Our twins, Reece and Graham, were born 15 weeks premature on Thanksgiving day 2006. Our son did not catch the breaks you need when you're born that early and after 45 days, we had to say goodbye. Our daughter spent 119 days in the hospital before we finally brought her home. As preemie parents know, the journey is long and in many ways, it really begins when you bring your baby home.
I have always wanted to be deeply involved with an organization where the mission mattered to me. I have been active with several non-profits since my college years as either a volunteer or board member, some to build my resume, others to build relationships and others where the mission mattered... deeply... to someone else but ultimately, not me.
In fact, I started to get involved with the American Heart Association because I grew up with a heart condition and had successful open heart surgery at age 19, so I was a candidate for "mission matters" involvement, but for whatever reason I didn't feel the emotional connection in my core.
That all changed when our twins were born and our world turned upside down. After losing our son, I knew my life's mission.
Our daughter, Reece, has had many of the typical challenges that preemies face. We have learned to let go of our expectations, celebrate her milestones and appreciate all that she can do. It doesn't mean that it is easy. For her, or for us, but we are grateful.
On a recent family vacation, there was a ropes course about 20 feet above ground. And while Reece was tall enough and old enough to do it, I was afraid. Not her, me! Not for her safety, the equipment was new and the staff knew what they were doing. I was afraid of what might happen if she started to go across and couldn't make it over by herself. Honestly, I didn't think she could do it.
But my wife, ever the optimist, thought she could and wanted her to give it a try. Reece did, too. So I went first before Reece and have to admit that I whispered to the staff that she might need help.
There were three sections, each one progressively more difficult. First section, piece of cake. Second, a little slower but no problem. The third and by far most difficult, took even longer, but she did it! Step by little step, singing her ABCs song, cool as a cucumber, across she went.
And when she was done, she got to fly back to the start!
Graham got his wings far too early, but he shared them with me so we can make a difference in the lives of families going through the challenges of prematurity at Graham's Foundation.
Reece reminded me to believe in myself and ignore the naysayers. Something I thought I had learned already! She shared her wings with me, too, that day and has given me the courage to leave my comfortable career and pursue my passion, helping to develop and foster innovative solutions that can lead to improved outcomes for preemies and their families.
Thank you Reece and Graham, for teaching your Dad how to fly.