June 25, 2018
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4-year-old gets big dose of ‘Nonni’ therapy

By Joni Averill

Not every day does a columnist find herself sharing an exciting, intimate family moment that moves her to tears.

But that’s what happened Wednesday at the home of John and Gia Guido in Old Town when I was visiting with 4-year-old Phebe Guido, her father and 6-year-old sister, Lena.

John and I had been discussing Phebe’s condition and how the family’s life has changed since Phebe suffered a medical emergency in March — a sudden onset of diabetes.

Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas fails to manufacture insulin, Phebe was in a life-threatening situation that required immediate surgery for a below-the-knee amputation.

In addition, fluid had built up in her skull and put pressure on her brain and, whatever the cause, left Phebe with some brain damage.

And while Phebe is alert and rolling about, “she’s back to about 12 months old,” John was telling me.

Phebe will be 5 on Aug. 5, and should be starting kindergarten but, instead, will return to preschool.

While we were talking, John suddenly spoke to Lena, who was lying on the floor beside Phebe, and urged her to come stand beside him so she could look out the front door.

I had no idea what was going on, and I don’t think Lena did either but in a few seconds the door opened and in walked John’s mother and stepfather, Barbara Guido and Maka Makaneole of Fort Myers, Fla.

While the family knew “Nonni,” was coming for a visit, they didn’t know when the couple would arrive.

After greeting Lena and John, and setting aside the walking stick she was using to help her navigate after a recent foot injury, Barbara rushed to Phebe’s side and leaned down to pick her up.

It was at that moment the unexpected happened: A previously docile Phebe instantly, completely and with all the silent joy she could muster, became a full-bodied, wriggling, happy, smiling little girl; arms extended to her Nonni with absolute recognition of this woman she loves.

It was an incredibly beautiful moment.

With misty eyes we observed this little fighter change from the equivalent-to-12-month-old girl to a 4-year-old who definitely knew her grandmother and couldn’t wait to be held by her.

Barbara told me that two years ago, when she visited and Phebe was then a normal, healthy, active child, “Phebe would not smile at me.

“But that changed last year, when she was 3, and she smiled all the time,” Barbara said.

Nonni was with the family in March when Phebe was so ill, but Phebe, of course, did not know that, which is what made this reunion so special.

Everyone who knows the family remarks on Phebe’s all-encompassing smile.

I thought I would not see it but, thanks to Nonni, I did.

For the adults, it was a smile radiating with hope, because we all know the amount of work Phebe is facing to help her become — once again — her age.

Three times a week, John takes Phebe to sessions for speech, physical or occupational therapy.

This week, she had an extra dose of therapy, Nonni-style, and it doesn’t get much better than that, because Nonni helped Phebe be Phebe.

Just to bring you up to date on the rest of the family, this summer, Gia, who works for the Orono Parks and Recreation Department’s after-school program, is working full time while school is out and will be working part time when school opens.

John, an electrician laid off from his job in the wind power industry, believes he is now No. 72 on the call list and hopes that when September comes, he just might get that call.

The family has insurance through his union, but that will cease in September or October, and the family is on MaineCare.

But the future for John and Gia and their four children still is uncertain.

Phebe has a prosthetic leg, but her parents have to support her when she tries to use it.

John has been told that, when she grows and needs a different one, the Shriners may be able to help.

Their oldest daughter, Jannelle, is with relatives in Rhode Island but will return home shortly, and 8-year-old Rocco was attending school the day I visited.

Obviously, life today is a struggle for everyone in this family.

Lifting, feeding, bathing and caring for Phebe is physically and mentally draining, but John recognizes his being home has probably worked out for the best at this time.

He is grateful for all the support the family has received in its time of need, and asked that, once again, we extend the family’s thanks to everyone who has offered a helping hand.

Anyone who would like to assist the Guidos as they face the long road ahead can make a check payable to them and mail it to Parish of the Resurrection, 429 Main St., Old Town 04468, Attn: Sue Cust.

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