CARIBOU, Maine — When Jessica Robbins was only 25 weeks into her pregnancy with her and her husband, Travis’, second child, her battle with Crohn’s disease forced her into an exceptionally early delivery. The baby girl she delivered, Jada, weighed only two pounds, but was, miraculously, alive. Being so extremely premature has left Jada, now 9, with a lifetime of struggle.
Jada spent the first four months of her life in the hospital, on a ventilator for three of those four months. She had chronic urinary tract infections, which required surgery at 18 months to remove a kidney. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, she also suffers from severe brain damage, scoliosis and retinopathy of prematurity, which causes a series of destructive retinal changes that have resulted in blindness.
The 9-year-old’s eyes continue to deteriorate, which makes them a risk for infecting her brain. Because of this, one eye has already been removed and the other one will need to be taken soon. The decision has yet to be made whether she will be able to get prostheses or will have to have her eyes permanently closed.
Because of all of these medical issues, Jada and her parents spend a great deal of time on the road to medical appointments in places such as Bangor, Portland and Boston. As Jada gets bigger, the need for a handicapped accessible van increases. Such a vehicle is expensive, and the family, which struggles financially already, finds themselves in need of help to purchase the van and cover their ever-increasing medical expenses.
Family and friends of the Robbins have begun a fundraising campaign called “Loving on Jada.” Eighty-six of Travis’ Maine Military Authority co-workers purchased T-shirts with the “Loving on Jada” slogan printed on the front. Proceeds from the sale went toward Jada’s fund. A large majority of the MMA employees wore the T-shirts to work on Feb. 14 in a show of support for Travis and his family, as did waitresses at the Par & Grill Restaurant in Caribou, and a “Loving on Jada” benefit supper will be held on Saturday, Feb. 23.
Jessica and Travis have two other children, 10-year-old Abbie and 6-year-old Tristian. Their sister’s plight has taken a toll on the entire family, but, according to Jessica and Travis, the siblings are understanding of the situation.
“They get lonely for Mommy and Daddy,” Jessica said, “but they handle it well.”
Jada is also doing quite well, given the circumstances. She recently had a feeding tube inserted because she was not getting enough nourishment on her own. The tube, while frightening at first, proved to be a blessing of sorts as it resulted in Jada gaining 30 much-needed pounds and can also be used to administer her medicine.
Listening to music of any kind is one way that Jada passes the time. She also enjoys swinging, bouncing on a therapy ball, and, according to Jessica, her latest obsession is talking on the phone, not so unusual for a girl her age.
While the entire experience has been taxing on the Robbins, their love for Jada is obvious, and they remain a solid family unit. The current outpouring of public support has been wonderfully overwhelming for them.
“It’s been very humbling,” Jessica admitted. “We know a lot of people want to help, but aren’t sure how.”
“We don’t know how to thank everyone. We appreciate so much everything that has been done,” Travis added, extending a special thank-you to his co-workers. “I was so touched by their support.”
The Loving on Jada benefit dinner will be held 4-6 p.m. at Central Aroostook High School in Mars Hill on Feb. 23. A benefit auction will follow from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 each and may be purchased by contacting Travis’ mother, Karen Robbins, at 540-5408, or dinner organizer Tiffany Faulkner at 227-7195.