Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Find Your Inner Santa

Yesterday, I received a powerful email from a friend.

You see on one of my darkest nights in the NICU, I promised myself, my son, God and anyone else that would listen that I would do whatever I could to help make a difference in the world.

Whether it was during my work day or in my community or for other NICU families either living or bereaved, I was going to be there.

As a former NICU Dad, I know that we are not the type of people to ask for help, or to take help even when it's offered. So I share our experience in the hopes that someone anonymously searching for support would find it and get a moment of peace during an extremely difficult time.

Along the way I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people who are doing great work in this world. So I hope you enjoy this message and find your "inner Santa everyday" and check out my friends at Beyond the Laces and see how they are joining together with others to make the world a better place.

I hope you find it as meaningful as I did - because Seeing Owen is not just about being present in my son's life, but teaching him to understand how blessed we are to have him and how important it is to give back in good times and bad.

The Real Santa
In the 1947, quintessential Christmas movie, “Miracle on 34th Street,” attorney Fred Gailey, played by the renowned John Payne, proves that a department store Santa Claus, played by Edmund Gwenn, is, in fact, the real Santa. Gwenn would go on to garner an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his role.
Should there ever be a 21st century remake, the reprising role of Santa would have to be given to none other than Chester Davis. Amongst those in-the-know, Chester Davis IS Santa Claus!
Because the persona of Santa means so much to so many, the red-suited character has come to define the joy of Christmas. He is the symbol of love, kindness, and giving that surrounds our childhood memories of this season. As Chester himself noted, “It's more than a Santa suit… it's the heart you put inside it.”
So, not only does Chester look like the real Santa, he lives that role. And he lives it 365 days a year! Chester feels that Santa and the joy the holiday creates, should not be limited to December only. Throughout the year Chester does just that!
Yes, he devotedly dons his magical red suit in December. But there are many of us who have seen him in his Santa hat… and Bermuda shorts!
You see, Chester donates his time as Santa for many events and venues surrounding children. One event and cause that is close to Chester’s heart is the THE BELIEVE PROJECT.
This non-denominational organization is based in central New Jersey. It was founded by Mark Zacharczyk, a successful Jersey Shore restauranteur and mortgage advisor. Along with his brother, Lee, THE BELIEVE PROJECT has been crafted on the idea of giving back to children who have been stricken with cancer, or some other acute or chronic illness, by sharing with them the passion for the holidays, in general, and Christmas, in particular.
It is here, with the desire to reach these children, that Chester brings Santa’s excitement, happiness, and, in love, the hope that surrounds the Christmas season. But, with THE BELIEVE PROJECT it is done in July! Christmas in July is, indeed, just one of the ways this 365-day-a-year Santa shares his heart with others.
Thus, Chester has taken Santa to a new level as he inspires and helps children all year round. In so doing, he also is part of a movement surrounding a childrens’ book entitled Beyond The Laces. The book’s message is to inspire through kindness and encourages its readers, both young and old alike, to never give up. 
The storyline’s backdrop is that of the game of football. For that reason, it is supported by many professional athletes and known sports personalities. And it is often seen in Chester’s Santa’s hands as he spreads Christmas joy by handing out copies to inspire and make children happy… regardless of what month it is! 
He feels this story hits the heart and that its message mirrors his own mission to make a difference. As he observes, “I like to think all of us have a little bit of Santa in us.” And with this kind, compassionate man, that joyful “bit of Santa” is made abundantly visible.
Thus, one can quickly see, there is no doubt “Miracle’s” Fred Gailey would have little trouble convincing a jury that Chester Davis was, indeed, the real Santa!Sincerely, 

Bob Salomon and Rick Young
"Inspiring Children Through Kindness" 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Going Beyond the Laces

  It’s 8:00 pm in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in Upper Manhattan.  Outside the residual rain bands from Tropical Storm Irene are passing through.  Inside visiting hours have just ended. The parade of families begins to make their way to the exit. Some laugh and joke knowing that their new family member will be home soon. Others walk down the hall stunned at what they just saw. They continue to look back wondering if it will be the last time. As each one leaves, the remaining parents can hear that constant click of the locking door.  At the start the clicking goes every few seconds, and then diminishes down to a minute. Once the noise stops, the reality sets in that your support system has gone home, and you are left with the situation at hand, a child clinging to life. Some are micro-preemies; others have a heart defect or some other abnormality that can only be handled in a Level III NICU.  For us, the alphabet spells CDH or
Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia .

