Twelve weeks before my wife’s due date, her water broke. Finding out that my wife and I were having a child together was the most amazing feeling in my life so far. Learning that we would be having twins was even more incredible, and to top it all off, we were having one boy and one girl. I was anxious and excited to become a father and build a family.
My wife, Taneal, went into preterm labor 800 miles away from our home in Oregon. She had been visiting family in Southern California. The morning of March 16, the day she was supposed to come home to me, her water broke. My wife went directly to the hospital and was admitted and told she was not to travel anywhere. I learned what was happening via text message from my wife, sitting in my Monday morning sales meeting in Portland. I sat helplessly, my heart sinking as the news got progressively worse and changed rapidly. We were hearing that she would lose the babies at one moment, and then that she would be stabilized and able to deliver at a later date. One thing was for sure — my wife was not going anywhere until the babies were born.
I left work with nothing but the clothes on my back and headed to the airport. On the way to the airport, I called Tom Higham, a local travel agent and the first person I could think of who was an expert at travel. He dropped what he was doing to take care of my travel arrangements.
When I arrived to the hospital in California to see my wife, the initial news was promising as they had stabilized her and the babies. The doctor’s goal at this point was to keep them inside mom for as long as possible; however, late the next night we were awoken by several doctors. Our daughter’s heart rate had dropped to dangerous levels and doctors made the call to deliver both the babies that night. Scarlett Irene Russell was born at 3:09 a.m. on March 18. Her brother, Sonny Cassius Russell was born one minute later at 3:10.
It was a crazy roller coaster of events that was incredibly difficult because of the uncertainty. Scarlett and Sonny were immediately placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Kaiser Permanente Orange County — Anaheim Medical Center under 24/7 care by an incredible team of doctors and nurses. Then, nine days after her birthday, we lost our baby girl Scarlett. She went home to be with the Lord on March 26.
As I have had time to reflect on this difficult situation I have thought about my own experiences in combat and reflected on the Marines and brothers that we lost in the war. I served as an infantryman in the 3rd Marine Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and fought in the second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq. When Scarlett died one of the things I thought about was all the parents of the fallen Marines that I served with and how they must have felt when they received word that their child was no longer coming home. I know now that I can relate somewhat to how they felt because of my own indescribable emptiness, darkness, and aloneness that I felt when I realized that my child was gone forever.
After Scarlett died, I spoke with the mother of Randy Newman, a Marine I served with who was killed in Iraq. She told me my life would forever be changed. I could tell and hear it in her voice that she spoke from a position of wisdom. She encouraged me to plug into my faith now more than ever. Being in the room and watching my child fight for her life and watching her lose her life was worse than anything that I ever saw in combat or ever experienced on the battlefield. It was the most helpless of feelings. There was nothing that I could do for her when all I wanted so badly more than anything else was to be able to trade places with her. Since her passing I often think about holding Scarlett in my hands after she passed away, and getting the opportunity to kiss her and wash her body one last time before her mother and I said our last goodbyes. I will never forget that time that I spent with my baby girl. It will forever be a moment in time and space that is tattooed on my heart. It is a situation that as Randy's mom said will forever change our lives. The pain is still palpable and we miss her every day.
This ordeal has been the hardest thing I’ve ever endured, made worse by the fact that my family has had to go through this so far from home. But it hasn’t been impossible. The part that has made this difficult situation much more bearable are the unsung heroes who have rushed to support my wife and I during this time. My wife and I had no idea of the extent and reach of the type of support system we had access to; we’ve received help and support from all angles. By asking for thoughts and prayers via text message and social media, we alerted those closest to us about our situation. What has happened since we made those requests has emotionally overwhelmed both of us with gratitude.
The support system that has rallied behind us in this time of need include both of my and my wife’s families; our friends; and notably, the veterans community. When they say about Marines, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine,” or “Semper Fidelis,” which means “Always Faithful,” they mean it. My wife and my situation is proof of what the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines family is all about.
