Christina Gross gave birth to her third child, Emilee Rose, when she was in just her 27th week of pregnancy. Her baby weighed less than 2 pounds and stretched only 12.2 inches long.
Complications from the pregnancy that were putting both the Gilberts mom and her baby in danger convinced doctors an emergency C-section was necessary. Emilee was born on Sept. 5, 2009 -- Gross's own birthday.
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Emilee had a host of problems she has overcome in the last two years, but Gross's job as a mother is completely different from how it was with her first two children, now 20 and 18.
Gross has to make sure her daughter does not have too much stimulation, meaning not too many people in the house at once, no pictures with flashes and quiet ringers on the phones. She can't spray any aerosols or kick up dust around her daughter, who has a chronic lung disease. She has to ensure Emilee sleeps upright and is always supplied with oxygen.
"It's become normal for us, but it's not what I went through with my other two kids," Gross said.
Though Gross is raising Emilee as a single mother, she has the help of her older kids, parents and friends. She said she is extremely grateful for all the help she has received in the past two years but acknowledged the cost of Emilee's care is getting harder to keep up with.
Gross' parents set up the Emilee Rose Medical Assistance Fund at THE National Bank, 3151 US Route 20 in Elgin, and Extra Value Wines and Spirits, 3091 US Route 20, has a donation box out for anyone interested in contributing to Emilee's medical expenses -- including paying for the $56-per-can prescription formula Emilee needs because of allergies. The money in the donation box is deposited directly into the bank account.
Gross, who used to work in a dental office, has been unemployed for a couple years now and continues to struggle to find a job. She is ready to turn her newfound knowledge getting her daughter services into a business venture, called Emilee's Helping Hands.
Instead of spending sleepless nights researching options and finding resources, Gross invites parents of extremely premature babies to avoid the hassle she went through.
"I didn't know anything about anything," Gross said. "You're just kind of on your own and it's frustrating."
Gross has a brochure to give to parents with information about her services, which include coordination of care, public assistance program information, guidance on nursing, home health providers and therapists and pickup/delivery of prescription medication. Visit emileeshelpinghands-com.webs.com for details.
While launching her new business, Gross is still working to get her daughter as much care as possible from programs that are shrinking because of state money problems.
"They're just making more and more cuts with her that it has to be out-of-pocket at this point," Gross said. "Things that they used to cover, they no longer do."
Developmentally, Emilee is delayed, making every milestone a cause for celebration. The toddler isn't very vocal, but is learning sign language to communicate the basics to her mom and the nurses who help take care of her.
Gross hopes Emilee's lungs will mature and get stronger as she ages, removing her reliance on a constant oxygen supply.
Even with the things Emilee must overcome to be in the world, Gross said she is a child full of attitude with a strong personality. Gross and her family try to give the toddler what she needs, but take care not to spoil her. But the house should really be called Emilee's World, Gross said, because usually it really is all about her.
"She is a true miracle and I can't imagine not having her in my life," Gross said.