By Carson Gerber, Kokomo Tribune
KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — Marcus was 13 months old, lying in a bed inside a medical facility, struggling to stay alive.
His tiny body was racked by fevers and infections due to severe heart and lung defects. A ventilator and trach tube were the only things keeping him fed and breathing.
Marcus was motherless and alone. He was born three months premature, weighing 1-pound, to a heroin addict, and then abandoned at the hospital. No one was coming for Marcus.
And that’s when he felt a kiss on the cheek, and heard a voice whisper in his ear.
“My name is Kelly. I want to be your mom. Would you like to come home with me?”
The voice came from Kokomo native Kelly Lively, who looked down at Marcus with a feeling she had never experienced.
“He smiled so big when I kissed his cheek, and I knew I was going to do everything I could to give this baby a chance,” Lively said. “In my heart, I felt he had just been waiting for me. It gave me chills. I knew he was my son.”
Lively was right.
The two met for the first time in February 2017 at the medical facility in Shelbyville where Marcus was being housed and treated through the Indiana Department of Child Services.
A few months later, he left to live with Lively in her home on the south side of Kokomo.
And in December, the 56-year-old officially adopted Marcus as her child.
Today, Marcus is a happy, healthy 3-year-old obsessed with reading. He still has a trach and can’t speak, but he can say more than 100 words through sign language. He’s smart, observant, a little shy and very ornery.
But before he came to live with Lively, doctors had said Marcus only had a 30-percent chance he would live to see his second birthday. If he did, they said he’d never walk or live a normal life.
Lively said the doctors were wrong on all counts.
“He’s beat the odds,” she said. “He’s been so successful. Marcus is truly a miracle. The doctors have said the same thing. They said, ‘Whatever you are doing for this child, keep doing it.’ They can’t believe it.”
Statistically, Marcus should have either died or, at best, lived out his days in an institution. But that never happened. Everything changed when Lively decided to love him.
And it all started with a picture.
Lively said she’s never been able to have children. That’s something she’s known for a long time. But even so, she had never really given adoption or fostering much thought.
That changed when her mom died on Feb. 6, 2014. Lively is a registered nurse, and she had been taking care of her mother through her final stages of cancer. Her father had died eight years earlier on the exact same day, and the loss of her last parent left Lively empty.
“I started praying to God to restore my joy,” she said. “I started praying for God to break my heart for what broke his heart.”
Soon, Lively found herself in Florida volunteering with the Make A Wish Foundation taking care of medically fragile children. A little later she took a medical missions trip to Honduras.
And slowly, the idea of fostering started to take root in her heart.
That was the backdrop to the day when Lively showed up at a house, where she was working as a nurse caring for a terminally ill child, who was being overseen by the Department of Child Services.
As Lively tended to her tasks, she overheard the child’s case worker talking to a foster care worker. They were talking about a little boy who wasn’t doing well and was predicted to die soon.
They were talking about Marcus.
Lively couldn’t help herself. She asked the case worker if she could see a picture of the boy.
“I just started bawling,” she said. “They said, ‘What’s wrong? He’s so cute.’ But all I could see was that there was no life in his eyes. He was so sick.”
But what hit her even harder was when the case worker said nobody wanted Marcus. In fact, no one wanted to foster any of the kids with serious medical issues. Those children almost always ended up living out their short lives in hospitals or other medical institutions.
“They told me that no one wanted him,” Lively said. “That just broke my heart. These kids deserve a loving home as much as the next. They can’t help they were born with disabilities or born early. I couldn’t allow Marcus to just end up in an institution.”
And she didn’t. Lively determined that day she was going to foster Marcus.
Soon, she traveled to Especially Kidz in Shelbyville, where Marcus was being treated, and met him for the first time. She saw his tiny body struggling for life. She saw him hooked up to ventilators and trach tubes because his lungs never fully developed in the womb.
And she kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear.
It was Feb. 6.
“The same day that broke my heart when I lost my mom was the same day I met my joy,” Lively said. “I know that God brought us together.”
After meeting Marcus for the first time, Lively sat down with case workers and doctors to talk about adopting him. Their initial response? Disbelief.
Megan Deweese, social service director at Especially Kidz, said she was one of the people there who couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“I was shocked,” she said. “You just don’t have people who want to take on medically complicated children, let alone to love them as your own and treat them as your own. She blew me away quite honestly.”
The fact of the matter was literally no one had ever asked to foster a child from Especially Kidz with such serious conditions as Marcus, Deweese said.
But there was Lively, saying just that. She said the doctor in the room threw up his hands and said she was an “angel fallen from heaven.”
Lively immediately began the specialized training to become medically certified to take Marcus home. Within three months Lively had passed the tests with flying colors.
In June 2017, Marcus left the medical facility, still clinging to life, and was carried through the door of his new home in Kokomo.
But there was no guarantee at the time that the story would have a happy ending.
Marcus was still seriously ill. Being born three-months premature to a heroin addict, he was immediately placed on methadone to wean him off the opioid addiction to which he was born. Just eight weeks later, he suffered a severe brain bleed that led to other cognitive issues.
Marcus was 18-months-old when he came home with Lively, but he could barely lift his head or hold a rattle, and his eyes couldn’t focus.
And he didn’t want to be touched. Lively said after spending more than a year in a medical facility, he had become accustomed to having little human interaction.
So began the long, tedious and frustrating work of nursing Marcus back to life. He couldn’t speak, so Lively started teaching herself and Marcus sign language. It took months before Marcus finally started picking up a few basic signs.
Once he knew how to say “yes” and “no,” she started asking him if she could hold him or touch him. The answer was almost always no at first. But as the days went on, he said “yes” a little more often.
It was 10 months later that Marcus, for the first time, fell asleep on Lively’s lap.
“It was exhausting. But it was exhausting in such a beautiful way,” she said. “That’s because I could see him making progress, and that energized me and spurred me on. I knew he had it in him to do well and succeed. And so far, so good.”
On a recent weekday morning, Marcus scampered around the house, grabbing any book he could get his hands on so someone would read to him. The living room looked like a miniature intensive-care unit, with medical machines sitting beside the couches and armchairs.
On that day, a nurse was there to help Lively take care of Marcus. Medicaid funds 12 hours of care a day, but with so few qualified nurses available, Lively only has access to a fraction of that time.
But she manages.
Lively still works full time as a nurse, but she’s able to do her job from home. She naps when Marcus naps and has a delivery service drop off groceries to the house.
Lively said they hope to permanently remove Marcus’ trach tube this spring. That will allow him to start learning to speak.
She’s already doing in-home preschool lessons with Marcus, and he’s quickly learning his shapes and colors. Once she’s sure he’s medically stable, he’ll head off to kindergarten to be with his peers.
“I told the doctors I wasn’t going to place any limits on what he could do,” Lively said. “Marcus was going to place his own limits. He’s not aware that he has any disability, and that’s just the way I want it.”
It’s been a long road, filled with stress and uncertainty, for Lively and Marcus. But, she said, that road is leading to a good place.
And after watching her son battle back from the brink of death, Lively said, she’ll do everything in her power to make sure Marcus has every opportunity to live the best life he can live.
“He’s the greatest joy of my life,” she said. “It’s a lot of tears and a lot of sleepless nights and mixed emotions, but it’s worth it. It’s so worth it.”
Source: Kokomo Tribune
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