Hailee Hernandez

Meeker couple is thankful for their daughter, even as health and developmental issues make her life, and theirs, a daily challenge

Their daughter has had four surgeries. The first one when she was eight days old.
Then, when she was 21 days old, Hailee Hernandez had open heart surgery. About a month and a half later, she had another surgery to put a feeding tube in. For a year and a half, she threw up two dozen times a day. Because of a stomach reflex problem, she couldn’t keep food down.
“As soon as the food would go down into her tummy, it would come right back up,” said Hailee’s mom, Ruby Lopez.
Yet, during this Thanksgiving week, despite their daughter’s health problems, who was born with a heart defect, Ruby and her husband, Chris Hernandez, count their blessings.
“As a family, I guess you could say we’ve been through a lot,” said Chris, who works for Berry Bros. General Contractors. “It’s been hard. It’s been stressful. We would average two or three hours a sleep a night, because we would check on her to make sure she was breathing. It’s just the hand God dealt us. But we’re happy with that.”
Their daughter’s full name is Hailee Nevaeh Hernandez. Her middle name is heaven spelled backward.
“We decided to do that just with what she’s been through, and God,” Chris said.
Hailee, who will be 3 in March, is doing markedly better. For that, Ruby and Chris are grateful.
“She’s doing great,” Ruby said. “She’s walking around. She’s trying to run. She’s off the feeding tube.”
Three months ago, the feeding tube was removed.
“We used to have to massage her gums and her cheeks, to get her used to having food in her mouth,” Ruby said.
Hailee will start preschool in January. Because of her health problems, she is behind other children her age developmentally. But she is catching up.
“She is considered disabled, but they (the doctors) say she’s doing great,” Ruby said. “She’s walking, and her speech is getting better.”
Thanks to financial help from Horizons Specialized Services, Hailee has been receiving occupational and speech therapy, which has accelerated her development.
Horizons, a non-profit organization started in 1975, has a program called family support service, which provides financial assistance for families with children who are developmentally disabled or delayed.
There are different funding levels available, depending on the family’s needs.
“(Hailee) has been on the family support plan, which helps families with children with extra needs, because they have extra financial needs,” said Pearl Ellsworth, who recently retired as Horizons’ service coordinator and family services consultant for Rio Blanco County after 29 years. “Hailee has had a lot of needs, and we were able to help with some of those expenses.”
Hailee was about 3 months old when Ruby and Chris moved to Meeker from San Antonio.
“She was really small (when she moved to Meeker),” Ellsworth said of Hailee. “She has been with us practically three years. She was very medically fragile, for some time. Even now, but she’s not as medically fragile as she was.”
“She doesn’t have much of an immune system,” Chris said. “She gets sick real easy.”
Ellsworth said there are 85 families, including eight in Rio Blanco County, participating in the family support program in the five northwest Colorado counties served by Horizons, which is based in Steamboat Springs.
She said the program fills an important role in the communities it serves.
“Just knowing that somebody is there is a big help for the families,” Ellsworth said. “To know they are not in it alone and there are people who care and want to help you.”
The financial help offered by Horizons can come in very practical ways.
“We can give them money to help pay medical bills, or it can help with co-pays, or pay for adaptive equipment, or pay their travel to the doctor, because it is a fact of life in northwest Colorado you will have to travel to a doctor, or even pay to fix a vehicle so they can get to a doctor,” Ellsworth said. “We try to tailor it to their specific needs, because each family is different.
“It helps, but it doesn’t take care of everything,” Ellsworth said. “We also try to help find other funding sources, so we can make (the money) stretch. It’s important to know there are other avenues of monies out there to access for these families.”
Hailee can remain on the family support program until she reaches the age of 5.
“They can be on (the program) until the child is 5,” Ellsworth said. “They have to have an IQ of 70 or below to stay on it after the age of 5. Then they can stay on it as long as they are in the home.”
However long Hailee benefits from the family support program, her parents are appreciative of the support.
“I just know they helped my daughter out,” Ruby said.
Added Chris, “It’s nice to know there are organizations out there like Horizons.”
The little girl who used to not be able to keep food down, now has a hearty appetite.
“Her favorite food is Chinese,” Chris said. “She could eat that all day.”
When she was younger, Hailee used to move herself around by scooting on the floor. Now, with the help of braces that support her ankles, she’s walking and even running.
“She is something else,” Ruby said. “You would have never thought (she had been sick).”
Ruby and Chris have endured their share of heartache, not just with Hailee. They had a son who was stillborn in March 2005, two weeks before Ruby’s due date. Four months later, Ruby became pregnant again. But because of complications during Hailee’s delivery, Ruby will not be able to have more children.
Still, they are grateful for their daughter, whose health is improving, and for a place where they feel at home.
“We love Meeker,” Chris said. “It’s a good place to raise a family.”
Added Ruby, “There could be a lot worse things. We’re very thankful. She’s our little miracle. We’re lucky to have her.”