The Gift of Love

A family enduring medical tragedies receives a gift of love

Avery Noelle Hotchkiss of Gardner will be able to read about her first Noel.

A 6-year-old Olathe boy delivered a special book to the Gardner 3-month-old. Wearing a velvet green stocking cap with a silver tag identifying him as a "Rookie Elf," he quickly climbed the steps to the family's front porch and rang the door bell. Rob Hotchkiss opened the door and stared down at the young, late-night holiday visitor, wondering if the boy was lost.

Like a tiny ghost, the elf smiled, handed him a thin gift, then softly wished the family a "Merry Christmas." He spun around on his heels, bounced down the steps and ran off to a car parked in front of the home.

The Gardner man looked somewhat bewildered, taking the gift inside and giving it to his wife, Sara, to unwrap. The wrapping concealed a book, but a special one indeed. It was about them, detailing their first child's birth - which put both mother and child at death's door - and reminding them of their many blessings before, during and after the holiday sea- son.

"This is great. This is something we can share with Avery," Rob said as he watched his 23-year-old wife thumb quietly and carefully through the pages. "It's a gift of a lifetime."

The book, "The Miracle of Love," reflects the medical tragedies and many triumphs of the Hotchkisses, whose world was turned upside down just three months ago.

The gift was arranged by the Elves of Christmas Present, an Olathe group that tries to make Christmas extra special for a few families that have had difficult years or seriously ill family members.

The Hotchkisses qualify in both regards.

Sara is still recovering from being in a coma after her heart stopped while in labor to give birth to the child she and her husband so desperately wanted. The coma affected her ability to talk clearly and walk without assistance.

The couple since has been buried by a growing stream of bills from months of hospitalization, therapy and treatment.

The elves knew the words in the book would provide comfort and memories for years to come.

Mortgage payments

They added a little extra gift to ease the couple's financial worries. A small card was tucked between two back pages. It began with a message telling them, "Home is where the heart is ..." and informed the couple plans have been arranged to lighten up their burdens during the blessed season by paying their mortgage payments for the first five months in the new year.

Both read the card with tears in their eyes.

"Oh ... my," Sara said slowly as each word tumbled out in a stammered voice. "I'm ... so ... happy. I was ... afraid. I ... did not ... want to ... to lose ... my home."

She wasn't alone in that fear.
"It's a bit overwhelm- ing," Rob added. "We have been truly blessed through all the bad times. A lot of our prayers have been answered."

Aside from providing interim financial relief, the special book was designed by the elves to permanently remind the family how special they are and how precious life really is.

The message in "The Miracle of Love" tells of two miracles.

One is the birth of Avery. Doctors didn't think the pregnancy would go to full term.

The other is Sara's recovery from near death. Doctors initially predicted a slim chance of her ever waking up from the coma.

"The Miracle of Love" had a very limited edition. Only one copy was made.

Paul helps out

Ten elves and three businesses in the network of The Elves of Christmas Present made the book. They combined to set in large type a story about the Hotchkisses for future reading, insert pictures and graphics and print and bind the book with a red cover and a title in white lettering.

It's a story about unyielding faith, uncompromising hope and unfaltering love.

All are reflected in the book's dedication from Corinthians 13:13: "And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Before receiving an e-mail suggesting the Biblical verse by the apostle Paul for use in the book, Chief Elf of Olathe had contacted another elf, a professional writer, to come up with an appropriate dedication.

The e-mail hit home for Chief Elf, and he called the writer, reading him the e-mailed suggestion. Writer Elf admitted he could not provide anything better than that.

"I told him, 'Don't take this the wrong way, but you're fired, and Paul's hired,'" Chief Elf said.

The writer agreed with no ill feelings about being upstaged by an apostle.

The book centers on the Paul's timeless wisdom. It's about survival from a near medical tragedy, the birth of a couple's first child and a love affair that withstood mountainous challenges. It required tears of sorrow and joy, along with endless prayers.

For the bulk of their 3 1/2 years of marriage, Rob and Sara Hotchkiss indeed have lived and enjoyed a wonderful life.

That changed Sept. 20 when she went into labor at Olathe Medical Center, where she works as a nurse.

"She's our little angel," Rob said, hold- ing his daughter with big blue eyes and red downy hair.

"Our ... little ... miracle," Sara added.

Their daughter was the baby whom doctors told Sara she had little chance of conceiving because she has polycystic ovarian disease. It causes one ovary not to function at all.

Doctors continued to caution the couple not to get their hopes too high because of the likelihood of losing the baby as the pregnancy progressed.

The fears didn't materialize.

The crisis in the early months of pregnancy came and went with the couple preparing for parenthood.

Avery arrived six weeks early. Her birth became an emotional roller coaster for the entire family, going from great joy to great anxiety.

During labor, Sara developed breathing difficulty. Heartbeats for neither mother or child were detected by the medical staff as the crisis rapidly worsened. An emergency Caesarean was performed in an effort to save both.

Avery, weighing 8 pounds, 1 ounce, was born with an erratic heartbeat. She was transported to a neonatal unit at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan., for further treatment and monitoring. She was dismissed six days later.

Darkest predictions

Sara, however, was left in critical condition and in a coma. She has suffered a heart attack while in labor. It was a miracle she was still alive. The doctors advised the family of their darkest predictions, giving her only a 10 percent chance of waking up from her lifeless, vegetative state.

The worst fears didn't materialize.

After four weeks, Sara was transferred to Mid-America Rehabilitation Hospital while still in a coma. Then, she began to defy all medical predictions with signs of improvement six weeks to the day after her near death.

She left the hospital on Dec. 13 with limited walking and talking ability in an arduous struggle back to normalcy. It remains unknown how long it will take her to fully recover with months of therapy ahead.

"There's a long way to go, but we're on the right track," Rob said. "She has a very strong will to get better."

His wife agreed.

"Improving ... each ... day," she said. "I can ... do it."

And it doesn't matter how long the recovery takes.

Sara hopes to return to her nursing job at Olathe Medical Center - to a professional family that has done so much to help them.

Because her medical condition has left her unable to work, hospital staff members have donated their PTO - paid time off - to Sara with the approval of OMC officials, who waived the policy limit- ing how much PTO can be given to one employee.

Other helping hands have come their way. They include humans and elves alike.

The blessings have not stopped and now are too numerous to count with the passing of the holiday season and the pending arrival of a new year.

A full recovery by Sara, if it's achieved, is still months away at earliest, but the couple believes their darkest hours are behind them.

They were home to celebrate their baby's first Christmas, a blessed event in so many ways to them.

"We're a complete family now. That's all that matters," Rob said. "We're together.”

Gerald Hay

The Olathe Daily News