Tag Archives: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

…reflections on a video project i’ve been working on

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Ever since Cristina, Bella and I returned from Honduras earlier this month, I’ve been working away on a video that attempts to reflect on the heart of what Missioners of Christ really do in Honduras. But, as I started creating it and reflecting on the life and teachings of Saint John Paul II, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis, I realized that the more specific I got with things, the less I could explain it with words. It all comes down to love. Everything always has and always will. Thank you, Pope Francis for making me uncomfortably remember this.

What I mean by that is that we, as a society (all of us – subconsciously or not), have a hard time grasping things that aren’t results-based or empirically measured. It’s flat out how we’ve been bred in the 1st world….and through globalization, it’s spread everywhere. We simply struggle with the concept that Mother Teresa attempted to teach us, that “We are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful.”

It’s tough. It’s not fun, exciting or compelling to truck along and remain faithful when all of the novelty has begun to disappear. In fact, in my reflecting, I’d venture to say that this is one of the great problems of the current and past few generations (all over the world) and it is seen in religion – we just don’t stick with things anymore. Even less do with stick with things when they aren’t fun/exciting/affirming/fulfilling anymore. This will be one of the greatest crosses that post-modern man will have to overcome to remain free, to remain alive.

Case in point – one of the most significant struggles for the average participant on one of our 1-2 week long missions in Honduras, is that we don’t build or repair structures (churches or schools) or focus on any relief work (food relief programs, shelters, orphanages, etc). I can’t even count how many conversations I’ve had with someone who struggled with the idea that we spend a week in a remote mountain village in Honduras, visiting house-to-house, praying and living with the people in the given town. “But what about some sort of project that we can leave behind? What will the people have to remember us and to remember this trip?” There is a difficulty in not seeing any results or seeing the fruit of our labor. We’ve been trained to think that unless we can bring back pictures and videos of our labor, our work is uneventful.

This is simply not true.

Don’t get me wrong, those things are all good, beautiful and necessary. Christ has called us to provide these things and to be generous with our talents and treasures…..to the point that it hurts us.

But as Missioners of Christ in Honduras, we have simply not been called to that sort of ministry as part of our permanent presence in Comayagua. Although it happens, from time to time, just by nature of being someone’s permanent neighbor. I can remember when a hurricane hit the country and flooded a number of homes in our neighborhood – we stopped working on retreat preparations and we had to literally carry people to safety. This is part of life, even here in the US. But our ministry was not focused on that.

As Missioners of Christ, we’ve been called to simply love. To love til it hurts. To love even unto death. This means truly living  amongst the people of Honduras. This means being a fellow parishioner at our local church…..it means being a neighbor when the roof collapses or when a family member dies. It means playing soccer with friends after a day of school or even attending their 16th birthday party. It means eating in another’s home, even if there house doesn’t meet our sanitation standards. It also means embracing one another when cultures collide, or when a young father of 4 loses his job. The list goes on….as it should, but our call has been clear (although the practicals are FAR from clear) : LOVE.

Please, check out the rough draft of the video:

Return from Honduras

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Thank you all for your prayers! We just returned from our visit to Honduras….and wow, it was amazing!

Please see some of the pictures we took:

Our Godson, Juan Pablo, and his family, on the day of his baptism

Mario, Dina and little Juan Pablo, on the day of his baptism

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Juan Pablo on his way to the baptismal font!

Mom, dad and Godparents praying over Juan Pablo

Bella, enjoying her bath!

Bella’s cilantro-tiara

Bella and her Godmother with her new friend, Emily

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Cristina and Emily, a young girl with Spina Bifida in Honduras

Cristina sharing with the mom’s group in Honduras

Dina with Juan Pablo, our Godson

 

Bella, exploring Casa Guadalupe

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For 4 days during our visit, I helped out on a mountain mission to a village that had yet to host missionaries. It was so high in the mountains and so cold, that the villagers wore up to 2 coats at a time!

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Our mission team

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Teammate Katie, contemplating God’s creation

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Teammate Katie with one of the joyful families from the village

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It seemed like every house was 30-45 minutes away from the next….

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Another view from the top

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A long-term Missioner, Vilma, sharing her testimony

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Katie and Ashley teaching Gladys (one of the villagers) how to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet

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The kids were so excited to come to our kids’ program each day!

