53 AND 5: THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE

Robin Brownlee
August 16 2011 02:11AM

For the first 47 years of my life, I never made a fuss about birthdays, be it mine or anybody else's. That changed at precisely 7:11 p.m. on Aug. 16, 2006 when Samuel Charles Robin Brownlee was born.

If the first paragraph a clue this isn't another Sam Gagner analysis or a look at the next edition of the Edmonton Oilers -- I'll draw some loose parallels between being Sam's dad and the Oilers later, but nothing the hardcore types can hang their hats on -- I don't know what is, so click through now.

The first item I wrote for Oilersnation, March 7, 2008, featured the same picture as above. That piece, written at a time when Sam, like this website, was just getting up and running, generated all of nine comments. I didn't care then because it was an excuse to use a picture of Sam, not that I need one.

Those of you who read here often likely know Sam's story. I've written this to fill in some of the blanks those for who don't, and because today is Sam's fifth birthday, and I feel so inclined.

TIME HAD COME

Sam's arrival at Royal Alexandra Hospital on my 48th birthday came three months early because we had no choice -- doctors feared my wife Analyn, who'd already been in hospital for a month, could take no more.

With her blood pressure dangerously high despite a daily cocktail of medications -- it was or 10 more different drugs at last count -- Analyn risked stroke, heart failure or death if the doctors didn't take Sam right away. The hospital called and told me, ready or not, it was time,

Even then, Analyn wanted to hang on. "Another day for Sam," she'd always say. That day, though, doctors said, "No more," and Sam came into the world some 90 days early, weighing two pounds and with his tough guy dad outside the operating room on his knees, crying like a baby, praying and offering Jesus Christ autographed Oilers jerseys and free hockey tickets forever if he'd let me keep both of them.

Analyn's determination to buy Sam more time, to give him a chance that might not have existed just a month earlier despite the profound risks for her, still humbles me when I think about it, which I do often.

I've told this story more than once during Astral Media's telethon for the Stollery Children's Hospital, where Sam had surgery for an intestinal defect after three months in neo-natal intensive care at the Royal Alex, and I blubber like a fool every time. Hell, I lose it just writing this.

LIFE-CHANGING

There was so much stress and worry early on. Sam was on a ventilator for six weeks because he couldn't breath on his own. We almost lost him once, but after Sam stopped breathing and the alarms went off, we were rushed away from his bedside and a team of NICU doctors and nurses unhooked all his tubes and wires and forced a new breathing tube down his throat.

That drama dealt with, doctors warned Sam would be visually impaired, or blind, and we were told to be prepared. Other long-term defects? The list of possibilities was long. We didn't care -- he survived.

Luckily, Sam dodged every bullet, save for the length of intestine that found its way through his abdominal wall. Seeing what I've seen since at The Stollery, and knowing what I know now, my heart goes out to those parents whose babies aren't as lucky.

Sam was discharged from hospital and came home close to his due date of Nov. 21. He was a relatively robust five pounds by then. The days, months and years since have been the happiest of my life. That we share the same birthday is just an added kick.

Georges Laraque, who visited in the hospital, came over to the house for Sam's first birthday. On my 50th and Sam's 2nd, we had a house full of people, friends like Jim Matheson and Rod Phillips. Bob Stauffer offered up a sketchy rendition of "My Way" on the karaoke machine.

Today, we're at 53 and 5.

ABOUT THAT HOCKEY TEAM . . .

People often draw parallels between sports and real life, some of them a reach, I suppose. This might qualify as that, but when I look back at the past five years, I see common themes between being Sam's dad and the relationship fans in this city have with the Oilers. For me, those themes include things like expectations, patience and something I'll simply call enjoying the moment.

Being new to fatherhood, I didn't have any expectations because I didn't have a template to go by. I was so late to the dad game -- most of my friends are grandparents now and I wasn't exactly paying attention when their children were toddling about -- I've had to learn as I go. That process continues. You ask friends. You read. You fake it. Best-guess stuff a lot of the time.

Likewise, I'm not convinced there's any template for GM Steve Tambellini to go by when it comes to building a successful hockey team, despite all the talk about the Chicago Model or the Detroit Model. Concepts? Trends? Sure. But there's a lot of variables.

Might I get it right with Sam? I hope so, although I'm put off that I still haven't figured out what prompted him to kick me in the groin that time at the checkout stand in the supermarket. I don't expect that it'll happen again, but I can't say for sure.

