Baby strengthens parents’ faith
Local family shares story of recovery, gratitude
During the Thanksgiving season, parents Elijah and DeeNoel Leon have plenty of reasons to be thankful, but one in particular takes center stage.
On Nov. 30, they will celebrate their daughter DeeNorah’s second birthday, and be especially grateful she is with them, because she weighed only 3 pounds, 4 ounces at birth.
After an emergency trip to Mercy Cassville when DeeNoel was seven months pregnant, they learned labor would have to be induced — two months early.
"They found a protein in my urine which was an indication of preeclampsia," said DeeNoel, who as a first-time mother was already a little nervous. "After hearing this, I was like, 'What's going on?' The placenta wasn't getting enough blood and oxygen, and I could be at risk for a seizure."
"My wife was really good through most of pregnancy, but after hearing about preeclampsia and inducing labor, I could see that she was starting to get concerned," Elijah said. "The doctor said if she didn't deliver, there was a possibility that both she and the baby could die."
Elijah did what any good husband and man would do — he took charge.
“I was nervous, too, but had to be the calm one,” he said.
DeeNoel was referred to the NICU at the Women's Hospital in Johnson, Ark., but the delivery did not progress, the baby's heart rate was dropping, and she needed an emergency Caesarean section.
"I had never had surgery in my life," DeeNoel said.
Her expectations of a perfect birth were shattered.
"I thought I was going to have a water birth, etc., and all of that just went away," she said. "I had to prepare myself for this."
But, before being whisked away for surgery, she asked staff one favor, "Can we pray?"
"The doctors and nurses gathered around the bed and prayed, and it was like the presence of God was there," DeeNoel said. "Afterward, all my fear was gone. I had strength that I never had before. Then, they rolled me into the operating room and the next thing I knew, I heard a cry, and my heart just melted. We were parents. I looked over, and my husband was there by my side. It was just amazing."
DeeNoel saw her daughter once before staff took her to the NICU, but she got to visit.
"When they showed her to me in the incubator, my heart just fell in love,” she said. “I started crying, because this little baby was mine. Once I saw her, I had no intentions of leaving her side, even though I lived almost an hour away. I was staying by my daughter's side.”
After two weeks, Elijah had to return to work in Exeter, but every night, he made the drive to be with his family, staying on weekends.
"My husband would drive to keep up the income," DeeNoel said. "It was a very trying experience, but the staff was very helpful, and church family came to visit us. It was a blessing the NICU supplied meals for the preemie families."
At one point, she and Elijah got away for a much-needed break.
"We enjoyed ourselves and went to the movies,” DeeNoel said. “It was all a new experience, and I didn't have family nearby.”
After nearly a month, DeeNorah weighed five pounds, and they were they were released on Dec. 28, 2015, to take their daughter home.
"We had the system going like at the NICU, but at home," DeeNoel said. "Every three hours would be her care time where we would feed her, change her diaper and listen for certain cries, and we would rotate and my mother or husband would let me sleep. This helped her to grow, and it was like that for the next few months until she really got the hang of it.”
DeeNoel followed medical recommendations to breastfeed, which helped DeeNorah grow and recover.
"Breastfeeding is hard sometimes, but is worth it,” she said. “This has been a journey and a blessing that I'm still able to produce milk, and it bonds us. I'm all for breastfeeding. It's part of nature.”
Today, DeeNorah weighs 30 pounds and likes computers and electronics like her father, who provides IT services for a local church. She is a healthy, happy toddler with a beautiful smile who continues to thrive.
"I put her little diaper up to remind us of the experience she went through," DeeNoel said.
The parents attribute faith and prayer for getting them through the difficult experience.
“When I was going through the experience, I compared it to the sacrifice and love of God’s son Jesus dying on cross,” DeeNoel said. “It was about being humbled and meek. At first I thought, 'I don't want to go through this,’ but the love is what got me through it, the faith of Jesus, and how much He loves us. He was willing to sacrifice his life. So at that moment, when they took me into the operating room, I laid everything at the cross and He brought me through the operation, recovery process and NICU experience.
“Love is what was needed, we find that love in God, and I believe God will restore the love that humanity needs. We can get through anything if we have love in our hearts. And once we think that way, our whole mindsets become changed.”
An uncanny peace also helped her stay calm.
“The Bible says the peace the Lord gives isn't like the peace the world gives, so even when you can't understand how things are going, you won't fret or be anxious," DeeNoel said. "Looking back, it was amazing how calm I was. I can only attribute that to the peace the Lord gave me. It’s one thing to say that the Lord is in control, but another to know and feel and see that He is.”
“It’s important to have that relationship with the Lord, so that you can pray and ask for His guidance and peace,” Elijah said.