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Richard Pennington (리처드 패닝턴)

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We loved Daniella, we still love her and we will always love her

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Who knows how long Jonalyn Bayotas had been trysting with her beau, and it really doesn’t matter. What is certain is that she conceived in the spring of 2008. This was a problem for Ms. Bayotas because she was a married woman. Her husband, dutifully working in Taiwan, could not find out. She may or may not have tried to abort the fetus; countless desperate women have done so over the centuries. If she did, and if she used the coat-hanger method she may have inflicted serious harm on the baby she was carrying. At any rate, there was no abortion and in the fullness of time the blessed event occurred. On January 6, 2009, a female child was born in Calatrava, Negros Occidental, the Philippines.

I will give Ms. Bayotas credit for one thing—she did not commit infanticide. That, too, has been done many times. The setting under which she gave birth is unclear: In a hospital? With a discreet midwife? Maybe she was utterly isolated, trying to cover her shame. It does seem that secrecy was important to her. Hubby had to be kept in the dark. (And what, I suppose it is fair to ask, of the man who impregnated her? Did he have any role in these matters? We do not know.) Did she do the things most mothers would do, such as tenderly hug and kiss her child, breast feed her and so on? Unclear, as well. Here is what we do know. Ms. Bayotas took her out and started knocking on doors.

“You want a healthy baby girl?”

“No.”         

“You want a healthy baby girl?”

“No.”

This happened numerous times, and we should not be surprised. Most people would decline, unwilling to have those responsibilities suddenly thrust upon them. Ms. Bayotas eventually came to the home of Jovan and Ruby Lorezo. She asked her question and showed them the kid. Jovan and Ruby probably did not give an instant, affirmative answer. They may have invited her inside for a discussion. A childless couple, they eventually said, “Yes.” Adoption papers were filed, and Ms. Bayotas soon disappeared. They decided to call her Daniella Dean B. Lorezo, and we may say she was a typical Pinay—that is, a young Filipina. The Philippines abounds with children. The birth rate is high, so kids are omnipresent. (This is not a bad thing. It is quite the opposite of the situation in my adopted homeland of Korea where children are somewhat scarce.)

Daniella, raised by her new parents, knew nothing of this drama. Life was good for the little family. Photos show them with smiles all around. Jovan worked as a messenger, and Ruby was a school teacher. Daniella had friends, and she ran, jumped, played and danced. She even took part in a little-girls beauty pageant. She was good at drawing, and she had impeccable handwriting. An obedient daughter, she apologized for mistakes and always said a prayer before meals. She went through kindergarten at Calatrava 2 Central School. But during first grade, an alarming incident took place. Daniella stumbled, fell and vomited. After close examination at a nearby hospital, the doctors gave Jovan and Ruby some hard news—their daughter, the most precious girl in the Philippine islands, had two brain tumors. A pair of operations were performed in early 2015, followed by round after round of chemotherapy and radiation. She lost her hair, her immune system was severely compromised, and her parents went on a three-year roller coaster ride of hope followed by despair. In fact, the doctors said she had a fairly good chance of survival if all the protocols were followed.

Daniella was an excellent patient. She seemed to know that her life was on the line, and so she cooperated with every doctor, nurse and medical staffer. Oh, she grew tired of being poked and prodded, getting X-rays and MRIs, visiting hospitals and clinics, and taking foul-tasting medicine. Chemotherapy is a grueling process. She wanted to go back to being a normal kid again, attending school and being out among her cohort. Who could blame her? In December 2016, she fell into a coma and then delighted us by emerging from it a couple of weeks later, just in time for her eighth birthday. She was gaining weight, she was alert and looked as if she might make it. Then our sweetheart suffered a setback in the summer of 2017. The cancer had returned. She grew weaker, she became deaf in her right ear, and she slept more and more. She seldom opened her eyes and lost the ability to speak although her final caregiver, Leah Lim, said she could answer questions by moving her feet.  

Believe me, many prayers were said on her behalf, in places sacred and secular. Her parents and Leah did everything in their power to help her win this battle. Daniella went from a wheelchair to lying in bed 24 hours a day. Constantly hooked up to an oxygen tank, she was fed intravenously. They kept her clean, said soothing words to her and waited. At 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 26, 2017, not long after being given a shower, she slipped away. There were no signs of precipitous decline in her last hours or days. It must have been time.

As I saw it, one of three things would happen: (1) Our prayers would be answered, and Daniella would rise up from her sickbed and be fully healed. (2) Her death would come as it did. (3) She would linger and linger—not just for months but for years. There have been cases of people lying in a persistent vegetative state for a decade or more. That, no doubt, would have been the worst-case scenario.

It is pointless to waste too much emotional energy wondering whether her biological mother did something that might have led to those two tumors in her brain. There is also no use in wringing our hands and saying how unfair it is. Sure, I wanted to see her become a teenager, a college student, a young woman, a mother and so on. But death waits for us all, whether sooner or later. And is there not some consolation in realizing how deeply loved she was? Daniella’s 8 1/2-year earthly life is over, and during that time she won our admiration, our respect and our hearts.

Farewell, Little Princess!