Nurse Jessica Hamm remembers the first time she laid eyes on the 14-month-old girl admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Wolfson Children’s Hospital with horrific injuries.
Suffering from a skull fracture, brain bleed, broken femur and fractured wrists, malnourished and with a fresh handprint-shaped pattern of bruises on her little face, baby Delilah wasn’t on the unit long before she was taken to emergency surgery to drain the fluids and pressure in her brain.
As a pediatric critical care nurse, Hamm sees kids who have suffered what are called “non-accidental injuries” far too often. Even she was shocked by the abuse heaped upon this fragile baby girl.
But on March 16, 2017, Hamm saw something else she didn’t expect. Her future.
“You know when you just know something, when you just have a feeling?” asked Hamm. “That day, I saw this beautiful child and I told my co-worker that I would like to provide her with a safe home.”
She approached her colleague, PICU social worker Jim Hutcheson, and asked him what she needed to do to make that happen. After 19 years in social work, Hutcheson had seen his share of pediatric caregivers consider giving an abandoned or abused child a home, but never taking the next step.
“I asked her, ‘Are you sure?’ and she said, ‘Yes, I want to do this!’ She was persistent from the very beginning,” Hutcheson said.
Since there was alleged abuse, Delilah’s case had been taken up by the state Department of Children and Families (DCF). Hutcheson advised Hamm to call Family Support Services of Northeast Florida, which collaborates with DCF to find homes for abused and neglected children, so she could start the process of becoming a foster parent.
Hamm had been trying for years to have a biological child and had undergone multiple infertility treatments, but to no avail.
“I went home and talked to my mom and my husband. Then I prayed about it,” said Hamm. “The next day, I called.”
After a home investigation and a background check, DCF approved Hamm as a foster parent. She later renamed the toddler Delilah.
But Hamm was in for a surprise. While Delilah was still in the hospital and Hamm worked with DCF to become a foster parent, another little girl had been admitted into the hospital. “That’s when I found out Delilah was a twin,” she said.
From one daughter to two
Delilah’s fraternal twin, now named Caroline, had been brought to the Wolfson Children’s ER hours after her sister was admitted, but no one had yet made the connection between the two girls.
Caroline, though uninjured, had been taken to a different floor for X-rays, which revealed healing fractures. She, too, had been chronically abused.
Hamm didn’t even hesitate. Without even meeting Caroline, she was ready to take both girls home as soon as they were discharged from the hospital.
During Delilah’s month-long stay at Wolfson Children’s, her birth mother came for one last supervised visit. Hamm was there, too.
“I thought I would be filled with hate for her after what had happened to the girls, but when I met her, I just felt very sad for her,” said Hamm. “She had been fighting to keep the girls. That day, she saw how much I loved the girls and how well they were doing. If she didn’t do anything right as a mom before, she did this time. She signed the termination of parental rights that afternoon.”
After a 30-day waiting period, Hamm’s most fervent prayers came true. The adoption became final on Halloween, making her officially the twins’ mom. For the ceremony in Duval County Judge David Gooding’s chambers, Hamm dressed her now-two-year-old daughter Caroline as peanut butter and Delilah as jelly.
Fittingly enough, Hamm’s costume was bread, which holds PB & J together perfectly.
Delilah still requires a brain MRI every couple of months to monitor her injuries, and both girls are undergoing physical, occupational and speech therapies.
They are thriving in Hamm’s home, surrounded by love and attention. Hamm is looking forward to many more holidays and family firsts.
“They’ve grown by leaps and bounds since they’ve come home. They’re so smart and the sweetest, most beautiful kids ever,” gushed the proud mom.
Hamm is grateful to her Wolfson Children’s colleagues, family and friends, and even strangers, who came through for Delilah and Caroline, and their new mom, with support and generosity.
“I didn’t even have to ask. People brought the girls toys, clothes and furniture. One huge donation came from the Wolfson Children’s ER team. Delilah and Caroline have touched everyone’s lives who took care of them.”
Her colleagues said they are thrilled for the new family. “This kind of compassion is typical of people who take care of kids and who give of their bodies and minds to do that,” said Virgil Saldajeno, MD, a University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville pediatric critical care physician on the PICU.
“To make the leap to do more than take care of their medical needs, it’s just natural, and for one of our own to adopt a child is a really big deal. It’s beautiful and amazing!”
Hamm hopes that her story inspires others to become foster or adoptive parents. “My daughters are the blessing to me. I was meant to work here and meant to meet them, and I believe they were meant to be mine.”
Reprinted with permission from the Baptist Health Care Connection newsletter.