A warrior blanket made for Sonny from old cammies worn in Iraq. Fellow 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines veteran Kevin Martinez made it.Photo courtesy of Chad Russell
Within 48 hours of arriving in California, one of my Marine brothers, Kyle Wilson, and his family let me borrow a car so I did not have to rent one the entire time my wife and I are here. It even had a full tank of gas. Every day the first week we were at the hospital, at least one Marine from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines who served from the first Gulf War up to the current conflicts, some I had never met before in my life, came by with basic care package commodities like water, shampoo, soap, or snacks. Another brother from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, Kevin Martinez, made Sonny a blanket out of old cammies he wore in Iraq. It has a Russell nametape in the center. This warrior blanket is fit for the fight Sonny is going through. Many of my fellow Marines traveled from over an hour away to visit. This allowed my wife and I to focus on the each other and the babies. The selflessness and acts of love and service to my wife and me are what makes me miss the Marine Corps brotherhood so much; and it has reminded me of what service to one another is all about.
I have had friends in the past where if things got tough, all they had to offer me was lip service and hollow commitments. I am sure most people have experienced this kind of thing. To have something like this happen to my wife and our babies and to have an entire support system rally behind us like they have in this situation is an incredible feeling and a humbling, beautiful thing to watch in action.
Support hasn’t come exclusively from the veterans community, either. Our companies CUI Inc. and PrimePay LLC, Hirepurpose, and Task & Purpose all have reached out and helped during this ordeal. During this entire journey we have been honored by the community of Orange County, California, where we are staying at the Ronald McDonald House. It has been another amazing and humbling experience to be the recipients of safe place to stay that costs us little to nothing while Sonny fights to grow healthy in the hospital. The dollars that fund the Ronald McDonald House here in Orange County are all private dollars from private citizens. There’s a saying that you think your situation is bad until you hear somebody else’s story. It rings true at the Ronald McDonald House; this house is evidence of precious families and sick children from all over the world who benefit from the generous unsung heroes of this community.
My wife and I never expected what is happening with us, but the love and actions in support of us have overwhelmed us with peace and gratitude. I remember sitting in our hospital room in those first few days, able to focus on our situation. As we talked about the support behind us, my wife began to have tears roll down her cheeks from the love and gratitude she felt toward all those supporting us. My wife’s emotions captured exactly how we feel. I write this in an effort to recognize their efforts and let them know that my wife and I appreciate them so much.
In one week’s time we have had travel assistance, care packages, and a good sum of money that was raised for us by my sister, Kali Hinrichs, and my wife’s co-worker, Phylicia Reed. Many family members, friends, co-workers, and even people we have never met before have donated to support us or have been praying for us. It is the kindness and selfless acts of generosity being shown in this time that are a reminder that we are all in this struggle of life together. Our commitments to one another really do mean something special.
My wife and I would like to say thank you to all of the unsung heroes who have contributed to helping us in different ways through this difficult time. There are too many of you to name. You are all so impressive to my wife and I and we appreciate your commitment of support and pledge of solidarity to us. You all have done yeoman’s work here. The only way we could possibly pay any of you back is to pay it forward to others when we get on the other side of this challenge. There is a long road ahead for us, please keep our family in your thoughts and prayers.
Sonny’s our little warrior. We have been using the hashtag #sonnysfight to keep folks updated with on his progress. He was born around 1 pounds 11 ounces. He’s now 7 pounds and fighting through each and every moment of adversity. We are still living day-to-day with him and found out recently he is going to need a heart surgery to help him move forward, so we are gearing up for the next challenge.
Nothing can replace our baby girl Scarlett and our hearts will be forever ripped and torn, but we live in an incredible country with generous citizens and have a support system of thoughtful and compassionate people of action, true heroes to us during this time in our lives.
As impossible as this situation seems at times I have been holding onto a quote daily that was made by former Navy SEAL Lt. Jason Redman, who was shot multiple times Iraq war. In his book “The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader,” Redman states, “The mark of a man is not found in the past, but how he overcomes adversity and builds his future. Quitting is not an option. Regardless of the overwhelming odds or obstacles in your path, you always have an opportunity to overcome. It is your attitude that will determine the outcome.”
Our struggle is a daily battle to choose to be positive in the face of our adversity, and so far we are doing pretty damn well, and major part of that is because of all of you. Keep our little warrior Sonny in your prayers. He is not out of the woods yet. #sonnysfight.
God Bless and Semper Fidelis,
Chad, Taneal, and Sonny.