It’s not every day you get to sit across the way from a real-life hero. But that’s exactly what I did today.
LaTonya Hamilton is what you might say, surprising. At first it’s very clear that she is sweet, caring, and responsible but what you might not know at first is that she is also fiercely passionate, and not afraid to take on any challenges on behalf of her kids.
I thought, when I started this interview, that I was going to be telling a story about Jeremiah. But no – what I got is a story about a strong woman who was and is willing to go to bat for her children time and time again, and then use the lessons that she has learned over time to bless other families.
It was difficult not to tear up as she described what she went through to take care of her child, Jeremiah, who was born prematurely and without proper medical treatment because a high-risk pregnancy physician had miscalculated how far along LaTonya was. Had the doctor accurately predicted how far along she was, she would have received steroids and other types of treatment for her unborn child that would have helped him along with development. Instead, her baby was born very prematurely and extremely under-developed.
After being born, he was on a ventilator and a tracheal tube and didn’t leave the hospital for 8 ½ months. LaTonya said that when he was born he was no bigger than the palm of her hand, with his little feet hanging over the edge. She didn’t even get to hold him until he was more than two weeks old.
LaTonya is a client for life. Jeremiah is now thirteen years old, and doing extremely well.
I loved listening to LaTonya describe her experience. Never once did she say “why me?” Never once did she talk about how she wallowed in the pain of her experience, wondering if her little baby boy was going to make it. She talked about the warriors that surrounded her, the sisters that supported her, and the prayers that she believes made a huge impact.
Her mother had recently died, and LaTonya said that she knew that God wouldn’t take both her mother and baby at the same time. And she chose to stand on that faith.
Her sister was the one who decided to seek out legal assistance, because she could see that what had happened to LaTonya and Jeremiah wasn’t right.
Sometimes, we have to rely on others whose perspective can help us across a line we wouldn’t normally cross on her own. LaTonya said she didn’t want anything to do with a lawsuit – she just wanted to see her baby boy be okay. But she later recognized, with the help of her sister that she needed to fight for, and advocate for her baby.
“It wasn’t about me at all,” she said. “It was about Jeremiah.”
When she spoke of the legal process, Latonya had a grateful expression and talked about how blessed she and her family were. “It wasn’t like a procedure” she said. “They actually cared about us, checked in on us, made sure that we saw the right specialists. Even now, all these years later they are still checking on us and sending Jeremiah to hockey games and basketball games.”
“You’re clients for life,” I said with a grin.
“Yes,” she said. “That’s what we are.”
Today, LaTonya works on an advisory committee that helps families who are going through medical crises with their babies. When I heard her talking about the work that she does and her priorities in life, her story and her faith shone brightly through. LaTonya is clearly not one to waste a crisis. She has turned it around to others – to form an economy of blessing.
“I try to pay it forward when I can,” she said.
And it is clear that she means it. She spoke tearfully of the DC Metro bus driver that would wait for her and Jeremiah when she had to take three buses to commute to Jeremiah’s medical day care. And that sweet bus driver would wait for them no matter what, and make sure that people moved off of the front seats so that she could sit with Jeremiah, his equipment, the stroller, and the oxygen.
I wanted to know if she had any advice for mothers. Her directives were simple.
“Don’t give up. Your baby didn’t ask to be here, and you owe it to your child to do everything that you can to advocate for them and make sure their needs are met. Just don’t give up—it’s a difficult process, and it’s not a short or easy road. But keep moving forward. That’s all.
There is so much that Jeremiah wasn’t supposed to be able to do. And look at him now – he is a normal thirteen-year old boy. He loves science and math, and he likes to dance. He spends time with his older brother and I don’t allow him to get into trouble. And I’m going to do right by my child, just like I’ve done right by my other children.
My children are very responsible – one works in IT and another is a full-time student, full-time nurse and full-time mother. Nothing half-way for my kids.”
Isn’t that exactly as it should be?
Brooke M. Birkey
Director Education, Client Services & Communications