Mother Learns Lessons Of Love Without Words

December 28, 1990|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

The tiny 5-year-old has taught her well about how to die, Angela Cochran says, but much more about how to live.

Little Samantha Battaglia, the victim of a rare genetic bone disease that has left her with the body of a 9-month-old and the head of a 5-year-old, knows her time is quickly slipping away.

But the Brooklyn Park child never misses an opportunity to delight all those around her, smiling, giggling, squealing through her ventilator at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore.

Cochran, a 27-year-old single mother who is jobless and unable to read because of dyslexia, looks to her daughter "Sam" for inspiration and lessons in hope and faith.

The other day, Cochran stood next to her daughter's crib and wept tears of joy.

Her daughter spoke in sign language. With her tiny hands, Sam made out the words.

"She said that she will see God soon, that she'll be whole then, that her legs will be good, and there, that she'll be able to walk," Cochran says.

The mother wanted everything for the child during her short journey on earth.

Cochran "read" picture books to her, taught her sign language, enrolled her in pre-kindergarten classes where she won awards for her work, and arranged for visits by a big bunny at Easter and Santa at Christmas.

And the mother always smiled and laughed and played with the child even when it hurt so badly she wanted only to cry.

When the end does come, when Sam leaves this world, Cochran has decided, the child will go out in a fairy tale, right down to the six white horses leading a white carriage in her funeral procession.

But the inspiration soon turned to frustration, and the best of intentions soured.

A Brooklyn Park Jaycees chapter offered to help, and its July fund-raiser for the baby's funeral grossed more than $6,100.

The months since have been marred by bickering, bitterness and anger between Cochran and the Jaycees chapter and attorneys representing both sides.

The fund-raising effort drew publicity throughout the state, but not exactly the sort of publicity the Jaycees wanted.

For several months, Cochran harshly criticized the "haphazard" fund-raising effort, the Jaycees' spending some $1,800 of the fund-raiser's proceeds to cover food, drink and entertainment and the chapter's refusal to place the money in a legal trust for the child's funeral.

Samantha's extended family has yet to receive a penny, but the Jaycees have set up a non-interest-bearing account with $4,300 for her estate.

The Brooklyn Park Jaycees have defended their actions, blaming Cochran for the tension and saying the money would go toward the child's funeral.

In October, the Maryland Jaycees cleared the Brooklyn Park chapter of any wrongdoing and cited a "clerical error" as reason for the misunderstanding.

Cochran says that she's confident that money will go toward the child's funeral and that she will go out in a fairy tale.

For now, Cochran tries to put the bitterness and frustration behind her -- and counts every day the child lives as a miracle and a gift.

But then, Samantha Battaglia's entire life seems something of a miracle.

Again and again, she has defied the odds.

Doctors had predicted she wouldn't live to see her first birthday. She celebrates her sixth birthday Jan. 25.

In May, doctors gave her six months to live. Now, they say she won't make it until spring.

Cochran, who also has a 4-year-old son, Walter, will cherish the memories of her daughter -- and remember the simple lessons from the child who loved life so.

"I want Sam to be remembered for teaching me, for teaching everyone she touched, " Cochran says, "that you got a chance and that you gotta believe and you gotta have faith."

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