Sort of like Chris Pronger announcing he'd rather get gone after the 2006 Stanley Cup run or Sheldon Souray lighting Tambellini and the Oilers on fire two springs ago, no? I recovered considerably quicker than the Oilers, now five years out of the playoffs, have.

A good kid, like building a team, isn't paint-by-numbers.

PATIENCE

I'm convinced Sam is going to be a brilliant student, a popular kid and, one day, some manner of money-making machine or a big-time contributor to society, maybe both, when he grows up. What parent doesn't want and hope for that? There's every possibility, though, he'll fall short of that expectation. He might be a slacker, a sportswriter even.

While I'm waiting to find out, I've dealt with a record number of time-outs during junior-kindergarten. It got to the point this year that it was news when Sam didn't get a time out for failing to listen or playing too rough. The best laugh a group of parents waiting outside the classroom got this year was when Sam bounded out the door and proclaimed proud-as-you-please, "Dad, dad, I didn't get a time out today." Guffaws.

Being old bones for a dad -- my father was 18 when I was born, a swing of 30 years to the timeline Sam and I share -- patience does not come easily. I've got this constant sense of urgency, like I've got some catching up to do. Let's face it, I probably don't have another 40 years to see if Sam turns out the way I hope he will. Still, patience is a virtue.

It's much the same for Oilers fans. After five years out of the playoffs and back-to-back seasons sucking the hind banana in 30th place, I understand why fans are antsy. Selling hope is fine, but it's understandable if the people buying the pitch would rather the process move along.

This might be a fine team again one day, and there's reason to believe, given youngsters like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. That said, there's a whole bunch of baby steps between now and then. Do you expect the Oilers to make the playoffs this season? OK, and I'll be enrolling Sam in driving lessons because, well, I'm already 53 and . . . Patience.

ENJOY THE MOMENT

Sam is capable of great moments and occasional brilliance. As a car guy, I appreciate that he knows a Corvette from a Mustang, and that he can differentiate between a V-8 and a pea-shooter (four-cylinder) by taking a look at the exhaust and noting the sound. He does it all the time.

Just as often, he'll send me into spasms by emptying the contents of his stomach all over the back seat, farting on purpose or slapping a greasy hand print on freshly polished portion of dad's car, knowing it causes me distress. Car guys don't do that. "Sam, what the hell?"

The way I see it, this edition of the Oilers, and the next couple editions for that matter, will tease fans by being brilliant one night and looking like they have never played the game the next. Up and down. Big swings. Fans, at least those who hang in and hang on, will take that ride with them.

Take the good with the bad, the brilliant with the befuddling along the way. If the Oilers turn out to be something special again, you'll have seen it and been a part of the process each and every step of the way. If I was paying for a ticket to get into Rexall Place, I couldn't think of many things more satisfying than that. Well, maybe a few.

Happy birthday, baby boy.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 Polsy
August 16 2011, 12:21PM
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Wow. The Road just might become the new Sam Gagner. Let's just get some comps for the book, and watch this thing blow up.

Michael, wow, your summary of the book put words to how I feel, but yet am not smart enough to explain. I disagree about seeing the film. It ruins it. The idea of The Man and The Boy is so powerful because they are nameless and faceless. So read the book, it is just like Michael said.

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#52 Randomhero79
August 16 2011, 12:36PM
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Great read Robin. I spent sometime in the Calgary childrens hospital when my daughter had a near drowning accident, it's definitely a feeling I'll never forget being among other parents who have to be there for whatever the reason.

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#53 ubermiguel
August 16 2011, 12:48PM
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Great read Robin.

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#54 kristian
August 16 2011, 12:59PM
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I completely agree the two best days of my life were when both my boys were born. Nothing is greater in life than that. Also witnessing them being born is something special.

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#55 David S
August 16 2011, 01:09PM
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I bet Sam loves it when you snap that 'vette into second and pour the heat on. Nothing better than feeling the back of your head pressed into that seat. You'll be a proud dad the day you chuck him the keys.

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#57 positivebrontefan
August 16 2011, 01:23PM
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Nice read Robin, Congrats to the two of you.

My wife and I now have two healthy girls, 5 and 7, who are both into Oilers and Cars. My girls first Oilers game was the game Hall got his first of what I'm sure will be many hat tricks. They have been smitten with Hall ever since.

My daughters both love cars thanks to my '85 Five Liter, now sold to make way for an '03 Mach1, and still talk about their first ride in "the loud car".