The final click tonight was a Priest, who came by to baptize our child, and also offer him last rights. There is something very surreal about baptism by syringe especially growing up Catholic. Our son was dressed for the occasion his hat was a wash cloth that was used to keep the excess light out of his eyes, keeping him calm while a tube ran down his throat and another into his little nose. His gown was a diaper, adorned with a tiny heart shaped stickers with kittens on them to keep those tubes and wires down.

As a new Dad you can only imagine what this does to your mental state. You can’t ask God to save your child only for the strength to handle what has been set before you, no matter the end result.

So tonight with my wife asleep and my son’s vitals stable, I searched for a way to process all of this. I had a Sports Illustrated Magazine sitting next to my son’s bed. On the cover was Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox, my favorite baseball player. The title read Heart of the Red Sox. I remember reading Dustin’s book Born to Play, about how no one believed he would make it the “show”. Tonight as I looked at my son, I needed inspiration from something normal in my life, something as normal as a game. A game that before my son’s diagnosis wins and losses meant so much, yet now not so much at all. This was no “show”, no game, but life and death.

I decided to write Dustin a letter explaining my son’s situation, how he was fighting for his life, and although there is no equation where the life of a child = the outcome of a baseball game, I needed the same grit and determination that Dustin displays on the field. I needed my son to fight and not give in to the odds stacked against him. That night when I put my finger in my son’s hand I could feel his fight.

I wasn't sure at the time why I choose to write that letter. I didn’t need a response from Dustin, nor was I upset when I didn't receive one. I thought that writing it was the therapy I needed to make it through the day. It wasn't until later after our 52 day stay in the NICU had ended that reading a children’s book would give me the answers I was searching for.

Fast forward three and half years, my son, despite some minor issues is doing well. He’s going to preschool, laughing and playing and making my wife and I so proud.

We love to read to him and we remembered how much peace we got from walking around the NICU and seeing a famous children’s book painted on the walls. These walls helped us through his first surgery at just 15 days old, focusing on the beautiful colors of the caterpillar as it “eat and eat”  versus the heart stopping moments waiting for his doctors to come tell us his fate.

 When I read Beyond the Laces, I had to look to the heavens, because I barely knew the author yet his story was describing my life and the lives of thousands of other parents who face this battle every day.  The story is about a child who just wanted to be healthy enough to play football like the other kids and not face the medical issues that held him back and parents that would do anything to help him be happy.  I remember after my son’s diagnosis, feeling like that Dad from the story, helpless, and wondering if my son would be okay. Will he always be watching from the sidelines and will his lack of stamina hold him back from playing a game he loves. Reading the words in the story took me back to moments in our journey - like the day we laid our son on the operating table for the third time, trying to keep my composure, while trying to find a way to explain to him that the mask to put him to sleep would make him feel better. Yet the true power in this book is when you get it in your hands, flip through the pages to see your life being illustrated before your eyes.

The boy in Beyond the Laces put his fears and his sickness aside while watching his favorite player, and used the inspiration from his 87 to translate it to real life courage in his battle.  As I know from being involved in this NICU fraternity, not every story has a happy ending, and bereaved parents look to faith, family and friends or may be an athlete to mend their broken heart.  
At the time I couldn’t explain what it would have done for me had Dustin Pedroia responded, nor can I feel angry that my “one in a million” went unanswered.  But after reading Beyond the Laces it helped me understand that having a chance to be “back in the game” is all a parent can ask for. 

Many nights in the NICU,  I would sing to my boy and ask God to “please don’t take my sunshine away”. Today, my “cool, crisp autumn winds”, are filled with plenty of sunshine.   

For the author Bob Salomon, success is measured in frowns turned to smiles, dreams made, and hearts filled with hope. My hope is to return to our children’s hospital one day to celebrate the Beyond the Laces mural on the walls of the NICU and hand out books to all the dads and kids fighting to live to see their 87 make a difference in their lives. 
Visit Beyond the Laces at to follow the movement.

To purchase or donate a copy of this book visit.

To learn more about our story visit: Owen's Story

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