My earliest memory is of me holding a feeble looking baby brother who had just arrived from the hospital three months after his initial birth. I was just over two years old but even at the time I recognised the importance of having a little brother. It would take many years for me to finally understand all of the complications surrounding his birth, short life and eventual death.
I still remember the day of his death as though it happened just a few days ago. I still have memories of his sudden relapse that morning after a lifelong battle with a pneumonia he had contracted from his very premature birth. I still feel that deep, deep gully carved into my heart that afternoon when my aunty returned from the hospital and announced to me that I would no longer be seeing Promise again. Forever.
In the course of the years that followed I have tried to cling on desperately to the memories of him by talking about him as much as I can, even representing him in some of my fictional works. Yet I had failed to fill the hollow his demise left in my heart and this pulled me into ignominious depths of depression until Tiny Beating Hearts Initiative came to the rescue.
It was shortly after TEDx Ganaja and I was still revering the success of the event when a call for volunteers came through. An NGO that was responsible for catering to premature babies needed a writer and all of a sudden I saw my name written all over the role. I applied to volunteer mostly as an obligation to myself and the memories of my late brother who came too early and left too soon. Maybe, I felt, if I buried myself into fighting the root cause of his death then I would find some warmth.
It did happen, but it came with a price.
This work I do lunges at my heart and pulls at it so violently. I have been in more hospitals in the space of one month than I have been all my life. Preemies, the most vulnerable things you will ever see— Met them, lost them. Supposed to get used to these things— meeting a baby one morning and losing it at night. We are to try all we can to save them, but then sometimes we fail.
I met Miracle and I saw for the first time, Promise, fighting bravely for life in an incubator back in ’96. I saw the weakness of his heart and the strength of his resolve to live long enough for me to hold him. Know him. Love him and miss him since he left. Miracle didn’t win her fight and she left as early as she came but she still lives dearly in the Promise-shaped hollow in my heart.
I can tell how much it meant to my father when I told him about the mission of this new job I was fully immersing myself into. I can tell how much it meant to him that his only surviving son is dedicatedly poised to help fight the plague that took his most beloved son—who shared his birthday—away.
A few days ago while in the office the executive director out of nowhere inquired about my past and suddenly I was forced to once again pull out the story of Promise from the part of my heart that I had safely tucked it in. That night at home I probed myself to see all that it meant to me working here and in my head was a vision of my little brother smiling generously at me with the cute missing front teeth I always teased him with. I felt closure.
For every baby we have to fight to save, for every sacrifice we will have to make, for every parent we will save from the anguish of losing a child before they get a chance to love, I will feel a warmth that will envelop me and comfort me about the exit of the only brother I ever had so I will not have to stay awake at night shedding those tears anymore.
Victor Daniel is a Programmes Assistant at Tiny Beating Hearts Initiative.