John and Teresa Norris can tell you a thing or 2 about living under stress, and how it changed their perspective on life.
Their daughter, Olivia, was born extremely premature in May 2016. She spent 332 days in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) at Akron Children’s Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Olivia’s airway was unusually narrow. She needed a ventilator to breath and a feeding tube. She underwent 2 major surgeries and a series of balloon procedures to gradually dilate her airway.
“We never knew we’d be down there as long as we were,” said John, a social studies teacher and the former men’s basketball coach at Walsh Jesuit High School. “The weeks and months went on without knowing when she was going to get better.”
Olivia did get better. Now age 3, she sat on the living room floor with her dad on a late summer afternoon, playing with oversized letters of the alphabet. She has delays, but she is healthy. She knows her letters and can count to 10. She was starting preschool that week.
John and Teresa of Cuyahoga Falls said they are forever changed by Olivia’s medical ordeal – grateful for the small things, more focused than ever on the important things and moved by the kindness and generosity of others.
They will share their journey as speakers at the 2019 Walk for Babies on Oct. 6 at Canal Park. The event will run from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.
“We really get to experience a miracle on a daily basis,” said Teresa, a vice president of account management at ECRM, a Solon-based company. “For everything she has been through, we’re very fortunate because she’s very happy.”
NICU nurse Linda DiFalco said seeing children like Olivia grow is the best part of the job she’s had for 37 years. She has remained friends with the family and other NICU families.
“It’s rewarding to see Liv (Olivia) running around, interacting with her parents. She literally runs now,” she said.
When Olivia was in the NICU, Linda would sometimes bring dinner from home for John and Teresa.
“Even on days I wasn’t taking care of Liv, I’d go in and see them, just to give them a smile and a hug and let them know I was here,” Linda said.
She also gave pep talks, a little perspective from her years in the NICU.
“You’re helping families get through the darkest days,” she said. “The babies will never remember, but the families will never forget.”
John and Teresa said Walk for Babies is a chance to honor successes and the NICU staff members who make it possible.
“It’s a great celebration of the medical field and how far they have come,” John said. “A big part of our topic will be hope and faith in the caregivers and their interest in these very complicated medical lives.”
Teresa said NICU families are connected by their shared experience.
“It’s hard for a family in the NICU,” Teresa said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in there 1 day or 332 days like us. You’re a different person after that.”