Each year, I look forward to the chance to get to meet a family whose life was changed through the Children's Hospital at University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, and to tell their story. When I received my assignment this year, I knew it would be hard.
The Crumpler Family of Pitt County was actually introduced to Eastern Carolina during the 2010 telethon. They were at the bedside of their son Conner, in the midst of his 23 weeks in the neo-natal intensive care unit. He was born at 23 weeks, extremely premature. While praying for their son to continue gaining strength and overcoming the many obstacles his tiny body faced, Tim and Kristen Crumpler were also mourning the death of another son, Conner's twin brother Parker. The family's story is so bittersweet, tragic yet hopeful.
When I found out when Conner and Parker were born, that's when I knew this would be a difficult assignment. The boys were born just a few days before my daughter, Lauren. The understanding that my baby, ten days overdue, was born down the hall from where two baby boys were being baptized by a priest from the same church my family attends, in case they didn't survive, weighs heavily on my heart. Kristen's doctors weren't able to tell her why her boys were so eager to enter the world, way before it was safe for them to do so, while my little one clung to the womb, born only after being induced.
Meeting the Crumpler Family has reminded me of what so many families met through the Children's Miracle Network has taught me: you just never know.
Kristen's pregnancy was going along normally. There were no signs her twins were in danger of coming into the world so early. When they were born, the staff at the Children's Hospital was there to do everything they could to help them survive. Oddly enough, Parker was the baby who seemed to be doing the best after his premature birth, while Conner seemed to encounter more obstacles during the first few weeks of his life. That is until Day 18, when Baby Parker died, leaving his brother to fight for life alone.
Conner is doing wonderfully, now 17 pounds, after he was born weighing less than two pounds. His parents say he is developmentally delayed, and it's too early to tell what permanent challenges he may face. However, he's teething, learning to hold his head up, and the child has giggle fits to rival that of any baby. His smile will melt hearts, and this coming weekend, it will likely help miracles happen for other children in Eastern Carolina. Conner's story will make you smile and cry at the same time, like a rainbow one on side of the sky while it's still raining in the other.
The day after my emotional interview with the Crumplers, I again learned the lesson of "you just never know." Riley Philpot died. The ten-year-old cancer warrior from Winterville passed away, after years of battling a rare form of the disease. She was the daughter of Kirk and Kelly, who as doctors, make people healthy for a living. The cancer had gone in and out remission so many times, and Riley had so many people praying for her, everyone hoped she would beat it. She died in her mother's arms, another image to make you smile and cry at the same time.
I found out about Riley when I got up for work Thursday. We report on tragedies all the time--it's the nature of the news business. This one was different. Riley was a guest on our show to promote the charity her family started, Riley's Army. Their group offers to support to other families with a child who is battling cancer. As the showtime grew closer and closer, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to stop crying long enough to put my makeup on. Knowing that I was going to get go home and see my daughter, while the Philpots were in the process of laying their oldest daughter to rest, was heartbreaking. Riley's story became the most viewed article on our website that day, so I know many, many people in the East were mourning her death as well.
Why some children must face such ordeals and others skate through childhood with skinned knees and sunburns is one of the great mysteries of life. You just never know. That's why this weekend, we will unabashedly ask people to donate money to the Children's Miracle Network. We know that children are miracles, and the hospital needs the support of Eastern Carolina to make more miracles happen for the children.