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…but when they would arrive, they would try to act cool, like it was no big deal.

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Justin, a long term Missioner, would lead us in music

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The kids loved singing

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…and praying

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…and climbing trees

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Some of our friends on the mission

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The woman on the left had been through much suffering….but had an immense joy in her heart

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Tanya, one of the little girls from the village, making a commitment to follow Christ

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All of the kids from our program

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Katy, one of the little girls from the village, with teammate Ashley

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a big smile

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making funny faces

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the boys trying to act cool

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We took out a bottle of bubbles….which one of the older kids told me they had never seen before

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the kids chasing after the bubbles

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on our last night there, we had a MASSIVE (dangerously?) bonfire with the entire village

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Ashley loved brushing her teeth without running water

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On one of our last days in Honduras, we brought Bella to the Missionaries of Charity house….where the take care of the sick and dying, as well as orphans and children born with aids

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She loved the kids

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I think Bella thought that this sister was Mother Teresa….

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her only frame of reference is the image of Mother Teresa in our house

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Bella loved the food in Honduras

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Me with our Godson, Juan Pablo

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We let Bella take a SHORT spin on the back of the truck….

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She loved hanging out with the Friars

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Don’t know why she’s got her hand like that….

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Brother Gabriel scared her…..maybe it was his height…(he’s very TALL)

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The Poor Clares got special permission during lent to come out and see Bella in person….as they had been praying for her while she was still in the womb

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They might be cloistered….but they are SO JOYFUL!

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Bella with her Tia Diana and Tio Roger

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Bella hanging out with our compadres’ family

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Our compadre, Mario (Juan Pablo’s father) getting us some fresh coconuts from their front yard

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Our compadres’ grandmother (who is going to be 90 this year!) enjoying some coconut water

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Bella with her prima, Ana Cecilia

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Bella wanted a kiss….

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Looking ahead in awe

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Our Christmas picture:

Christmas 2014

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There’s not much to say in this post. We have spending a lot of time in awe of our daughter and the Grace and Strength that Our Lord has given her…..especially in the last 2-3 weeks.

For a while we were worried that Maria Isabella was a little too attached or dependent on mommy and daddy, (we’re definitely happy about her having an attachment to us, her parents, but feared that her needing to be carried around would cause additional dependency) but have seen her break out of her shell in the past few weeks.

We sat talking on the couch one afternoon last week and it hit us. During a quiet moment in the conversation, we heard…..silence. Cristina anxiously looked around and our little ‘bug’ (as we affectionately refer to her – a term coined by her cousin Daniel, who couldn’t pronounce Isabella or Bella) was nowhere to be found! She had traveled off in her wheelchair, in to the bathroom to find her toothbrush!

This was the moment we had dreamed about (and I’ll admit, cried many nights about)……something we looked around and saw in our other friends with children her age…..exploring the world around them, playing with toys and examining the furniture/toys/decorations/etc. while their parents talked to other parents like us. For so many weeks/months, Bella was unable to do any of that……but now that is all slowly changing.

There is much work to do….and Maria Isabella’s toddler-potential has yet to be seen…..so we continue praying and working and pushing her!

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All Saints

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I’ve decided that since a whole year has passed….it’s time to get things back together for this blog!

What a year….since last October…..what a year! For those of you who have been following – it’s been quite the eventful 12 months! Last we checked in, we were making the move from New York City (then NJ/PA for a few months) down to Virginia Beach, Virginia. Due to financial difficulties after the In-Utero surgery that Cristina and Maria Isabella underwent for Spina Bifida repair, followed by Maria Isabella’s “2nd birth” via C-Section……we decided it was best to spend a year living with my parents, in a small room over-the-garage. Heck of a way to spend the 1st year of marriage! Don’t get me wrong….we were/are grateful for the opportunity….but it’s worth adding that God truly has a sense of humor. Sometimes Cristina and I jokingly regret doing this during our wedding mass!

Still, there is so much to tell since we’ve been in Virginia Beach…..from multiple ER visits, brace fittings, Spina-Bifida clinics, a birthday party (interrupted by an ER visit in the middle of the cake-cutting!) to wheel-chair fittings and even us purchasing a house!

