One-pound 'preemie' beat all odds, has a healthy, happy birthday today.
By THOMAS KLETT
Jennifer and Jason Sammons recall with exact detail where they were and what they were doing on certain days this past year.
Such as Nov. 5, 2000 - the first day they could hold their daughter since she was born 44 days earlier on Sept. 22.
They remember Dec. 7, 2000 - Jason's birthday was the day doctors told them Ashlee's eyes would need laser surgery because they weren't developing properly.
A day they'll always remember is Jan. 26, 2001 - the day they could bring their daughter, little Ashlee Connie Kae Sammons, home from the hospital in Omaha for the very first time. "We had to travel through a blizzard, but we were going to make it," said Jennifer.
Now Saturday, Sept. 22, will be another day for Jennifer and Jason to add to that memorable list. Ashlee celebrates her first birthday today after being born 12 weeks premature a year ago.
When she was born, Ashlee only weighed 1 pound, 6 ounces and was 11 1/2 inches long - no larger than a small Beanie Baby that shared her crib.
But a year later, Ashlee weighs 12 pounds, 8 ounces and will be 25 inches long. Her parents couldn't feel any luckier.
"This week has already been kind of emotional," Jennifer said. "Thinking back a year ago, I was in the hospital... It doesn't seem possible.
"Jason and I talked about everything that happened, and in a sense it seemed like a nightmare or a dream. It took forever for a year to pass, but in other aspects it flew by," she said. "When I think Ashlee will be a year old, I start getting choked up. She's been through so much and will only be a year old... she's such a miracle."
While there are plenty of family and friends who will celebrate along with Jennifer and Jason, they have decided to wait until next spring to throw a big party for Ashlee. They don't want to risk Ashlee getting a respiratory virus.
Jennifer thinks she'll be able to enjoy every bit of that bash. "They say it takes two years to get over all the little obstacles and hurdles, so by May it will feel like we've reached a milestone," Jennifer said.
Like other premature babies, Ashlee suffers from chronic lung disease which makes her more susceptible to disease. Chronic lung disease keeps Ashlee from bouncing back as quickly from an illness.
With the problem season running October through April, Ashlee will have to get monthly shots. "We won't be able to take her anywhere, and will have to be careful," Jennifer said. Already visitors must take off their shoes and wash their hands.
Ashlee is still small, but she has been gaining weight. She still has a feeding tube in her stomach, and her parents plan to keep that through the winter.
"When she gets sick she quits eating, and since she's so small we can't afford to lose any calories," Jennifer said. "To this point she hasn't lost any weight, and there'll be an gain of an ounce here, a half ounce there."
Even though Ashlee is small, doctors say it is not a cause for concern unless she starts losing weight.
These happier days have been like a second chance for Jennifer and her husband to enjoy their first child. Since Ashlee spent the first 4 1/2
months of her life in the hospital, her parents have missed a lot of her first moments.
"We missed the first four months, but we've gotten a second chance to get to experience other things new parents experience," she said.
In some ways Ashlee's development is slower than other babies her age, but in another sense she is right on par.
A physical and occupational therapist works with Ashlee twice a month on things like crawling, rolling and sitting. "She will sit by herself, but not for very long," Jennifer said. "She's still kind of weak."
Last month the therapists were thrilled, Jennifer said, when Ashlee went from rolling to almost crawling in only one month.
Jennifer and Jason were also excited when last week Ashlee got her first tooth.
"She got her first tooth last Thursday, which was exciting for us," Jennifer said. "She's doing things at only nine months she should be doing at a year."
Ashlee continues to go to the children's hospital in Omaha, but her check-ups are only every other month now. But her parents are in contact with the hospital at least once a week to update them on Ashlee's condition.
Next week will be Ashlee's one-year check-up. So far no major problems have been found with her, Jennifer said, though there has been concern for Ashlee's eyes and lungs.
December of last year her eyes quit developing, so doctors performed laser surgery on Ashlee to stimulate development. Right now there doesn't seem to be any problems, but she could develop eye problems when she is older, Jennifer said.
Also, since Ashlee was in a respirator for so long, some lung tissue was damaged, but the percentage that is damaged could decrease as Ashlee's lungs grow and form new tissue, Jennifer said.
When she's older, Ashlee may need eye glasses or could develop asthma, but her parents feel that is a small price compared to Ashlee's situation a year ago. "If the worst of what happens is she has to have glasses, we'll feel very lucky," Jennifer said.
The support from everyone has been wonderful, Jennifer noted, from the AEA, to Dr. Crippin and the Children's Methodist Hospital in Omaha, to friends and family. "The phone calls and little cards and e-mail all mean so much to us," she said.
Their employers have been very helpful, too. Both Sioux Central schools, where Jennifer teaches, and Jason's employer, RJ Thomas of Cherokee, have allowed the two to take days off as needed.
"It makes things so much easier when we'd have to go to Omaha or Ashlee was sick," Jennifer said. "It's the little things that make so much difference."
Since Ashlee is so small, the Sammons qualify for in-home nursing care, which helps with Jennifer back teaching and Jason working.
Ashlee's parents also have a web site with at www.caringBridge.com/ia/ashlee. There has been close to 6,000 visitors so far.