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A birthday, sooner than anyone expected

March 21, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

How many moms and dads do you know who leave town for their child's birth? That's what Jimmy and Angela Koontz are going to do, not because they want to, but because they have to.

I first wrote about the Washington County couple on Feb. 1, after they described the plight of their unborn child, diagnosed with a condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, or HLHS for short. In simple terms, the left side of the heart does not develop properly.

There is no cure, according to the Nemours Cardiac Center of the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware. But surgery will allow the right side of the heart to do the work of both sides.

Under the doctors' plan, Angela will give birth at the hospital in Harrisburg where she sees a specialists each week. From there the baby will be flown by helicopter to the Nemours Center for the first of three surgeries.

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Angela's original due date was April 2 and doctors in Harrisburg had planned to induce labor on Monday, March 29. But there was an abrupt change of plans last Thursday.

That's when Angela's doctors told her "that the baby's heart was working a little harder than it should be."

To prevent any additional problems, she said, labor will be induced tomorrow. Depending on how long it takes, the baby's birthday might be March 22 or March 23.

Asked how she was feeling about the latest development, she laughed, in a good-natured but nervous way.

"I'm feeling pretty good. It's only a week's difference, and I'll be past 38 weeks, so the baby won't be premature," she said.

As upbeat as Angela seems, it's been a rough couple of years for the 26-year-old and her husband Jimmy. The two were high school sweethearts and Angela, whose maiden name is Uzelac, dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom, raising her children and the dairy goats her family has shown for years in 4-H competitions.

But two years ago, her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. This time, preliminary tests indicated the baby might have chromosomal damage. That wasn't the case and the heart malformation will leave the child able to live a normal life, with just a few restrictions.

To get there from here, the child will need three separate procedures. Although both have medical insurance, it's not clear now whose policy will cover what.

By February, expenses had grown to $3,000, in part because Angela has been forced to cut back to part-time hours at her job at the Hagerstown YMCA day care center. A friend at their church, Shiloh United Methodist, persuaded them to talk to me.

Fortunately, the community has responded. On Sunday, March 14, Kevin Shorb and others held a spaghetti feed at the Elias Lutheran Church in Emmitsburg which raised $1,854.

The cost was $8 per person, but Shorb said that not everybody wanted to chow down.

"Some people were coming in and donating money and not even eating anything," he said.

Jenny Belliotti, who heads the youth fellowship at Shiloh, told me that her group, with help from some 4-Hers and some parents at the YMCA, sold Gertrude Hawk chocolate as a fund-raiser, making about $1,500.

Belliotti also said students from E. Russell Hicks Middle School took up the cause and are selling $3 coupons from Sheetz. Each entitles the holder to a sandwich or a salad and a 20-ounce drink.

And one weekend Jimmy's co-workers at Ski Liberty gave him more than $1,000 in tips.

"Jimmy and I have been so grateful for anyone who has helped out in any way," she said.

As much as they've gotten already, they'll need more help in the months ahead. If you can help, but can't participate in one of these other fund-raisers, consider sending a check to Shiloh United Methodist, 19731 Shiloh Church Road, Hagerstown, MD 21742.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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