For Hampton couple, miracles come in small packages

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF

   Danny and Lenora Cox of Hampton have had more than their share of encounters with "butterflies." So it was a real blessing when their daughter Vanessa Lauren Cox, now 4 months old, was born June 4.
   Lenora said her daughter was named for the wife of Kenneth Stevens, an employee of Carter County Ford in Elizabethton.
   "Kenneth and Vanessa had a baby that died and never had any more, so I wanted it to be kind of special for her," she said. "Another reason is Vanessa means 'butterfly.'"
   Lenora said she became pregnant in 1991 and carried the baby 34 weeks. He then died two weeks after birth.
   "Someone sent me a card saying how nice it was to see a butterfly; that even though you only got to see it for a just few seconds -- how its beauty enriched your life -- meaning that even though we only got to see Daniel for a short period of time, that it enriched our lives. So that's why I wanted to name her Vanessa," she said.
   Before Daniel was born, Lenora lost a pregnancy the year before, in 1990.
   "Then I got pregnant with Daniel and he lived two weeks. Daniel's middle name was Richard. He was named for my dad, who died in our house fire when I was 8 years old," she said.
   In 1995, Lenora and Danny decided they were going to try again. Unfortunately, she could not get pregnant.
   "We had to go through fertility," she said. "I did get pregnant but I lost the pregnancy in 1997. Then I got pregnant again, taking fertility drugs, and lost that one in 1998. I got pregnant in 1999 and we lost that one early in the year."
   The couple then decided to go another route and signed up with an adoption agency.
   "We went to the hospital to pick up a little boy. Actually, I went into the delivery room and I got to take him to the room with us," she said. But that night the child's mother changed her mind and the Coxes went away disheartened.
   Lenora said she became pregnant again "right after the adoption ordeal. He (Seth) was born in June 2000 and lived three days."
   After that, "We decided 'no more,'" Lenora said, and her husband made an appointment with a doctor to ensure that it didn't happen again.
   The doctor later called and rescheduled the appointment.
   As fate would have it, during the interim Lenora again became pregnant.
   "I wouldn't tell anybody until I absolutely had to. I was like 5-1/2 months pregnant before I even told my mom. Then we had 'Nessa on June 4, 2001," Lenora said.
   The only down side was that she was born without her right hand.
   But that, according to Lenora, is no problem.
   "I said, 'At least we're not putting her in the ground.' We're so happy -- we've been thrilled ever since. We're having a ball."
   The couple has sent out more than 400 thank-you cards for gifts received from friends and family, she said.
   "There were a lot of people praying for her and that's what got our sweet little girl here, I firmly believe that," she said.
   "Daniel and Seth both had all of their limbs, so, it was a shock," Lenora said.
   Vanessa's condition was caused by an amniotic band, a rare occurrence, according to her mother. "It can band around their neck, it can happen to their hands, their feet, their legs, one side of their body -- so we're very, very fortunate," she said.
   According to the Florida Institute for Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy, amniotic band syndrome is a rare condition that occurs in about 1 in 1,200 to 1 in 1,500 live births. Although the exact cause of the syndrome is not known, the most accepted view is early rupture of the amnion results in bands that insert on the body of the fetus and can lead to amputations, constrictions and other deformities of the fetus.
   The Institute has performed in-utero surgery in four babies with amniotic bands in which the constricting band threatened to amputate the affected arm or leg. In all cases, the band was released and the limbs preserved.
   The reason Lenora has had so many problems, she said, was because she had Lupus, which had gone undiagnosed.
   "That's been the problem all along. So this time I saw a high-risk doctor," she said. She ended up having to administer shots to herself twice a day throughout the pregnancy. The medication increased the flow of blood to the baby.
   Though Lenora said she has had "so many ultrasounds it's not even been funny ... We had no idea about the arm until 'Nessa was born. But in a way, I'm glad I didn't know because I would have worried myself sick," she said.
   Vanessa went to Shriner's Hospital in August and is scheduled for a return visit in December.
   "She has her elbow and they told us that was no problem -- that later on she could have a prosthesis. They said that since she had never had her hand, she would be able to do whatever she wanted to do."
   While at Shriner's Hospital, the Coxes were amazed to see a number of courageous children who had lost limbs and were learning to cope without them.
   "We saw a little black girl that had lost her arm and one of her legs. She had a prosthesis for her leg but she didn't have one for her arm, which was off to the shoulder.
   "We were talking about 'Nessa being able to tie her shoes, and she spoke up and said, 'Oh, that's no problem.'
   "She bent down and tied her shoe with one hand faster than we could with both. It was amazing."
   Lenora said she has met with one 5-year-old girl from Johnson City who was born with the same condition as Vanessa's, except that she is missing her left hand. Another child in the Central Community who she has met also is missing her left hand.
   "You just never know ... you don't know what people have to go through. It's very, very frustrating and hard. It makes you appreciate life in a major way," she said.
   In the meantime, Vanessa is getting along great, according to her mother, and has reached the stage where she has discovered her feet.
   "She just laughs -- she's got the prettiest little smile. She's just wonderful. She's been big blessing to a lot of people," especially her grandparents: Luther and Nancy Cox and Kyle and Patricia McQueen.
   Though the couple have had numerous disappointments, they do not question "Why me?" or "Why Vanessa?"
   "She's here for a reason and she's here the way she is for a reason," Lenora said.
   "Our faith has been tested, but we've kept our faith through all of it because we know that God doesn't make mistakes.
   "I guess that's sort of my testimony. If you have children, love them and take care of them," she said.