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Laura and Jack Suess One Look, Two Lives Changed

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By Laura Suess

Nine years ago, I was working as an RN for a pediatric home care company in Fresno, California. I loved my job. I loved being able to go out into the community and empower families to take care of their littles, who often had very complex medical needs. I loved building relationships with the kiddos we would visit week after week. I loved stepping into communities that were often overlooked and underserved and watching them come around one of their own as they dealt with something no one thought could be overcome. It was life-giving.

I remember that my desk in the office I shared with two other nurses sat right underneath the plastic file holder where referrals for new patients would show up. It was a Friday and I was looking at a referral for a soon-to-be-discharged baby boy at UCSF. Three months. Chronic kidney disease. Vesicostomy, a small opening in his abdomen to allows urine to drain directly into his diaper. Will most likely need a kidney transplant by the time he’s five. Going home on oral meds daily and injections three times a week. Education and nursing follow up needed. “Perfect,” I thought. “This one’s mine. Education and I’ll get to snuggle a sweet baby for a few weeks.”

My phone rang that very day as I sat at my desk with that referral looming right over me. The number for the foster family agency I was licensed through popped up on my screen. I didn’t think much of it because I was doing only very short-term care at the time. I answered. “Hey, Laura, we just got a call about a three-month-old baby boy they need placement for. He’s got kidney disease and will most likely need a transplant by the time he’s five. They’d love for him to be placed with a nurse. Will you take him?” Wide eyed, I turned to my co-worker, who was a fellow foster parent and dear friend. Apparently, she could hear every word because she was already holding up a sticky note that just said “YES!” Without thinking much about it, I agreed to pick him up that Sunday and hung up.

A few minutes later, my boss walked into my office and pulled that referral out, saying, “Wait on this kiddo. He’s a CPS hold.” I looked up at her and said, “Oh yeah. Um, I think he’s actually coming home with me.” I’m not 100 percent sure she believed me at first, knowing my propensity to jokingly threaten to take our patients home. However, not long after that, word had spread that I was definitely taking him and that the nursing referral could be canceled.

Two days later, I walked into his room. It was February 22, 2015. He was asleep but woke up when the nurse and I walked in, and he immediately gave us a big gummy smile. I was smitten. So were the NICU nurses. He’d been there 100 days, and he’d been their favorite for at least 99 of them. Before we left the next day, they paraded him around in a stroller that he was slightly too small for. He smiled at every nurse who fawned over him saying their goodbyes. The night nurses even insisted that I sleep in an empty adjacent room because they were going to be having a goodbye party in his room. I walked out of the hospital with him the next day with a car full of stuff and absolutely no clue what I was doing or how long I’d be doing it.

I adopted Jack in April 2016. I often think about how many times I could have changed my mind. No one would have faulted me. I was in no place to be raising a human alone, let alone one with very complex needs. It’s been nine years since I locked eyes with the baby boy who changed my life forever. Nine years of navigating difficult diagnoses and changes in medical treatments. Nine years of dealing with deep loss and trauma. Nine years of wondering if I am actually doing it all wrong and should start saving for the therapy he’s going to inevitably need because of me. Nine years of grace given to each other time and time again. I’m thankful every day for the referral. The phone call. The sticky note. The nurses. The story that was written for us despite my limitations and mistakes. Grateful doesn’t begin to cover it. I cherish every second I’ve had with this boy, all the best and the worst days.

While Jack’s chronic health issues will always be a part of his life, he has modeled what it means to overcome obstacles day after day. He loves to play sports, especially golf and track. He enjoys school and works hard to keep his grades up. And he loves to travel! His current goal is to visit all 50 states before his kidney transplant. He will have 20 states under his belt by the end of the year! Watching him thrive is an honor and one of my greatest joys. I can’t wait to see what his future holds.