When I Look at Maria

by Nicole D. (with assistance from Tim Wade)

“I want to see Maria! I want to see Maria!” I screamed in the hospital waiting room.

I was only 3 years old, but I knew my fraternal twin sister, Maria, needed help as she lay in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit down the hall. My heart beat faster and faster.

“Let me see Maria!” I screamed. Suddenly a nurse ran into the waiting room and picked me up. “You need to get to Maria right now!” she urged my parents. “I’ll take Nicole with me.”

Born to Live

Maria’s struggle for life began before she was born. Early in our mother’s pregnancy, doctors said Maria was not growing properly and probably wouldn’t live, although I should be born healthy.

Most babies are born after 40 weeks, but Maria and I arrived on September 9, 1996, after only 29 weeks in our mother’s womb. We weighed about 2 pounds each. I was healthy as expected; and to the surprise of the doctors, Maria did not die.

But Maria’s brain had not fully grown, and she could barely breathe. She was rushed to another hospital where she stayed for two months.

The doctors put a small valve—called a shunt—in Maria’s brain that allowed extra fluid to drain into a tube. Without the tube, fluid would build up and put pressure on her brain, threatening permanent damage or even death.

Closer Than Words

By Thanksgiving of 1996, Maria was finally healthy enough to come home. For the next three and a half years, we grew together like normal sisters, although things for Maria were a little different.

First, Maria could not walk. Instead she would slide off the couch and roll across the floor to reach what she wanted. Second, she could not hold a spoon or fork, so she ate everything with her fingers⎯even soup. Third, she could only say two words: “bye” and “Cole,” short for my name, Nicole.

Although Maria could not talk, I always knew what she wanted. I’d tell Mom when Maria wanted to be picked up, and then she’d stop crying. I could tell when she which toy she wanted. Even to this day, I can tell what she’s feeling, especially when she’s happy.

Rush of Pain

About three months before our 4th birthday, Maria started acting strangely. My mom rushed her to the hospital, where they discovered that the shunt in Maria’s head wasn’t working. Doctors worked quickly to repair the valve.

After the operation, with Maria resting and the worst part behind us, my parents and I began to eat our sandwiches in the waiting room. Suddenly I knew something was wrong with my sister.

Back to Emergency

As Maria lay helpless in a hospital bed, her heart raced dangerously fast. Alarms went off as she stopped breathing. Doctors rushed Maria to the operating room.

The tube that was supposed to take away extra fluid from Maria’s brain had twisted. Pressure was crushing Maria’s brain, causing her tremendous pain. Doctors pushed a long needle into the shunt and drained out a lot of fluid.

Beautiful Sight

My twin was in a coma for 30 days. After she woke up, she was never the same. Her brain was so damaged she could no longer eat or crawl. A tube was put into her stomach to feed her and a special wheelchair was made for her. Maria also never came home again. Instead, she was moved into a special home for children with brain injuries.

Now Maria and I see each other every week. Sometimes our family takes her to the park or for a walk around the block. People often stare at Maria. They see a 13-year-old girl who’s sitting in a wheelchair, looks funny and can’t hold up her head. But that is not what I see.

When I look at Maria, I see my sister⎯a beautiful girl who loves to smile, loves to be hugged and loves the color yellow. I see a person with a soul Jesus died for, just like He died for you and me. I see a girl who, when she lives with Jesus someday, will be able to walk, talk and laugh. I see a child of God, just like me.

Ray of Hope

Although what has happened to Maria is sad, a lot of good has happened, too. During Maria’s surgeries, people have prayed for her and we have seen many miracles. When people see God’s hand on Maria, it helps them know that if He can take care of her, He can also take care of them.

God did not cause the things that have happened to Maria, but He has used them for His glory. Maria is a symbol of hope, a ray of light that shines as bright as the sun! She is proof that life is valuable under any circumstance. Most of all she is my sister and my friend, whom I love very much.

Copyright © 2012 by Focus on the Family. Photo © Jimmy Williams Photography.