you gonna stir? Are you going to open those pretty eyes?” I sat in that small, subdued hospital room, listening to the rhythmic beats of the i.v. pump and watched as Troy and Dianna stood over the sleepy baby’s bedside. My thoughts went to my kitten. My very needy kitten. I thought about how good it will feel when she can eat dry cat food and drink from a bowl. I thought of how selfish I am and how selfless the Harris’ are. How do they do this, day after day, night after night? As if she could read my thoughts, Dianna glanced down at the baby, her baby, quietly placing her hand on his chest and said, “It’s all about him”.