Throughout all of it, however, God’s presence and Grace have guided us. That, is for sure. Even in our darkest moments, when we’ve been unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel…..He has been there….and He has sent us the right people and opened all of the doors for us to go through. (and closed the doors that would have sent us on the wrong path)

Please see our pictures below!

We continue to beg for your prayers and now that things seemed to have settled down (and us settled in to our new home!) to update our blog more often!

May God bless you and may Our Lady continue to intercede for you!

In Christ,

Andrew, Cristina and Maria Isabella Pocta

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With our realtor, Bob Smith, closing on our new home!

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A 1 year reunion of our Ronald McDonald House roommates – all mothers and children who underwent In-Utero surgery for Spina Bifida Repair at CHOP!

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Our little munchkin…..mooching off of mommy’s dinner! Who said babies don’t know how to manipulate?!

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Trying on Aunt Carol’s glasses!

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Did we mention that Mother Teresa is CONSTANTLY following us around?!

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Mother’s group celebrating All Saint’s Day!

His Hand in All of This…

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For the past few several weeks, Cristina and I have been constantly reminded that “He is in control” and that “…there is really nothing we can do, other than wait”. Both of these realizations, while good for our Faith and strengthening for our marriage, are nonetheless sobering.

Every once-in-a-while, during the most difficult moments of this whole recuparation process, the fears/anxieties/sadness of the unknown hit us like a ton of bricks and we have what we call our weekly “emotional breakdown”….which usually last only an hour or two.

“What if something happens and they have to deliver Maria Isabella too early? How are we going to afford all of these medical bills, when all is said and done? What if this whole surgery doesn’t do everything that we hoped it would? Will Bella be able to walk as she grows up? Will we be good parents to a child with special needs?”

or

“This time of pregnancy is supposed to be a fun time of joy, and we should be with family and friends showing off the cute ‘baby bump’, instead of being locked up in this house all day! Why is this happening to us? What is God trying to teach us in all of this?”

…and the list goes on.

I know this may sound ‘rough’ or a little ‘blunt’ but I have to share a recent reflection that God has been confirming through the testimony of other parents here in the Ronald McDonald House.

With this type of situation, (awaiting a “special needs” or “out-of-the-ordinary” child) there comes the natural and well-intentioned response of friends and family: “I’m sooo sorry that you have to go through this” or “We have to be careful because we don’t want this to happen to any of your next children” and even the thought or insinuation of “Bella is going to come out PERFECT/FINE, just you wait!” or “God has given me a vision of Maria Isabella and she’s gonna come out 100% normal, just have faith!”

Don’t get me wrong, we are very hopeful! (and we try to be as faithful as humans can be, daily!) But, you have to understand something – Maria Isabella is who she is. She is a little mix of Pocta and Rivera, she seems to have a slightly dark skin tone (the Doctors told us when they operated on her back) and she has Spina Bifida. She always will. This is part of who she is. 

If she were any other way, she would not be our daughter. 

God has sent us to her….He has sent us here to Philly/NJ for a reason, for a Divine Purpose….and on the days that Cristina and I aren’t too consumed in focusing on our own problems, (instead of being present to those around us) we can see it in every interaction we encounter.

So….(and trust me, I say this with ALL of the LOVE in the world!) if you pray for us…or pray that Bella’s Spina Bifida wasn’t there anymore, instead pray not only that Cristina and I will be the best parents that we can possibly be to her, but that she will be free to grown in to the person that God has created her to be, free to love others and to teach others, all according to His Divine Plan.

His Hand is most definitely in ALL of this…..because trust me, if it wasn’t, Cristina and I would have quit a LONG time ago.

7 Week Update

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Today marks 7 weeks since Cristina and Maria Isabella’s fetal repair for the small defect (Spina Bifida) that was discovered 2 1/2 months ago.

Aside from a little scare from the ultrasound, everything is looking very good! Not only has Maria Isabella continued growing as expected, (and as hoped!) but she continues to move her legs and feet. Today we caught a quick glimpse of her toes twinkling…..and that is a VERY good thing!

Towards the end of the check-up, our nurse and ultrasound technician noticed something with Cristina’s cervix and both became very quiet for a moment. But they aren’t like that…..both are actually very joyful and ‘jolly’ about everything, each time that we visit for our check-up…so Cristina and I knew that something was up.

