BOOK EXCERPT

Book Excerpt from Chapter 1, Touched by Hannah

 

My uninjured but swollen, purple right ankle, and the eight inch long wound below my belly button weren't my only problems. The cancer had recently returned. I just endured the first of forty radiation treatments.

 

I was driving from that first radiation treatment to the cancer center to get my foot checked when Betsy called. "The Dr. wants me to meet him at the hospital.”

 

“The hospital?" Why the hospital?” The last place I wanted my pregnant wife to be was in the hospital. She’s 26 weeks pregnant with our daughter, Hannah. It’s the morning of September 1, 2009. Hannah is due on December 7.

 

We’ve dreamed of having Hannah since our very first date in November, 1999. We’re thrilled beyond our wildest dreams to finally be at this point.

 

Betsy finally started to show this past weekend. Suddenly those maternity clothes she delightfully shopped for with her mom were going to get plenty of wear.

 

“It’s probably not a big deal,” she said. “They just want to do a quick exam. You go see Dr. Presti and I’ll run errands after I see the doctor."

 

For a couple of seconds I contemplated following Betsy’s advice. She’s right-on almost every time. I call Betsy my consultant. I’m fifty-two and she’s twenty-nine. Even though her life and business experience is a fraction compared to mine, she instinctively knows how to offer perfectly well-said, results-getting advice on many issues in my personal and business life.

 

This was one of those infrequent instances where I wasn’t going to be following her advice. “No, wait for me. I’m going with you. It'll give us a chance to look around the hospital and see where Hannah's going to be born.” I called Stanford to reschedule and headed towards home.

 

Betsy and I left the house and took a pleasant, completely-in-denial ten-minute ride to the hospital. Everything seemed peaceful and calm. It reminded me of those moments before a wicked autumn cold front, rolling through Texas, slammed into your neighborhood.

 

I witnessed this weather while at Rice University in the late 1970’s. You could see the dark line of storm clouds coming in the distance. You’re standing there in tranquility and sunshine, but in just a few minutes you’re in the middle of a severe thunderstorm with torrential rain and destructive winds.

 

The only difference between those Texas storms and what was about to happen to us is that in Texas you could see the storm approaching.

 

We wondered out of the elevator and into the labor and delivery area. A nurse directed us to the station where another nurse asked Betsy to fill out the required paper work. I guess she noticed that Betsy could barely hold a pen and stand at the same time.

 

She immediately ordered another nurse to escort us into a patient room. She placed Betsy into the bed. Betsy assumed this would probably be the beginning of long period of bed rest. I was still oblivious.

 

A different nurse came in and conducted a couple of tests, promised the results in about fifteen minutes. Then she reached down to examine Betsy and looked up with an expression I’ll never forget. If I’d been filming a documentary, my viewing angle would have been picture-perfect.

 

The look on her face seemed to say, “Oh my God, these poor people. This is horrible news. I’m scared to death for you.”

 

"I'm very sorry,” she said, “but you're nine centimeters!" "I don't know centimeters. What does that mean”, I asked?

 

"It means your baby is coming very soon!" And she rushed out of the room like a commuter late for her rush-hour train.

 

Betsy yelled hysterically, ”Oh, my god, she's not going to make it! She's not going to make it! I just read yesterday that her lungs aren’t developed yet. Oh my God, Hannah’s going to die!”
The best accomplishments in life typically happen after much dedicated effort and hard work. I’m very familiar with wanting to achieve something and working my butt off for a long period of time to get there.

 

My best accomplishment, however, came with no preparation at all. There’s no written protocol on how to handle the awful things that happen suddenly, out of nowhere. I never even thought of what I’d do or how I’d react in such a situation.

 

I believe what I did next would have made Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins and Rocky Balboa proud.

 

Within seconds after Betsy’s outburst, my mood shifted from peaceful to a hyper-focused, super-power composure. I was still scared to death and didn’t have the luxury of time to think it out. I grabbed my wife’s hand and gave my first ever Vince Lombardi motivational speech.

 

I talked, not yelled, boldly and confidently. “No, Hannah is going to be fine. Everything is going to be ok. We got this! God is with us. He’s telling me right now he will help us.”

 

“Hannah is going to make it and she’s going to be a strong, healthy beautiful girl. She’s going to have the best mother and father in the world. We’re going to do epic things together.“

 

“Please try to be focused and composed. You can do this, Bets. I believe in you. Come on baby, let’s get this done for Hannah!”

 

There were two major differences between my talk and coach Lombardi’s. In all due respect to the most inspirational football coach of all time, my speech was pure improvisation - and we weren’t playing a game.

 

However, the best Motivational Speeches get instantaneous results, and Lombardi and I accomplished just that.

 

Betsy nodded and settled down. She understood that the best thing for her and Hannah was to calm down, concentrate and go with the flow. Hannah was coming soon and nothing could be done about it. Nature is taking its course, God help us!

 

Dr. Powers (head Dr. of NICU, Good Samaritan Hospital, San Jose, CA) explained the situation and statistics. “Betsy is going to be delivering Hannah very soon,” “You’re in for a long fight. Here’s what you’re up against.”

