Survive to Thrive

Survive to Thrive

I first met Savannah in October of 2011. Two months earlier she had celebrated her first birthday with her beloved nurses in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, Idaho. Savannah had been a permanent little body in the PICU, which had been her home all her life until the Hansens.

I had come to the Hansen home on that fall day to meet Savannah and help the family pack and move into a new home. When I entered their home I heard the commotion of kids and bodies bustling about. I headed straight for the room where I knew they would have Savannah. I had seen a picture of her and was anxious and curious. I first saw a crib set up with clear tubes and medical machines all around. I peeked down into the crib and saw a little brown haired baby. She had big brown eyes and tubes, seeming to me, to be all over her body. She had abnormally tiny hands and feet, almost like a doll, her pretty head was larger than average and her body small and undeveloped for a one year old. She was beautiful, but I noticed her almost lethargic, unhappy state. She stared up at all the unfamiliar faces with no emotion. I wondered if she could even smile. Maybe her tracheostomy made it impossible? I remember wondering how difficult she would be for the family.

Savannah with Tubes

The Background – Rewind 12 years
I met Braxton and Carissa Hansen in 2002 when we were both dating our now husbands who had been childhood friends. On our double dates my first impressions of Carissa were that she was fun and beautiful and that Braxton better marry her. My husband and I were married in December of that year and Braxton and Carissa were married in the summer of 2003. We have stayed good friends with Braxton and Carissa and have seen them have two beautiful children, a girl and a boy. Carissa went to school to be a registered nurse and has worked in several positions over the years as a competent RN.

One day in 2011 Carissa told me that she had a feeling she was missing a little girl in her family. I remember her face being lit with the glow of the Spirit of God and I felt her words to be a spiritual impression she had been given from God. Carissa loves her Heavenly Father and she wants to do His will. She is an inspiration to me and I have been a better person from knowing her, so when she told me this, I knew she would soon have another little girl in her family. This little girl just came a little different than I thought she would.

Hansen Family

The Invitation
Carissa called to me to tell me that she had gotten an email from a personal care service provider who was trying to find the right family to take in and care for a medically fragile baby girl. Because Carissa wanted to stay home more with her two young children this seemed to be a good opportunity to help provide for her family and also help a child in need.

Meeting Savannah
Carissa made a scheduled trip to the hospital meeting with the PICU social worker. Her impressions were that Savannah needed a home, a family environment. She was told about Savannah’s diagnosis and “episodes.” Savannah had a rare congenital illness, campomelic dysplasia, which included a list of diagnosis affecting her physical body. Not her brain, but her body. The life threatening illness included an inability for her rib cage to grow at a normal rate so although she was getting older her rib cage was still the size of a small infant. Because of this and other reasons she required mechanical assistance to breathe at all times, a ventilator. Her “episodes” were truly indescribable events where ultimately the ventilator would not give her the needed respiratory support and she would have to be manually resuscitated. These were moments when her life hung seeming as it were between heaven and earth.

Survive to Thrive

Hansen’s Decision
In her own words Carissa’s impressions and feelings at the time of decision: “There were so many questions concerning taking Savannah. Could we do this? Could we do this now in the midst of a move? What would this mean for our family? How would my 2 young children feel, what about my husband? And most of all, is it the right choice, is it what God wants us to do? I ran all the scenarios through my head of “what if this or what if that” all the while praying for guidance and understanding. My answer didn’t come immediately, if our prayers were always answered at our first petition we could not grow. One night while laying in my daughter’s bed running all the scenarios through my head and having a whirlwind of “I don’t know what to do” I prayed. I had prayed so many times on this subject before but this time when I prayed I felt peace. The kind of peace that comes from God. We began to move forward with the decision to bring Savannah home. Although we were still nervous about many things we had the underlying faith that it was what God wanted and we know that with God all things are possible.”

Survive to Thrive

Savannah Has a Home
Braxton was trained and Carissa went into super nurse mom mode. Her feelings of a missing little girl in their home were completely gone as they gained legal guardianship of Savannah. I saw an amazing change in all the Hansens but most of all little Savannah! Carissa and Braxton both had a deep love that could not have been more if she had been their biological daughter! Their kids loved her. They laid in the crib with her, kissed, cuddled and doted on her. Carissa and Braxton dedicated, outside of work and their children, all of what they had to her. The distant look in Savannah’s eye was gone! It was as if a light inside her had turned on. She not only smiled but kicked and clapped at the same time. She learned to sit up, crawl and even stand up! She learned how to communicate with sign language and although she was never able to speak, she had a way of telling others what she wanted! Her personality bloomed! She was a joy that every person she met felt!

Survive to Thrive

I loved to visit her and so did my children. I got to cut her hair and help Carissa tend to her. What I learned from Savannah’s story is that the love, the real honest true Godlike love given to Savannah changed her. She went from just surviving to thriving within weeks of this therapy of family love. It was amazing. It was a beautiful thing to see and I am glad I was a witness.

Survive to Thrive


Here is Savannah’s story put beautifully together by Braxton:
Our Sweet Savannah – A Tribute to Her Life

Story written by: Brooke Thurman

This story was seen first on Real Imprints.