“Now…we don’t want you to start freaking out, cuz that won’t be good for the situation, Cristina, but we found a little dilation of the Cervix that is cause for a little concern….so we’re gonna go talk to the team and look a little further.”

The funny thing is that we didn’t start to worry….which is also out of the ordinary because we’ve become somewhat accustomed to worrying during our ultrasounds. (since the fateful day that they found the defect)

I looked at Cristina and we both, almost at the same moment, said to each other “I’m not worried. For some reason, I have that sense that He’s in control and there’s NOTHIN we can do about whatever is happening.”

So I step outside to ask the nurse a question and as they notice me coming out of the little sonogram room they all quiet down and look towards me, and quickly (and what seemed to be nervously) ask: “Is everything ok? We’ll be right in!”

Well….I didn’t want to freak Cristina out…so I walked back in and looked at her to say “Don’t worry babe….I’m sure it’s all gonna be fine and this is somewhat normal”…….as the ultrasound technician comes back in to do an alternative machine to examine the actual cervix.

What had happened was that the cervix site appeared to be extremely dilated (like in a woman that was 9 months pregnant, due ANY minute!) and they thought that Cristina was going to have to be hospitalized and it seemed like Maria Isabella was going to have to be delivered like….today!

FALSE ALARM, Praise God! Cristina had held her bladder for more than 2 hours in order to give them a good urine sample….and the bladder put so much pressure near the cervix site that the image they captured in the sonogram was actually a mere “focal” contraction in that area due to the pressure from the bladder. No need to worry, everything was OK!

After our appointment, we got the chance to visit with our friend, Avery, and her parents who are in CHOP all day while they wait for her to receive her monthly “heavy-dose” of Chemo/Radiation treatment to fight the cancer in her stomach. She’s quite a special girl, and has definitely been one of the people here at the Ronald McDonald House that makes our days go by a little bit faster. Please pray for her….she’s only 5 years old and has not only spent the past 7 months battling cancer, she has been in this Ronald McDonald House (away from her siblings/dad and the “normal” life of a 5 year-old) for the past 5 months….and she still has 4 to go. She’s a tough girl…but she’s got a ways to go, so please pray for her and her parents!

Here’s a little contest video we put together this past weekend for our Ronald McDonald House here in Camden New Jersey – as part of a Toyota Cars 4 Good contest. Our hope is to win a new Toyota for the Ronald McDonald House by getting the most “likes” on Facebook on June 21st. Check it out! I will remind you all when the date approaches!

Thank you for you prayers and support! Even though things look good….and God continues to bless us…..we still have a ways to go – 9 more weeks! In 2 weeks we will be approaching our half-way point…..so please continue to pray hard for Cristina and Maria Isabella! Your prayers and support mean so much to us, we always look forward to checking the mail downstairs and finding letters that you’ve sent to help keep Cristina from going crazy!

God bless you!

Andrew

6 Week Update (and ultrasound videos)!!!

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It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 6 weeks since Cristina and Maria Isabella’s Spina Bifida/Myelomeningocele fetal repair back on March 14th. For those of you who need the background info, here’s the post about the Surgery at CHOP (with Videos, separated by chapters) and also the posts from the day of surgery.

6 long weeks….and 10 more to go until Maria Isabella is delivered by C-section. (which is and will be necessary for all of our future deliveries because of the traumatic incision to the Uterus during fetal surgery)

Today was a very good day! Maria Isabella seems to be coming along great her hindbrain herniation has begun reversing – allowing a natural flow of fluids to/from her brain. Her head shape and the size of her ventricles (because of an increase of fluid build-up associated with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus) all remain “normal” and show no signs of concern…which is a HUGE relief. Our prayer is that this continue to stay the same and that the more time that Bella is in her mother’s womb, the more time she will have to heal.

Here are a couple of video clips I got of her Ultrasound today:

Here you can see Maria Isabella with her hands on her cheeks

In the first few seconds, you can see her move her hand across her face

In this video, notice Maria Isabella and her hiccups

Isn’t she gorgeous!? As you can see, she is coming along well! Please pray that this continues!

Let me thank you all for your continued prayer and help…we continue to receive letters/cards/packages in the mail and trust me, this has helped Cristina and I get through this whole thing….we feel your support and Christ’s presence through each and every one of you!

More updates to come!

In Christ,

Andrew, Cristina and Maria Isabella Pocta