My wife had two miscarriages before we were able to have our daughters. As a husband it is a hopelessly tragic feeling watching as the love of your life is wheeled away to have a DNC and any hope of that flickering bit of life coming to fruition goes away.

At the end of the day we are blessed in ways beyond our imagination and cherish everyday we have with our loved ones.

Once again, nice article Robin, your open comentary lets us know what a marshmallow you are on the inside to go with that gruff exterior, and it makes the stuff you write the rest of the time that much more interesting knowing where it truly comes from.

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#58 Irshaad
August 16 2011, 01:24PM
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Amazing story. My daughter was born this last January at 23 weeks weighing 1 pound. She just came home 1 month ago and is weighing in at an astounding 7 lbs 8 oz!!! She has been through 2 surgeries (PDA, and bowel) and suffered a grade 4 ivh (brain bleed.) My wife was also at risk of heart failure and in my short 20 years of life that was the hardest week of my life. Once I made it home I feel as if I've aged 30 years. My wife and daughter are doing very well and so far My daughter hasn't shown any signs of not being a "typical baby." I just thought I'd share that because reading your sons story and seeing his pictures makes me feel good and inspires me hopefully my story can do the same.

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#59 Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"
August 16 2011, 01:30PM
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rindog wrote:

Perspective is wonderful thing...

Back in 1999 (which was a fitting year "99") my wife and I were waiting to deliver the next Oiler to have his jersey in the rafters when things took a drastic turn.

At the moment our son was delivered with the cord around his neck my wife could still not see my panic as she said, "Honey, you got your boy!"

Once we realized that the one small gasp we heard was his last, it was too late.

Not even STARS Air Ambulance could help save our future NHL star.

It was at that very moment that my perspective on life changed.

Before that night, I dreaded the idea of having girls and knew that I NEEDED to have boys (hockey boys tath were GOING to make the NHL to complete my dream.

To make a long story short...

Less than a year later I was so proud when my first daughter came into the world. I didn't care if she wanted to be a dancer, doctor, welder or whatever - she was ALIVE!!!

Life has now turned around and I have two healthy girls that have taken a keen interest in sports. It might be because their father is a P.E. teacher and they have grown up in a gymnasium, but regardless - they have made their own choices and developed their own interests.

Even though May 20th, 1999 was a tragic day for my family - our son Brandon (who lived approximately 45 seconds) taught me how to put life into perspective.

Just as the Oilers hit their darkest days - things will turn around and will get better.

That was indeed a tough day I pray I see that son placed in to your arms one day in a better place.

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#61 Milhouse Van Ched
August 16 2011, 01:34PM
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Fantastic column Robin, and a remarkable story that I can read every year. And what a cute lil' guy Sam is - proud parents for sure. He is a true gift.

Looking at the pics, I see that was your red toy sitting in Spector's driveway on Friday! I live a couple of streets down the hill from Spec, and walked by with the dog during the big bash.

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#63 Bucknuck
August 16 2011, 01:49PM
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Happy Birthday to you both. I for one enjoy your more personal stories. My four kids are teenagers already and giving me fits and you (and Gregor's tribute to his father) always seem to put things in perspective... for a day or two at least.

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#64 michael
August 16 2011, 02:04PM
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I read that book. Very poingant. Stories based on true events can never equal fiction. I recommend "A Hare in the Elephants Trunk". Its written by an Alberta author who interviewed a "Lost boy" from Sudan. There was an Idoc on last night about the "lost boys" in America. It was on CBC. I mancried when the one "lost boy" was reunited with his Mother in America some 17 years later. I work with many Sudanese refugees at the RAH and have come to be friends with a couple of them and thier families. The "lost boys" are no longer lost now that the war has ended and South Sudan has become a nation of thier own. But the memories they will carry forward into the future are ones of lost families and lives. Also I would recommend "A Country of thier own" by Abraham Verghase.Robins article brings forth the need in all of us to be patient and good examples to our children. To hold them dear and enjoy them each and every day. To be loving and kind. To give guidance. To let them grow.

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#65 Milhouse Van Ched
August 16 2011, 02:54PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Milhouse, you should have stopped in for a beer or three.

Spec and the TEAM put on a stellar bash on the deck, although Analyn and I only stopped in for a couple hours.

And yes, that was my car. I keep trying to convince Gregor to buy it so I can move on to the next one. He keeps eye-balling it, but so far no sale.

That crossed my mind, but I didn't want to appear as some sort of MSM Groupie or some nosey neighbour.

