A nod to my niece, odds beater and life lover extraordinaire

My niece Mari knew before she was born that she was strong enough to handle anything.

Eighteen years ago, her doctors diagnosed her in utero with a diaphragmatic hernia and gave her a 10% chance of surviving.

Beating odds like that before cutting her first tooth earns a girl a certain lifelong savoir faire.

Looking at Mari today — bungee jumper, social butterfly and pied piper of small children — you’d never guess that she had to fight hard to live.

But she did.

She spent her first 11 days hooked up to a heart and lung machine. She had several painful operations as doctors worked to repair the hole in her diaphragm and realign the vital organs that had pushed up into her chest cavity. She spent the first 85 days of her life in the hospital.

Her mother, Carol, who documented that traumatic year in a private diary, first held Mari on July 28, 21 days after she was born.

In addition to the gift of life, Mari’s parents gave her freedom. Cleared medically but still fed through a tube in her stomach, Mari traveled with her family across the country in their jaunty blue Vanagon. They camped, visited relatives and enjoyed exactly the kind of family vacation that exhausts perfectly healthy children. Mari thrived.

They didn’t present their tiny, doe-eyed daughter as a fragile child, so no one treated her that way. Mari grew up strong, with a sweet smile and an innate confidence.

Molly and I think Mari is one of the kindest people we know, and we’re grateful that first trip from the Oregon coast instilled in her both a sense of adventure and a strong desire to visit her extended family.

Mari likes to save up her babysitting money, buy a plane ticket and fly out to visit family members in Illinois and Wisconsin.

She’s coming again in August and we can’t wait.

Maritsa Elizabeth Knight owes her first name and some of her necessary feistiness to her Croatian relatives.
A sweet baby, held here by her paternal grandmother; still dependent on oxygen, but pink and strong.
Happy birthday Mari! Pure strength under a sweet smile and a smear of frosting.
Vinnie and Mari spend a moment during a family trip to Camp Sherman in 1997.
Katherine and Mari the following year in Naperville. At this point, Mari has one more surgery to go…
Mari, Katherine and Molly pose in the Portland Rose Garden during our 2005 trip to Oregon.
On a 2008 trip to Portland, we celebrated four July birthdays, including Charlie (July 8) and Mari (July (7).
Molly and Mari enjoy the Bay Beach giant slide. Mari had her final diaphragmatic hernia related surgery in 2003.
Last summer, Molly, Mari, my mom and I took a ride on the Zippin’ Pippin’, Elvis’ favorite roller coaster.

4 thoughts on “A nod to my niece, odds beater and life lover extraordinaire

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