By Stephanie Butzer
Kassidy Pennington’s parents, Kim Martin and Charley Pennington, describe her as an average child: She gets up early, loves all her toys and enjoys watching cartoons in the morning.
But two mornings a week, the television is off because Kassidy has either physical or occupational therapy. She has Down syndrome and her parents said she is lucky to be alive after all she has gone through.
Feb. 29, 2012, when Martin was still pregnant with Kassidy, she had an appointment with her doctor. If she had missed this meeting, her daughter might not be alive.
Kassidy was lying on her umbilical cord and, as a result, her heart rate and breathing were at very low levels. The doctors at Women’s Hospital in Greensboro had to do an emergency Caesarean section March 1 at 8:34 a.m.
“I knew something was wrong the day I went,” Martin said. “I hadn’t felt her move and they couldn’t get her to move off the cord so that’s when they did an emergency C-section.”
Just hours after birth, Kassidy was on a ventilator. Her parents were not allowed to hold her for six days. The airway through her nasal passage was completely closed. She had to have a feeding tube, although Pennington said he wouldn’t let them do a tracheostomy.
“You’re there and thinking, ‘God, I want to hold her,’” Martin said.
Kassidy was at Women’s Hospital in the neonatal until the end of March. Martin and Pennington had a place to stay nearby but, because they did not have transportation, they had to walk almost five miles to the hospital to see their daughter, and then five miles back home.
The doctors sent Kassidy to Chapel Hill to see a pediatrician. She underwent a choanal atresia, an operation in which doctors opened her airways and inserted stents to help her breathe. For two weeks after that procedure, she was in the neonatal center. Then, she was sent to Alamance Regional Hospital to be closer to home.
Two weeks later, Kassidy had to go back to Chapel Hill to have the choanal atresia procedure done again.
“When she was in Chapel Hill, we had to go through churches to set us up in motels and stuff,” Martin said. “It had to be 35 miles from your door step to Chapel Hill before you required a Ronald McDonald House.”
Their house was 33 miles away.
“It’s the hardest thing to do – not be there with your kid,” Pennington said.
Kassidy was hooked up to all sorts of tubes and he didn’t know if she was going to make it, Pennington said.
Martin kept tabs on how long Kassidy was in the hospital; after 79 long days her daughter was able to come home.
But when they left the hospital, the treatments didn’t end. Martin said she has to use a suction machine to clear Kassidy’s airways a few times every day.
“With the Down syndrome, the nasal is smaller than ours so with that she will always stay stuffy,” Martin said. “I will always have to suction.”
Kassidy is Martin’s second child; her other daughter is 20 years old. She is Pennington’s first child and he said she has completely turned him around.
“She’s changed me a lot. I’ve been to prison three or four times and the stuff I have done and used to do… I’ve changed and it’s all different now. She really settled me down.”
Kassidy’s parents said she just started clapping and a few weeks ago she said, “da-da.” They had over 40 people come to their house Feb. 29 for a party to celebrate her first birthday. As she continues to make progress, her parents have started to mull over ideas for her schooling.
“I was seriously thinking about home school because it would simplify it,” Martin said.
Pennington said he also hopes Kassidy could go to schools to talk to kids about Down syndrome.
“Maybe she can be some kind of person that shows how lucky you really can be in life,” he said. “It’s a proven fact that she’s here and that maybe she can tell a story about herself one day. Maybe she can go around and tell the story that people have to hear.”
For now, each day is a challenge, but Pennington and Martin embrace it.
“She’s a special little angel,” Pennington said. “She’s an angel gift from God.”