Ahna Freeman has come a long way since she was born at 27 weeks old weighing just 1 pound. Now a 4-year-old Hillsboro preschooler, she was the guest of honor last week at the ArtWorks Sixth Annual Breakfast, an event held to thank its sponsors, at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati.
Ahna is an adopted child and her premature birth was completely unexpected by her parents, Hillsboro residents Lauren Lutton-Freeman and Vernon Freeman, who had prearranged the adoption.
“It was very unexpected. We anticipated a term child and she was born on Christmas day,” Lauren said. “It was an absolute shock. We were totally unprepared. It was scary. We had to learn to care for a child that could fit in the palm of your hand. Everything you know goes pretty much out the window. It was day by day. There would be good days, then we’d have a horrible day when we didn’t think she was going to make it. We almost lost her several times. It was beyond what a parent should have to see.”
After her birth Ahna was in the neonatal intensive care unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for five months, until she finally reached a weight of 8 pounds. She was discharged from Children’s with a tracheostomy, or a second airway.
“If the trach came out – and it did several times – Ahna couldn’t breathe and would turn blue. She received an invasive airway reconstruction surgery to remove the trach and has been doing well ever since,” Lauren said.
She has had 20-plus procedures to make sure the new airway that was grafted from her rib cage continues to work properly, and she will require more routine procedures until she is fully grown. She could not speak until she was 3 and has a gravelly sound to her voice, but she is doing well, gets help from an interpreter and can use sign language.
She attended St. Rita’s in Cincinnati for two years, does speech and physical therapy, and sometimes has to rest if she plays too hard, but otherwise is progressing well.
The Freemans are currently a Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Champions Family.
“They are families who have been through quite a bit and share their story with the community through fundraising events to gain support for the hospital,” Lauren said.
It was through ArtWorks’ relationship with Children’s Hospital and ArtRx that Ahna was the guest of honor in front of more than 1,000 people last week and was presented with a “Hero’s Cape.”
Founded in 1996, ArtWorks is an award-winning non-profit organization that employs and trains local youth and talent to create art and community impact through three strategic programming areas: public art, including an extensive mural program; an art therapy division, ArtRx; and an entrepreneurial arm, Creative Enterprise, according to its website. ArtWorks is the largest visual arts employer in the region. To date, it has hired more than 3,300 area youth, 2,700 professional local artists, and trained nearly 600 creative entrepreneurs.
ArtRx designs special capes for children dealing with medical issues who are deserving of being recognized, Lauren said.
At the breakfast, Ahna was brought up on stage, a short video of Lauren telling her story was played, and then Ahna was presented with a special container with her cape inside. The scenario that played out had Ahna as the only person able to open the container, signaling her significance as a hero.
“It was really moving,” Lauren said. “They said she was the mayor of the city or something like that. She knows she’s kind of a big deal so she thought that was pretty cool. She wore the cape the rest of the presentation and just kind of flew around the room. It was really very awesome just to sit back as a parent and smile at that stage, knowing where she came from.”
Lauren knows her daughter has a lot of battles ahead of her, but she has already won a lot of them.
“She’s awesome. She’s an incredible kid with a colorful personality and extremely intelligent,” Lauren said. “I know I’m completely biased, but she doesn’t know a stranger and is just a really fun kid. She loves being the center of attention and trying new things. She’s just a cool kid.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]