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Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Steve and The May Procession

By Nancy Leitz

In September 1959, Steve started first grade at Blessed Virgin Mary School in Darby, Pennsylvania. He was six years old but had had a rocky start in life by virtue of having been born two months premature.

He weighed in at 3 lbs. 4oz. and went down to 2 lbs. 12 oz. after two days. The doctors told us that in their experience it took a baby born too soon at least nine years to catch up with the other kids his age.

They told us not to baby him but not to expect too much from him physically or mentally. Just treat him like a normal boy and watch him grow at his own pace. We took their advice and brought Steve home from his nine week stay in the hospital.

He had been in oxygen for most of those nine weeks and it was just at that time that the medical profession discovered that the oxygen the babies were given could cause blindness. At his next checkup, the pediatrician told me that Steve would have to see an ophthalmologist to determine how much, if any, damage the oxygen had done to his eyes.

At that test and at home he showed no reaction to light. You could put a small flashlight in his eyes and they never moved. We were heartbroken for him thinking he was blind. At his next visit, four weeks later, the doctor looked into his eyes with his flashlight and Steve BLINKED. What a relief. Even the pediatrician had to wipe his own eyes because we all had tears of joy.

So, back to the ophthalmologist who told us that, indeed, he could see but that his sight was not great and to bring him back when he was ready to start school and he would fit him for glasses.

When Steve was about three years old, we were driving on a highway where there was a huge statue of Santa Claus climbing up the chimney at a refinery. Chris, who was a year and a half older, was shouting at Steve, "Look, Steve. There's Santa Claus." Steve could not see that huge statue and took both of Chris's hands and held them to his own face and said, "Show my head, Chris." So Chris swiveled Steve's head toward the statue but even then, he didn't really see it.

That was the end for me. There would be no waiting until school time for Steve to get help in seeing.

I took him to the ophthalmologist and although it was not the practice in those days, I insisted, and he fitted Steve with the littlest pair of glasses you ever saw. Steve put those glasses on and never took them off. He never broke them or lost them even thought he was just a baby. They were his window to the world.

The day after he got them we were driving over a bridge we had crossed dozens of times and Steve had looked the first few times but recently had given up looking because he couldn't see anything. Now, he sat up and looked out the window at the river below and shouted, "Look, there's water down there and boats." I still get tears in my eyes when I remember that day.

So at age six, Steve started at Blessed Virgin Mary School. When he came home after his first day I said to him, "Put your play clothes on and hang up your school pants for tomorrow." He was astonished. "You mean I have to go back again tomorrow?"

The second day of school he came home with a note from Sister saying he had fallen asleep at his desk in the afternoon, and to please see that he got more sleep at night. We put him to bed at 7:30 instead of 8:00. That was okay for a few weeks and then he began falling asleep in the afternoon again. Another note from Sister; another half hour shaved off his playing time and now he went to bed at 7:00.

That lasted for a month or two and then Sister called me to report that he was again going to sleep at his desk. "All right, Steve, it looks like 6:30 bedtime for you." Dad said, "If this keeps up he will walk in from school and we'll say good night, Steve."

This went on until spring and Chris's birthday party in April. At the party his Mom Mom asked him how school was and he said, "It's O.K., Mom Mom, but they are practicing for the May Procession every day now. They walk around and around the school and through the hallways singing all those hymns. I couldn't get to sleep today no matter how hard I tried."

True enough, Steve was slower than the other kids in almost everything. He couldn't keep up in games or sports. Then, I swear it was his ninth birthday and he got a skateboard which was a brand new sport and the kids were all trying it out. They were all falling down and crashing into things. Nobody seemed to be able to get the hang of it.

Then, of all people, Steve jumped on the board and took off like lightening. He careened down the street and jumped over curbs and spun around other kids and hopped around cars looking like a pro skateboarder. From that day on he was the equal of any kid at any game and always made us proud of him.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Great story Nancy!

Now I know why I was a slow learner. Like all my siblings, we were in a rush to see the outside world. Mammy carried us for 6 to 7 months and we ranged from 2lbs to 5lbs.

I never heard 'That it took a baby born too soon at least nine years to catch up with the other kids his age.'

Maybe by next year I'll get there!

Ah Nancy, you're as bad as my mum (Grannymar) at making me cry in work - that was a beautiful story.

Having worn glasses from an early age I know the helplessness caused by not being able to see things or detail and the sheer relief of putting my glasses on each morning and having sight returned.

They spotted by bad eyesight in school during a routine test:
Both eyes open, read the letters on the wall - no problem.
Cover your right eye, read the letters - no problem.
Cover your left eye, read the letters - WHAT LETTERS? They've vanished!!

Due to my astigmatism I can't wear contact lenses and the laser surgery hasn't got good enough yet to correct my vision, but I dream of a day when I will be able to open my eyes in the morning and read the clock without squinting...

What a great post!!!! Goes to show that everyone, given opportunities, can find their gifts!!!

Nancy...what a beautiful and inspiring story; and what a wonderful little guy Steve was. I was very touched this piece. Thank you.

I have a Steve too who was a premie, came into this world at 7 months and weighted 3lbs 9 oz. and went down to 2lbs. 13oz..

He was in the hospital for two months. Fortunately he was born in 1958 when they finally figured out how to deal with premies so they did not lose their sight.

Once he came home it didn't take him long to catch up with babies his own age. It didn't take nine years!!

Hopefully. with time there will answers to a lot of the medical problems we have today.

Great story and your Steve came up with some funny lines. Everyone can succeed if they have an opporunity to find a niche. It's truly remarkable how vision problems can be helped today, but there's so much more research that needs to continue.

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