Luck Memories

With her son's happy laugh still in her heart, Lynda Juchniewicz will spend this day giving to other children and remembering the life she held so dear.

May 08, 1999

ABERDEEN -- Sometime this morning, the day before Mother's Day, Lynda Juchniewicz will travel south through the god-awful congestion on Bel Air Road, make a left at the Exxon station in Perry Hall, and arrive at a small office building.

There, in a luncheon ceremony at Comprehensive Nursing Services Inc., she will help donate a carousel horse in her son's memory to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

It's a white carousel horse with blue ribbons, perky and proud, the kind that could make a sick kid smile even when he's hooked up to IV lines and frowning doctors loom over him with thick medical charts and each day brings another dose of pain and misery.

Lynda Juchniewicz, 36, knows all about sick children.

Her son, Lee "Lucky" Juchniewicz, died five years ago, and when you hear his story, you may wonder how anyone could call him lucky. But maybe he was.

He spent six years on this earth with severe physical and mental problems, and yet, from all accounts, he was loved to the fullest and gave enormous love in return.

He couldn't walk and he couldn't talk, yet he touched the lives of his family members and care-givers profoundly, and showed them how a little boy so sick could live a life of such joy and courage and dignity.

"He was a fairly devastated kid in terms of neurological defects," says Dr. Benjamin Carson, the renowned Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Hopkins Children's Center, who operated on Lucky twice. "But he was always smiling and cheerful.

"That's what I really remember about him. He seemed to be enjoying life."

That's what Lynda Juchniewicz likes to remember, too.

She thinks about him every day, and when Mother's Day rolls around, thoughts of Lucky seem to race in her mind.

When she closes her eyes, she sees his beaming face first, and the vision becomes so real she can feel his silky hair and his hot breath on her cheek, and then he is there with her, in the little house on Aberdeen Avenue, playing with her and his older brother Buddy and younger sister Stacie.

Over time, she's come to believe it is not such a bad Mother's Day present, these sweet memories of Lucky.

Lee Edward Juchniewicz Jr. came into this world on Sept. 23, 1987. He arrived in something of a hurry, three months early.

Complications developed during Lynda's labor. She was told the placenta had ripped away from the uterine wall. In a flurry of activity, of doctors barking orders and nurses dashing about and gurneys being wheeled madly, the baby was delivered via emergency Caesarean section into the white lights at Harford Memorial Hospital.

Lynda and the boy's father, Lee Edward Sr., a cab driver at the time, were relieved when it was over. But within minutes, grim-faced doctors were telling Lynda something was wrong with the baby.

Lying in a hospital bed, trembling and exhausted, Lynda couldn't hear the thwock-thwock-thwock of a MedEvac helicopter taking off with her baby for St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore.

"I was ... completely distraught," Lynda recalls. "And my husband was very emotional. It was six months after we were married. I blamed myself for Lucky's problems.

"You wonder why this is happening. But the doctors said there was no explanation."

A phone call from St. Agnes officials came not long after. The news was disturbing.

Born that prematurely, the baby weighed only 2 pounds, 9 ounces. He had a host of problems. Chief among them: cerebral spinal fluid was building in his brain; a shunt would need to be inserted in his skull to relieve the pressure. And with his lungs not fully developed, he needed to be hooked to a ventilator to breathe. The chances of his surviving the next 24 hours were slim.

But somehow, he made it through that day, and the next day and the day after that. When Lynda was finally allowed to see him five days later, she nearly fainted.

Enmeshed in a shroud of IV lines and tubes, he looked like a fragile, porcelain doll. His ears were so tiny, she remembers, they didn't even look fully formed.

"He was so small," she wrote in a journal, "they had to use a face mask for a diaper."

In the weeks and months ahead, as the baby was moved from one hospital to another for treatment, the bulletins from the doctors grew increasingly gloomy.

Ben Carson inserted a life-saving shunt during three-plus hours of surgery, but the boy wasn't leaving the hospital anytime soon.

He had cerebral palsy. He had a seizure disorder. He had a swallowing disorder. He was profoundly mentally retarded. He needed a stomach tube to eat. He needed chest physiotherapy, oral suctioning to disperse saliva, a ventilator to breathe. He required care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The incredible stress on Lynda Juchniewicz and her husband took its toll. The two eventually separated. "He couldn't handle a handicapped child," is all she says about the relationship.

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