Courtesy Academy Spirit
The Air Force has always been a family focused on taking care of its own.
When facing personal or family tragedy, Airmen know they have a chain of command to turn to for help. When you combine that with outstanding medical treatment, sometimes required from specialized civilian hospitals, and a national program designed to even further assist meeting the needs of families with severely ill children – the result: changed lives.
In this case, that team effort had enough impact to solidify one appreciative young father’s intentions to make the Air Force a career.
While many military families around the globe were preparing for joyous holiday celebrations, one active-duty Air Force staff sergeant assigned to F.E. Warren Air Force
Base, Wyo., and his newlywed bride from Pueblo were on the threshold of personal and family tragedy. Further contributing to their emotional distress – he was thousands of miles removed while on a 179-day deployment in the United Arab Emirates.
For Staff Sgt. Roman Alvarez and his wife, Jamie, both 25, the 2008 holiday season left a void in their lives only parents who have lost a child themselves can understand. Three weeks into his deployment, the couple discovered Jamie was pregnant. A week later, they found out she was carrying twins. These would be the first children born to the newlyweds married since only May 1, 2008. In late October, following her baby shower and five and a half months into his six-month deployment, doctors had bad news. During a routine check-up, they uncovered signs that all was not well and required the young mother to report to Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs Oct. 23 where she was immediately admitted.
For more than two weeks, the exact condition of the twins was monitored 24 hours a day leading up to their birth, Nov. 9.
The twin girls, Adriana and Amaya were delivered at a combined total weight of considerably less than 4 lbs in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Memorial. Due to medical complications, Amaya passed away just two days later. Adriana, however, continues to make good progress and has since been released to be home with the couple who lives in Cheyenne, Wyo., where Sergeant Alvarez is assigned.
Adriana will one day reflect on her sister through a very personal photograph taken at the hospital of she and her deceased sibling laying side by side just moments after Amaya
had passed. For the parents, the photo still prominently displayed in the NICU through Christmas represented simultaneous signs of love, loss and hope.
The family joy Sergeant Alvarez, a six-year veteran, shared when the joyful news of Jamie being pregnant turned to sorrow when medical complications resulted in Mrs. Alvarez delivering at only 28 weeks. Surrounded by what many would consider the worst of news, the NCO from Las Animas says his chain of command, demonstrating amazing concern, compassion and action in his time of need, has since convinced him to become a career Airman.
“When they took Jamie to Memorial, the hospital just took over since the babies were at such high risk,” Sergeant Alvarez said. “My first sergeants, both from my deployed location and from F.E. Warren, were able to get me home within three days… my chain of command, including my commander, a father of twins himself, was truly amazing. There’s no way we could have made it through this without the Air Force taking such good care of us.”
Outstanding hospital care and the Air Force family weighing in quickly were clearly two major contributing factors for the family making it through their time of difficulty. Still, there was another unexpected blessing.
The selection for participation in the Ronald McDonald House program for families of severely ill children was instrumental in meeting many needs of the Alvarez family as well.
Some 100 Ronald McDonald Houses are spread across America with three in Colorado – two in Denver and one in Colorado Springs. Opened Valentine’s Day, 1987, the 6,900 square foot Colorado Springs facility capable of supporting nine families simultaneously is affectionately referred to as “The House that Love Built.” The Alvarez couple says the love there is real and the largely volunteer staff made a world of difference in their lives at a time when they needed compassionate human contact the most.
“Working alongside families with seriously ill children touches a tender place in my heart; the courage and tenacity of these families is an amazing thing to behold,” said Sam
Rush-Walton, development coordinator of the 311 N. Logan Ave. home away from home for more than 7,000 family members in need since it opened. “They engage in a battle most of us pray will not touch us; let alone touch our children. And, yet, here they, day after day, love their precious little ones, giving them the gift of their presence, all the while encouraging one another – it’s truly inspiring.”
Seeing Mrs. Alvarez gift-wrapping one evening in the community area of the facility during the holidays struck the development coordinator like a highly-decorated locomotive.
There’s something to be said for the sentiment of being home for the holidays. “It’s a universal theme most yearn for; to be at rest, to be with those we love, to feel like we’re home,” Ms. Rush-Walton said.
“For this inspiring young couple, the Ronald McDonald House became ‘home.’ As new parents, their hearts were appropriately devoted to tiny, beautiful twin girls in the NICU at Memorial Hospital. Something about Jamie’s and Roman’s resolve – to press in, to love well, to continue with tradition – in spite of their circumstances – was so beautifully poignant … their stillness in the midst of this turbulent season left an indelible imprint.”
The Ronald McDonald House Charities partner with other agencies to help meet the needs of children throughout Southern Colorado.
Writing grants, collaborating on fundraisers with schools, organizations and corporations assists RMHC’s mission, to create, find and support programs that directly improve the health and well being of children.
Ronald McDonald House staff and volunteers were there the Alvarez family. The family like all other guests there, was provided with a comfortable, private room within walking distance of their little ones. Some 100 volunteers made sure the family’s daily needs were met, from having a clean room to home-cooked nutritious meals.
The memories of lost little ones like Amaya will live forever in the hearts and minds of parents like Roman and Jamie Alvarez. They’ll also be memorialized through the future Healing Garden display forthcoming at the Ronald McDonald House in April.
“The garden, on the north side of the facility, will serve as a dedication to little ones who, unfortunately, didn’t survive,” Ms. Rush-Walton said. “It promises to be a special place with a fountain, a meandering path, a concrete couch and a heart shaped garden that will house beautiful flowers and plants along with a sculpture of children.”
To find out more about the Ronald McDonald House, how to become a community volunteer, or how to donate, call Mrs. Rush-Walton at 471-1814.