After reading this excerpt from
Chapter 1, Touched by Hannah, if you
should be inclined, please compose a
short review (1-3 sentences) and
post it on the Touched by Hannah
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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. 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
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
“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
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 wandered 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
The look on her face seemed to say, “Oh my God, these
poor people. This is horrible news. I’m scared to death
"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
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
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
“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
“In the first few weeks there’s about a 50% chance that
Hannah will survive. If she does live then 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
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.
Then 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
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
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
“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
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.
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