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
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
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 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
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
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
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
“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 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
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
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
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
“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.