New York Times Neediest Cases

A Child, Born Prematurely, Who ‘Fights Because He Wants to Be Here’ - New York Times

Avery Salas was born after 24 weeks of gestation and weighed 1 pound 13 ounces. Given a 15 percent chance of survival by doctors, he has become his mother’s miracle child.

“He’s such a fighter,” his mother, Samantha Delgado, 24, said. “My mom called him Samson, from the Bible, because he has this strength. He’s just so strong. He fights because he wants to be here.”

Since his birth in February 2014, Avery, whose heart, brain and lungs are not fully developed, has been in and out of hospitals with distressing regularity. He has chronic lung disease, chronic asthma and frequent respiratory infections. He requires a ventilator to breathe, as well as a feeding tube.

Ms. Delgado is raising Avery and her other son, Armani Salas, 5, largely by herself. Parenting the two boys is draining, made more so because Ms. Delgado has to work. For the past four years, Ms. Delgado has been employed by Target; she works at a Bronx store. She earns around $1,080 each month and receives $733 monthly in Social Security benefits for Avery.

“I live from paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “I’m just paying my bills and have nothing else.”

Her mother and visiting nurses care for her sons when she is at work. But her many hours away from home and her children have been the source of much anxiety.

“I used to say: ‘Does he know I’m his mom? Because there are so many nurses around, so many people,’” Ms. Delgado said. “But lately, every time I walk inside the room, he just starts crying so hard because he wants me to hold him and carry him and play with him. So it makes me feel good, because I have an impact on him. He knows who I am.”

Part of their bonding, Ms. Delgado said, involves intensive physical therapy to address Avery’s developmental delays. She will hold him by the waist so he can use his back muscles to sit up, or place a toy on the floor just out of reach, coaxing him to move and grab it. “I tell Avery, ‘We have to do this, we have to get strong,’” Ms. Delgado said. “You see him starting to try. It’s like we’re getting somewhere.”

Avery’s needs have inspired her to want to study nursing. She was recently accepted to LaGuardia Community College.

In June, Ms. Delgado was approved for a subsidized two-bedroom apartment in Long Island City, Queens. She turned to Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, for help in securing it. The agency’s HomeBase program, which offers services to people facing homelessness, provided $1,695 to cover the cost of the apartment deposit and first month’s rent. It paid another $2,000 to move the family’s furniture from storage into their new home. Until then, Ms. Delgado had been staying with relatives in the Bronx.

Catholic Charities also used $315 in Neediest Cases funds to buy a mattress, diapers, baby wipes and infant socks.

Avery continues to make progress with therapy. Even with his health issues, Ms. Delgado wants both of her sons to have lives that are as normal and fulfilling as possible.

“When they are around, they definitely don’t see any type of ‘Mommy crying’ or ‘Mommy feeling like she’s struggling,’” Ms. Delgado said. “I don’t want them to realize, ‘Oh my God, Mom can’t buy this,’ or ‘The lights went out because she couldn’t pay,’ or ‘We got an eviction notice because she can’t afford it.’ It’s something I don’t want them to experience.”

Armani’s energy is proof that her efforts have been successful: Like his favorite character, Spider-Man, he is fond of climbing and jumping. “He likes to beat up the bad guys to save the world, so he says,” Ms. Delgado said.

She expounded on his altruistic qualities, as a brother who showers Avery with affection and attention and a son who never hesitates to lend his mother a hand.

“He passes me the wipes, he passes me the Pampers,” she said. “He’s a really nice big brother, very lovable.”

Ms. Delgado hopes her sons are the closest of confidants as they grow up.

“The way they are with each other is the way I wish I was with my sister,” she said. “We weren’t tight. So I really want them to have this really strong bond where they’re inseparable.”

Armani presses his face against his brother’s as Avery sits in his mother’s arms. Armani kisses him, sings and makes funny noises. And Avery, delighted, smiles widely.

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