It was a somber three-hour drive to a Denver hospital for Tiffany and Dan Reeves of Imperial. They were about to bring their fifth child into the world, but instead of excitement, they felt sadness. They didn’t even pack a car seat because they were told their daughter wouldn’t likely come home.
As they awaited Gianna’s birth in late November 2015 at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital, Dan browsed through a church song book in search of fitting music for their daughter’s funeral.
Their unborn child was diagnosed with Trisomy 13, a rare disorder characterized by having three copies of chromosome 13 in the body’s cells instead of the usual two. It can cause severe intellectual disabilities and physical abnormalities. (Genetic & Rare Disease Information Center). At most, Gianna would live a few hours or days if she made it to delivery.
But, the Reeves did bring their daughter home. And today, two years after doctors confirmed a Trisomy 13 diagnosis, Gianna is a healthy and “busy” toddler. The Reeves, their family, community members and doctors believe Gianna is a miracle.
Although Gianna still lives with a genetic abnormality, Tiffany said their “miracle” child has taught them to put fear aside, live in the present and enjoy each day as a gift from God.
“When you go through something that is so life or death and it’s your child and you want life for them no matter what, it just really makes it easy to see what matters,” Tiffany said.
Dan and Tiffany Reeves were enjoying their busy and full life in the rural Nebraska town of Imperial, population 2,071, when they received the happy but unexpected news that they were pregnant with their fifth child. They were already busy with three daughters and one son who are now between the ages of 13 and 6. Dan is a farmer, and Tiffany works as a surgical nurse and owns the 509 Broadway boutique and coffee shop in Imperial.
But during a routine pregnancy appointment in the summer of 2015, doctors noticed an abnormality. A blood test showed that their unborn child had Trisomy 13. An amniocentesis later confirmed the diagnosis. Tiffany said doctors told her the test was 99 percent accurate in determining abnormalities.
“We were scared, shocked and devastated,” Tiffany said. “I can’t even describe it. You anticipate everything going just perfect. You just mourn the loss of that perfect, healthy child.”
Dan and Tiffany knew that whatever the diagnosis was that they would not terminate the pregnancy. They started praying that they would just have the opportunity to meet their daughter.
And, many others joined in their prayers. Dan and Tiffany’s friends across the state requested prayers at their churches, family members prayed daily, and Tiffany’s grandmother, Dorothy (who died in March) prayed the most fervently.
Doctors decided to induce Tiffany a month early, and the couple left Imperial on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, for the three-hour trip to the Denver hospital. They left a few unfinished projects at home so they would have work to keep their minds busy when they returned home without their daughter.
Gianna was born at 5:20 p.m. on November 23. Their family priest from Imperial arrived at the hospital at 6 p.m., and by 7 p.m. Gianna was baptized. Dan and Tiffany’s children and extended family traveled to Denver to support them through this time, and they all crammed in the hospital room to meet Gianna. Each one had a chance to hold the tiny 6-pound, 1-ounce infant.
The family left that night, and Dan and Tiffany bonded with their daughter and prepared for what seemed like the inevitable. But, the next morning, Gianna seemed to be doing well. Dan and Tiffany asked if they could go home. The doctors couldn’t think of any reason why not.
So, hospice care was ordered, and they packed to leave. A hospital social services employee gave them a car seat, and they ventured back to Nebraska with Gianna and an answered prayer – they got to meet their daughter.
They arrived home to a clean home, supper in the crock pot, a baby basinet with blankets, diapers and baby clothes, and friends and family had even finished grouting their shower.
The family learned to enjoy each moment and each day they had with Gianna and continued their prayers.
“Each day, we had a new prayer,” Tiffany said. “I prayed we have tomorrow together. I prayed that we’d get to see her smile. There’s so many prayers God answered along the way.”
Friends and family visited and brought meals, and the entire community rallied around this little miracle girl.
Gianna continued to grow, and more prayers were answered: she smiled, she sat up, she ate solid foods, she crawled, then walked and said “mama” and “dada.”
“She is a busy body,” Tiffany said of her now 19-month-old daughter. “She’s all over the place. That’s definitely prayers that were answered.”
Tiffany said she will be forever humbled by all the prayers that were offered for Gianna.
Gianna has routine visits with her family doctor and continues to meet milestones. Tiffany said when Gianna was born, doctors took a sample of her cord blood. When they tested the cord blood, it showed that Gianna had Mosaic Trisomy 13, a less severe case of Trisomy 13 in which not all the cells are affected. This was different from the in-utero diagnosis that showed all cells samples were affected.
The Reeves said they and their doctors believe the power of prayer changed Gianna’s diagnosis. The doctors even call Gianna a “miracle” baby.
Gianna’s future is still uncertain as she could develop problems as the Trisomy 13 symptoms may show up later.
But, Tiffany said she and Dan don’t live scared.
Tiffany said they learned to live without fear for the future by accepting that Gianna is what she is, and their other children are what they are. They live each day as a new adventure.
“We don’t have any expectations, so everything is amazing to us,” Tiffany said. “I guess that’s part of not living scared. We’ve just accepted that she is who she is and we get to figure that our over the next 16 years.”
When Tiffany shared her story in the Feb. 4 “Go Forth Podcast with Heather & Becky,” she said, “Let’s say Gianna has a very low IQ, or can’t catch a basketball, whatever it might be. We have accepted that she is what she is, and God is going to use her however He wants to, and we are thrilled to be her parents and part of that.”
Tiffany said Gianna has brought so much love to their family and community.
“Gianna brings pure joy to everyone who hears her story or meets her, and that brings us even greater joy,” Tiffany said. “She is so happy!”
Tiffany’s said Gianna has changed her perspective on parenting, and she finds it easier to be patient, to listen and to interact with all of her children.
“I think I used to be a lot more concerned with the little things that don’t matter,” Tiffany said. “I feel like I had more of a type-A personality. This is the way it had to be done. The house has to be cleaned. It’s all a free for all now. It’s easy to see what’s important. Clean dishes aren’t as important as they used to be.”
She focuses her attention on each small milestone, keeps her expectations in check and has realized the meaning of true happiness.
“Material possessions and career success, those type of things have a lot less meaning,” Tiffany said. “For me, as a mother, just watching the little tiny things each day, they are so much more fulfilling and so much more rewarding and a better happiness than the having success in financial-type things. It just doesn’t compare. I find it easier to find the beauty in the little every-day things.”
If you would like to hear a first-person account of Dan and Tiffany Reeve’s story, please visit our friends at Go Forth Podcast.