March For Miracles

Walk with Kaua‘i March of Dimes March for Babies this Saturday to save the lives of premature babies and give them a chance to thrive, like 4-year-old Vaylen Efhan.

They waited for him for a long time — more than two decades, to be exact.

“He’s the boss,” jokes Kau-lana Efhan of her 4-year-old son, Vaylen.

What also makes this little boy so special is that he was born prematurely at 31 weeks and survived three months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women and Children. Though he started his life hanging by a thread, there’s nothing feeble about the spirited boy now. He runs and jumps with ease at Isenberg Park in Līhu‘e during a sunny afternoon, with a monster truck toy in tote and giggles galore. He hardly has a care on his mind, as he entices his older half-brother, Mason Huddy, 24, Kaulana’s firstborn, to play catch with him.

“He’s a fun-loving kid and a thriving boy,” she adds.

Vaylen Efhan plays catch with his older brother, Mason.

The enthusiastic little guy and his ‘ohana are this year’s Kaua‘i Ambassador Family for the 48th annual March of Dimes March for Babies, which kicks off at 8 a.m. April 7 at Lydgate Park. Teams and individuals are encouraged to participate and help raise money for the organization that provides support for families of premature babies like the Efhans.

Kaulana credits March of Dimes for helping her get through one of the most difficult experiences of her life. She says it was scary to go into labor well before her due date, and even more frightening to make the decision to distance herself from her family in order to be medevacked to O‘ahu.

“I didn’t want to take any chances,” she says.

She was lucky to have made the choice because Vaylen was born with calcification on his liver and brain due to unknown circumstances, and needed to be monitored for several months in the NICU.

“It was an emotional roller coaster,” Kaulana recalls.

One of the many things that lights up Vaylen Efhan’s face these days is playing with his monster truck toys.

That’s when she turned to the March of Dimes for guidance. The group’s representatives helped her cope. They offered the kind of emotional and physical support that Kaulana and her husband Keola needed during such a difficult time.

“They were right there with us,” she says.

March of Dimes reps encourages parents to bide their time in many ways, like making mementos — including “memory cards” — for their babies. Kaulana says activities like that allowed her to shift her focus away from the machines and sounds that are so prevalent in the NICU. It’s something Kaulana was familiar with, as Vaylen needed assistance breathing because his lungs weren’t fully developed at the time of birth.

“It’s a scary sight,” Kaulana says.

March of Dimes is also instrumental in uniting the families whose babies were in the NICU at the same time so that they could provide each other with comfort. And while their situations were all different, the families had the common bond of not being able to take their newborns home, which induced empathy that helped them get by. In fact, Kaulana still reaches out to the families she calls the “2014 NICU ‘ohana,” whom she has since made lifelong friends with.

“We keep in touch and watch our children’s growth,” she says.

This is one of the many things that likely wouldn’t have occurred without the March of Dimes initiating workshops and sharing guidance with these families. Now, Kaulana is happy to offer the same kind of solace to families who are undergoing similar traumatic experiences. One of the most insightful pieces of advice she gained from March of Dimes was to have a willingness to share her journey and provide compassion to others.

“To be open to everyone and share my story,” Kaulana says.

What makes her story even more frightful was that a short time after she returned home with Vaylen, Keola suffered a serious heart attack. Since then, he’s been diagnosed with a heart condition that requires Kaulana to be his full-time caregiver. She still gets emotional when she speaks about what happened, especially because she is grateful Keola has remained by her side throughout everything, despite his health setbacks.

“He’s the quiet one,” she says with tears in her eyes. “We’re yin and yang. He’s the teddy bear, and I’m the lion. What helps is him just being there.”

She says it’s beneficial to be so honest and outspoken about her circumstances, as there is plenty of shame and self-blame that occurs for families of premature babies. Among the many questions that go through a parent’s minds are, “What did I do? What could I have done better?” But she says that’s all part of the healing process. That’s why she was happy to have her family serve as the ambassadors for the march this year. Despite everything they had to endure, she continued to have faith and wants to extend that assurance to others.

“I’m here. If you need me, I’ve been through this; I can help support you,” she says.

And she wholeheartedly believes that March of Dimes helped grant her this positive encouragement, even through some of her darkest moments. And that’s why she supports the organization in whatever way she can so that it can continue to give families that same kind of hope.

“Because it’s something that’s close to my heart,” she says.

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