 

“A baby born as early as Hannah and weighing less than three pounds is likely to suffer short-term and long-term health problems.”

 

“In the long term Hannah has a good probability of developing Cerebral Palsy, impaired cognitive skills (leading to learning disabilities), vision problems, dental issues, behavioral and psychological problems, and there’s an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.”

 

“In the first few weeks there’s about a 50% chance that Hannah will survive. If she does live than the long-term complications of premature birth include breathing issues, including a chronic lung disease known as Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia, heart and brain problems, gastrointestinal and blood problems such as anemia and infant jaundice. Premature babies often have an underdeveloped immune system, which can lead to a life-threatening infection called sepsis. The odds of developing the complications as described above are even higher than her possibility of survival.”

 

A nurse escorted me to the delivery room and there was an entire team here to help. Betsy was lying on a bed in obvious pain. There was a NICU nurse holding Betsy’s left hand and offering encouragement. Off to the side was a respiratory therapist and several other NICU personal, including a woman who introduced herself as the premature baby obstetrician specialist who’d be delivering Hannah. She looked calm, unconcerned and confident.

 

The NICU nurse was doing Lamaze-like coaching in Betsy’s ear while I was praying and crying.
I remembered that they told us the best time to begin our Lamaze class was between 28-32 weeks. I never imagined Hannah would be born before the classes began!

 

The nurse was telling Betsy to push like she was constipated. I took Betsy’s free hand, started to cry, and yelled, “I love you, baby, and I’m here for you. You’re doing great!”

 

I began to pray loud, “Father God, please take care of Betsy and Hannah with your incredible strength. Let them get through this with their health intact.”

 

There are no random thoughts during a life-threatening crisis, period. This was a life changing moment no doubt, and I braced myself for the unknown outcome.

 

Than Hannah just popped out. Betsy never saw it. “I didn't stress about seeing Hannah, I just wanted her to get the care she needed.”

 

I counted limbs, fingers, toes. Normal. She was gorgeous and I loved her instantly like I did her siblings Heather, Chris, and Shane when they were born more than twenty years before. I was again going to be the most dedicated dad around.

 

Then I noticed my baby was small, wow! Hannah weighed one pound, nine ounces. That translates to about the same weight as this book.

 

The doctor worked quickly and effortlessly before handing Hannah off to the respiratory therapist. Instead of being gently placed in her mom‘s loving arms, Hannah was rushed out of the delivery room like a bullet train and directly into her new home, an incubator.

 

Everything happened so fast, Betsy and I were both in disbelief.

 

I turned towards Betsy. She was breathing like she just raced a 10K. Her head was static, eyes wide open, looking off into the Twilight Zone. Her naturally gorgeous face was an exhausted, sweaty mess. Her eyes seemed to be asking, “What the heck just happened?”

 

A baby born under two lbs. is called micro-preemie. I’d never even heard the word “Preemie” before or knew that certain hospitals had a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. (NICU) Now I had the micro-version of a preemie, and NICU was going to be Hannah’s first but hopefully not her only home.

 

They took Betsy to her room and she fell asleep. I went downstairs to visit Hannah. I noticed tubes and wires everywhere, including in Hannah’s mouth. There were bandages and splints on her arms and a c-pap mask covered her face.

 

Dr. Powers came over, pointed at Hannah and said, “Mr. Hennessy, Hannah is fighting for her life right now.” Nothing has ever hit me as hard as hearing that one horrible sentence. Dr. Powers’ words ripped through my shirt, slit my chest open and seized what was left of my heart.

 

“We were able to take her off the ventilator, her lungs seem strong. That’s the first mountain climbed. Unfortunately there will be many more mountains to scale. Next we need to get her digestive system moving.”

 

I looked at 1 lb. 9 oz.’s Hannah and thought, “Good luck with that.”

 

He offered the most vital advice I received throughout our ordeal. “As great as technology is, what is best for Hannah right now is mommy and daddy’s touch, voice, and scent.” I understood it.

 

The only contact with Hannah came by sticking your arm through a small hole and into the incubator. When my gargantuan pointer finger made contact with Hannah’s almost microscopic hand, she would grab, hold on and we would stay connected for several hours.

 

I sang ad-libbed songs and prayers while bonding with my baby three months before I was supposed to.
When she wrapped her tiny fingers around mine, they felt soft as snowflakes falling unhurriedly from a silent sky and landing ever so gently on my finger.

 

I remembered a favorite song from college, “Soft Touch,” from George Harrison’s 1979 solo album.

 

This would be the only non-original song I’d sing to Hannah. I sang these lines over and over. “You’re a soft-touch-baby, like a snowflakes falling, my whole heart is melting — As a warm sun rises, into joy I'm sailing, to your soft touch baby—”

 

Hannah became my “soft-touch-baby,’ and when I was with her I was truly in the moment. When you’re living totally in the moment, there is no tomorrow. And when there is no tomorrow, there’s no stressing about tomorrow. I felt honored, blessed and cherishing every second that I sat there, Touched by Hannah.