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#66 The Fish
August 16 2011, 03:58PM
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Nice column Brownlee. Children are a gift aren't they? Not a day goes by that I don't thank my lucky stars for my 2 boys.

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Happy Birthday Sam

Robin, can I drive your 'Stang

That car is a beaut.

* Best days ever,Oct 7 and May 10... the birth of my two children. Both C-Sections, both early, both spent 1st month in NICU.

Worst day ever, Dec 22...the day they were taken by a drunk driver.

My point?? LIFE IS PRECIOUS. ENJOY EVERY MOMENT YOU CAN.

because you never know when there wont be any more of them.

** sniffles and wipes eyes

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#68 Harlie
August 16 2011, 06:08PM
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@Oilers G-that un-retired Haiku writing MotherF^%$er

Wow, that hit home. I am so sorry for your loss! I am blessed with 2 little boys, 4 and 2, and I really don't know what I'd do or how I would do, if they were taken from my wife and me.

I've noticed you on the board here a few times and never got the sense that you were a poor me type of person and I'd like to prop you for that. It's people like you that can make a person pause and reflect on what they have, not on what they don't. Life really is about living in the moment, thanks for the reminder! And again, sorry for your loss.

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#69 Trent
August 16 2011, 06:17PM
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Proud dads rock.

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#70 edmontoncritic - BRoadwAY
August 16 2011, 06:38PM
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I would like to props every single comment on this story! Just awesome. It doesnt ALWAYS have to be about hockey.

Edit: On a day like today where everyone was talking about the loss of Rypien, its great to read alot of comments that speak straight from the heart. Very Powerful Stuff

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#71 Tim Rogers
August 16 2011, 08:39PM
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Happy Birthday to you and Sam, old friend

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#72 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
August 16 2011, 09:08PM
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Oilers G-that un-retired Haiku writing MotherF^%$er wrote:

Happy Birthday Sam

Robin, can I drive your 'Stang

That car is a beaut.

* Best days ever,Oct 7 and May 10... the birth of my two children. Both C-Sections, both early, both spent 1st month in NICU.

Worst day ever, Dec 22...the day they were taken by a drunk driver.

My point?? LIFE IS PRECIOUS. ENJOY EVERY MOMENT YOU CAN.

because you never know when there wont be any more of them.

** sniffles and wipes eyes

i cant even begin to fathom going through the loss of 1 child, let alone two.

you are a tough MotherF^%$er my friend.

I read your post earlier, and i can honestly say it stuck with me since.

I am truly sorry for your loss.

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#74 rindog
August 16 2011, 11:04PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Noel: I'm so very sorry about your son. I had no idea and I cannot even imagine what it must be like to walk in your shoes. Bless you and your family.

Thanks Robin.

The world has a funny way of teaching people things.

It's just too bad that some have to pay such a heavy price to learn...

It also reminds us that perspective is everything.

While I still curse MacT, Horcoff, Staios, etc - deep down I know there are far more important things in life.

Hockey (and hockey debating) is a passion of mine, but at the end of the day; it is just a game...

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#75 Noah A
August 16 2011, 11:33PM
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He's a great kid Robin, always polite and well behaved… at-least when I'm around.

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#76 Eulers
August 17 2011, 12:36AM
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God love ya, Robin!

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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Your loss is unspeakable. There are no words to soothe or undo something as tragic as what you've endured. I'm sorry.

Other people who frequent this website have lost immediate family and loved ones to drunk drivers as well. There is no excuse for it. None. Ever.

Thanks for your kind words Robin...

So, can I take your car for a spin?

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#78 Mitch
August 17 2011, 07:37AM
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@Brownlee

Happy Birthday Robin and Sam hope you too had the best day ever take care. Mitch

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#79 Bill
August 17 2011, 08:42AM
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By the grace of God, both of my children are alive. With all due respect to those who have written in - and I admit I haven't read all of the comments - we men, obviously, will never give birth to the life of a child. While we are not spared from the horrendous pain of a child's death, our role and responsibility is to support our children as best we can. It's the woman who gives birth, and what Analyn did to give Sam more of a fighting chance to live is truly beyond my comprehension. Her heroic struggle for "Another day for Sam" - ignoring the potential fatal stresses on her very life; placing the importance of the baby's life before her own - is the most unselfish and soulful statement I've ever read. I, for one, will never tire of hearing, or reading about Sam's miracle birth.

