Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Hero: Anna M. Hawkins, B.A., M.Ed. (almost)

Wow!!!!!  My daughter, Annie, just finished successfully the course work for her M.Ed. degree!!!!  Wow!!!!!

My absolute delight and pride in her accomplishment comes from many places, but I’ll only talk about two here.

Annie was born with life–threatening heart malformations.  She had a large, quarter–size hole in the wall (or septum) between her two ventricles.  Making that problem less than catastrophic was the another problem, a coarcted (blocked) aorta.  The blocked aorta became a threat to her life when she was eight days old.  That was when her ductus arteriosus stopped functioning.  The ductus arteriosus, according to Wikipedia, “is a shunt connecting the pulmonary artery to the aortic arch. It allows most of the blood from the right ventricle to bypass the fetus' fluid-filled lungs, protecting the lungs from being overworked and allowing the right ventricle to strengthen.”  When the ductus arteriosus shut down, because of the blocked aorta there was no way for blood to get from Annie’s lungs to her heart, and the blood started backing up in her lungs, leading our family doc to think that she had pneumonia.  That problem was fixed, thanks to a brave cardiology Fellow and good surgeons at Children’s Hospital in D.C.  When Annie didn’t get measurably  better, it became obvious that there were additional problems.  That’s when the hole in her ventricular septum was discovered and repaired surgically.  We were able to bring Annie home from the hospital for the first time when she was about 10 weeks old.  The nurses at Children’s Hospital later told us that they thought they were sending her home to die.  But she and her mother both were very stubborn.  It took two hours or more for Annie to finish a 4–ounce bottle of formula, but she did it time and again.  After eating, she frequently, all of a sudden, would vomit all her food back up, and she would have to do it all over again.  She was admitted to the hospital again, in May, as I remember, to see what was keeping her from doing better.  They discovered on that visit that she had severe arrhythmia.  Her heart would suddenly start to beat so fast that there was no way to count the beats, even with a machine.  The arrhythmia apparently was the cause of her vomiting spells.  The doctors were able to fix that with medication, and Annie came home again and did much better.  The hole in her heart was patched permanently when she was 2 ½ years old, in July, 1985.  She has gone on to thrive physically and in every other way since.

Caused at least in part by all the trauma she experienced as a baby, Annie showed signs of learning disabilities when she started school.  She had years of very discouraging experiences, not only from her difficulty in mastering her studies, but also from other students who made fun of her.  In her school, though, there was a wonderful special education teacher, Mrs. Gross, who took Annie under her gentle wing and showed her how to work in her classes to keep up with everybody else.  Mrs. Gross also arranged for accommodations for Annie in the classroom so that she could function on a par with the other students.  Annie and her mother fought hard through middle school to keep those accommodations.  Having to deal with unsympathetic and, frankly, ignorant school administrators was difficult for her mother and for Annie.  They prevailed more often than not, however, and Annie did well in Middle School.  By the time she started High School, Annie was very much her own person and was able to fight her own battles much of the time without the assistance of her mother.  She was an honor roll student and a mainstay of the school’s drama club.  Similarly, she made her won arrangements for accommodation throughout her years as an undergraduate and, in 2005, earner her bachelor’s degree in Anthropology.

Now Annie will be the first person in our extended family to earn a graduate degree.  Her field is special education.  She has already begun a career in which she will be the Mrs. Gross to many, many other kids whose time at school, through no fault of theirs, would be gruesome if it weren’t for the skills Annie has learned and will use on their behalf.

Not only am I proud of her academic achievement, I also am very, very proud of how she has decided to spend her life.  She is an amazing young woman and, even though she’s my daughter, she’s one of my heroes.  I love her and admire her.  I am so thankful that I am able to be a part of her awesome life.

Way to go, Annie!!!!!!!

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