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6 Moms Who Rock
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Amanda Pacheco, Orlando, FL
Why she rocks: When neighborhood friend Jennifer Gutierrez suddenly passed away in her sleep in September 2009. Amanda Pacheco was devastated. What made it worse for Amanda, a young mom with a 3-year-old daughter and 15-month-old son, was that Jennifer left behind a 6-week-old girl named Sara. Motivated to help, Amanda began donating her own breast milk to the widowed father for baby Sara. She also rallied other local moms to join the cause. As a result, Sara has been able to drink breast milk for the nearly seven months since her mom died. In honor of Jennifer, Amanda founded Get Pumped! (getpumpedonline.com), a nonprofit organization that helps feed nursing babies in need in central Florida. It has collected more than 4,500 ounces of healthy, screened breast milk to date. "I think a lot of moms would take comfort knowing that Get Pumped! is there for their babies," says Carrie Musalimadugu, a friend and breast-milk contributor. "It's a wonderful service."
In Amanda's words: "One donor mom brought us 800 ounces; she packed it on dry ice and drove it here from North Carolina. Another mom lost her own child and wanted her milk to go to babies who needed it. This tragedy has created so many inspiring stories."
Heidi Milhous, Uniontown, Ohio
Why she rocks: The winter of 2008 was one of joy and pain for Heidi Milhous. Her oldest daughter Hannah was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after her third birthday. The news came as Heidi was 13 weeks pregnant with Sydney, now 10 months old. Heidi lived in the hospital with Hannah during the entire pregnancy. The chemotherapy appeared to be working until December 2009, when Hannah's leukemia relapsed nine days after returning from her Make-A-Wish Foundation trip to Disney World. After enduring more chemotherapy, Hannah is now in remission but requires a stem cell transplant -- and baby Sydney is a perfect match: thanks to Heidi's foresight, Hannah will be receiving Sydney's banked umbilical cord blood. Apparently, wishes don't only come true at Disney World. "Heidi has been an amazing rock during Hannah's fight with leukemia," says friend Laura Franchetti. "It's a heart-wrenching situation, but Heidi handles every moment with an amazing amount of strength and courage."
In Heidi's words: "My world as a mom was turned completely upside down in a split second when I heard the doctor say, 'Your daughter has leukemia.' I have learned to find and provide happiness in the most dire of circumstances and never take a moment with my children for granted."
Jamie Bruen, Centreville, Virginia
Why she rocks: The responsibilities that come with a healthy baby are sizable enough. So imagine the day-to-day life of Jamie Bruen. Jamie's 11-month-old son, Liam, was born with Tarui's disease, a glycogen storage ailment with about 100 reported cases worldwide. As a result of this affliction, Liam is unable to move, eat or breathe on his own, and so Jamie is charged with filling those gaps. She cares for Liam around the clock: moving him every two hours to avoid bedsores, regularly cleaning his tracheotomy and responding to him in seconds if his oxygen levels or heart rate drops. (It was even a struggle for her to answer a brief email for this story.) Yet this resilient single mother feels truly blessed to have such a miracle in her life. "There are no known survivors [of Tarui's disease]," says her sister Judy Bruen. "But if the power of love and dedication prevails, Liam will be the first."
In Jamie's words: "I love the quiet times we have together to snuggle. It melts my heart even on the toughest days. Liam has almost lost his battle several times, but responds with twinkling eyes and wide grins. He is a complete joy."
Melissa Kramer, St. Augustine, Florida
Why she rocks: Have you ever seen a movie that made you want to change the course of your life? Melissa Kramer has. When she was in her 20s, Melissa saw a documentary about orphans in China that impacted her so profoundly, she made helping children in need her life's mission. And that's exactly what she's done. In addition to being the associate director of the medical team for Love Without Boundaries, an organization that provides live-saving surgeries to orphaned children in China, Melissa has adopted three abandoned Chinese children: Tyler, 4, Brooke, 2, and 19-month-old Aiden, who was brought to an orphanage simply because he's deaf. Even as Melissa struggles with gastroparesis (paralysis of the stomach) and undergoes quarterly medical procedures in order to keep sustenance down, her passion for children -- at home and on the other side of the globe -- never wavers. "Despite her chronic condition, Melissa always maintains a positive attitude and focuses on giving her family the wonderful life they deserve," says good friend Rebekah Scott.
In Melissa's words: "I knew that I couldn't watch that documentary, feel badly for the children, and then pick right back up with my life. I knew that I would have to act on these feelings¿ and that is just what we have done."
Carmen Woody, Maineville, Ohio
Why she rocks: As a nurse in an infertility clinic, Carmen has seen plenty of couples struggle to conceive. But there was something different about Kristen and Scott Oyler. Despite their positive attitude and Carmen's constant cheerleading, the young couple -- both 28 -- decided to take a break after seven expensive and unsuccessful in vitro fertilization attempts. Then came the call last September. Already a mother to three daughters, Carmen tearfully told Kristen that she wanted to be their gestational carrier. It was something Carmen had wanted to do for a long time, and was just waiting for the right couple. Kristen was overwhelmed, and the couple happily accepted. Carmen is currently pregnant -- with twins, no less -- and the Oylers will meet their new babies in September. "Carmen and her family have made so many sacrifices to help us make our dream of having a family come true," says Kristen. "She is an amazing mom because she's helping me be a mom."
In Carmen's words: "I always thought [being a gestational carrier] would be the greatest thing I could do for someone. It just felt right to offer them this gift, and I haven't looked back since."
Carol Bauman, Norman, Oklahoma
Why she rocks: Carol came home from the honeymoon ready to start a family, but reality didn't cooperate. After two years of trying to conceive, Carol brought up the idea of adoption to her husband, Scott. In March 2005, the Bauman clan grew to include two children adopted from Guatemala: baby Mason and his 2-year-old brother, Parker. But the celebration was short-lived: Mason had become very sick and needed a bone marrow transplant. Carol spent 18 months in and out of the hospital with her youngest son, an endeavor that didn't deter her from adopting Lauren, Mason and Parker's older sister, in December 2007. Then came the craziest news of all: Carol was pregnant with twins. Henry and Susie Grace Bauman were born in June 2008. "Every day, I thank God for my wonderful wife," says Scott. "I would never have had the courage to take on adopting several kids from a faraway land without the strength and heart of Carol."
In Carol's words: "We sought out to start our family one child at a time. In just five short years, we are a family of seven. Although it's a challenge to balance life in general, I feel like every part of it is just one piece to the puzzle of why I'm here."