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#81 Souby
August 17 2011, 09:55AM
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Bill wrote:

By the grace of God, both of my children are alive. With all due respect to those who have written in - and I admit I haven't read all of the comments - we men, obviously, will never give birth to the life of a child. While we are not spared from the horrendous pain of a child's death, our role and responsibility is to support our children as best we can. It's the woman who gives birth, and what Analyn did to give Sam more of a fighting chance to live is truly beyond my comprehension. Her heroic struggle for "Another day for Sam" - ignoring the potential fatal stresses on her very life; placing the importance of the baby's life before her own - is the most unselfish and soulful statement I've ever read. I, for one, will never tire of hearing, or reading about Sam's miracle birth.

Well put Bill. I love to hear about your son Robin and the strength of Analyn to endure what she did for your son. Keep the updates coming, we like to hear them.

I am sorry to hear about your loss Oilers G - that Haiku writing MotherF^%$er. As a father of 3, I have no idea how I would handle the loss of a child, let alone 2. No words will do in this situation but I pray for God's comforting touch and many blessings upon you and your family.

Do me a favour guys, If someone you know ever tries to drink and drive, punch them in the face as hard as you can, take their keys and tell them that their pain will go away, but the loss of a loved one due to their potential stupidity lasts a lifetime.

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#82 michael
August 17 2011, 10:08AM
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Best nation article ever.

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#83 rindog
August 17 2011, 11:22AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Thanks for that.

Even the doctors couldn't agree on how long Analyn should be allowed to go. There was a fair amount of debate between specialists and her condition, and Sam's, was monitored and charted four times a day. Doctor after doctor, medication after medication. Opinion after opinion. Day after day. She was pumped full of drugs and hooked up to every kind of monitor you can imagine. This wasn't just "bed rest."

Analyn never once blinked. She could have said, "I've had enough" at any point, but she knew every extra day meant less risk for Sam, even though it meant more risk for her.

I watched her get weaker every day. I'd spend 4-6 hours at the hospital daily and each night I'd push her around the hospital grounds in a wheelchair -- 30 minutes max without the monitors -- because she wanted some fresh air.

When we'd get back to the room so Analyn could be hooked up to everything again and before I'd leave for home, that's when she'd say, "Another day for Sam." I'd drive all the way home crying like a baby. That degree of courage is beyond comprehension for me. She is my hero.

Hey Robin, I just thought of something???

Next year (or any year after), do you think Sam would want to have his birthday party at my school gymnasium?

My girls have had many a party there...

Sam could bring all his friends to play floor hockey, soccer, dodgeball, gymnastics, tag, etc...

There is a kitchen right beside the gym (for preparing food, etc - or a pizza joint nearby that gives us a great deal) and a stage where the "non-participating adults" can sit and visit and watch.

We have a big screen projector than can play movies bigger than in the theatre as well.

There are also two great playgrounds if the kids need some fresh air.

Mention it to Sam (and Analyn) and let me know.

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#85 rindog
August 17 2011, 01:41PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Thanks. I'm incapable of planning that far ahead, but let's talk about it next spring.

No problem.

Just keep in mind how many "Brownlee" points you would get with Analyn if you took over this type of planning/organizing...

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#86 Bill
August 17 2011, 04:14PM
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No Robin, you drove home crying like a man.

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#87 K-UGER Industrial Smoothing
August 17 2011, 06:18PM
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Robin, what a read. What a story. I was vaguely familiar with the circumstances of Sam's birth before this, but reading it brought a flood of emotion to what it must have been like when I was born.

I spent a week or so in hospital, was conceived via C-section, and every birthday, hear the story of how I almost passed away. Until you read, or see the emotions- it doesn't register. Thank you for this story. Really.

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#88 Max Powers - Team HME Evans
August 17 2011, 11:38PM
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Wow! Robin, nice read. You and me, we share a few parallels here. We both share our b-days with our sons for one. For another they are only 2 days apart! Both our sons are geniuses and will rule the world one day too! how about that?

I can honestly say I'm jealous of your ability to show off your kid. What with the words and stuff. You know. Good job, Sam will read these one day.

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#89 Mike
August 18 2011, 11:17AM
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@K-UGER Industrial Smoothing

"was conceived via C-section"

Not to make light of your situation, but your poor mother ;)

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#90 Stu
August 18 2011, 03:50PM
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Thank god he can slap your car with that dirty paw print, had a kid who spent time in NICU, come along ways in 14 years with that one

Happy birthday to you both

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