What would you do for the love of a child?
Shelli and Fritz Brothers did what they believe anyone would for a fragile, infant granddaughter with an uncertain future: they welcomed her into their hearts and home.
Magnolia, who is affectionately called Magi, was born in February 2021 with Gestational Alloimmune Liver Disease (GALD), a rare condition caused by injury to the liver before birth. At just three months old, Magi had a liver transplant at UPMC, Pittsburgh. She spent months in the hospital and was discharged to the Children’s Home of Pittsburgh where she recovered for the next eighteen months.
Magi loves books, including her grandmother’s day planner that is full of appointments and fun activities for the toddler and her family.
As plans were made for her discharge, the Children’s Home contacted the BHN Alliance Early Intervention team for help.
“Magi needed an adaptive stroller called a Zippie Kart, so we went to work to find one for her,” said BHN Alliance Early Intervention Supervisor Lori Wells. After weeks of coordination and communication between Belmont County and Pittsburgh, the stroller was purchased.
“This was a great effort, and everyone worked well together,” Lori said, as she praised the physical therapy coordinator and therapists at UPMC and The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh; Belmont County’s Family and Children First Council for providing the funding; and Motion Mobility & Design, the vendor that provided and delivered the stroller to Pittsburgh.
As Magi recovered, her birth mother’s circumstances made it necessary to find a place for Magi to live and Shelli and Fritz were asked if they could provide that for her. It was complicated.
Another adult daughter had recently died, and the family was grieving. They were also unsure if they could meet Magi’s extensive medical needs. Love prevailed when Shelli found herself in tears one day thinking about the baby and her future. Shelli and Fritz decided to bring Magi to their home.
Months of extensive service coordination and training followed for Shelli, Fritz, and their 12-year-old daughter, Gabi. They also moved into a different house to accommodate the medical equipment Magi needed to live. In August 2022, they brought Magi back to Belmont County. Shelli admits she was “scared to death,” but fear soon turned to confidence.
“We used to have six bags of stuff just to go to the doctor’s office,” Shelli said. “Now I just scoop her up and we get by with two.”
Magi has a tracheostomy, feeding tube, and a ventilator so nurses come into the home to take care of her medical needs while early intervention addresses Magi’s developmental delays.
Early Intervention (EI) is a statewide system that provides coordinated services to address the needs of infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities and their families.
Service Coordinator Johna Stonebraker and Physical Therapist Johnna Bear are part of an EI team of developmental specialists and therapists who provide focused instruction to families and children enrolled in EI.
Johnna Bear delivers physical therapy and coaches the family on ways they can help Magi gain strength and mobility.
“This family is the epitome of Early Intervention,” Johnna said. “I give them ideas and they faithfully work on them when I’m gone.”
Gabi plays a huge role in the toddler’s physical therapy, and she is frequently found on the floor playing with her.
By December 2022 Magi was progressing “by leaps and bounds, crawling everywhere and pulling herself up,” Shelli said. By February of 2023 she was on the trach only at night.
The family was told that Magi was not expected to talk, so she was taught American Sign Language by her nurse, Nettie. Magi now uses twenty signs, but she may not need them for long. She is talking, especially to Gabi. When the school bus pulls up to the house each afternoon, she stands in the window knocking and shouting “Gab Gab.” Her vocabulary is expected to increase once the trach is permanently removed.
Magi learns something new every day, and Shelli believes she will overcome her challenges.
“She’s going to be riding bicycles in a year,” she said.
Shelli says that Magi’s transplant scar is her story, but just part of it, and she smiles thinking of the chapters yet to be written for sweet Magnolia.
If you or someone you know has a child who could benefit from early intervention, call 740-695-0407, ext. 345, or log onto https://ohioearlyintervention.org/forms/referral