Sunday, May 17, 2015

ICYMI: What Autism Looks Like... Really

In case you missed it, my column this month on Moms Who Need Wine gave the follow-up to our waiting game with Curltop's diagnosis. I've re-posted my piece below, which originally ran here on

I read through the test results, which may as well have been written in Japanese, for all I got out of the therapy-speak and scoring, but there… under “Conclusion”… there was what I’ve known, all along.

My daughter, Curlytop, is one of many, many people in the world who reside within the Autism Spectrum.

God, I was so relieved to finally have an accurate diagnosis! I was so ready to fax off the results to the misdiagnosis-giving-ADHD-zealots, and reiterate my desire that their bunk label find a home where the sun doesn’t shine! I mean, I’m no proctologist, but I’m pretty sure I know where to put that faulty diagnosis. I was so grateful to be on the road to accessing more services, and getting more answers! I was Supermom, on a quad-shot mocha, ready to rock that shit!

And then… The wall. The freaking emotional wall to end all walls? The Great Wall of China-caliber emotional wall? I ran face-first into it.

What does it mean? What does it mean for our family? For Curlytop? What can we expect? What happens next? I know diddly about Autism. What does that even look like?

That was over a week ago. I’ve had some wine, some tears, some Southern Comfort, and some more tears. Now, I am prepared to share with you what Autism looks like.

Autism looks like a scattered sea of freckles across a perfect nose and cheeks. It looks like an unruly mass of twisted ginger curls which refuse to be tamed. It looks like the most captivating blue-green eyes I’ve ever seen, and I will count, tally and remember the precious seconds they make contact with mine.

Autism looks like one of the most strikingly beautiful children you’ve ever seen. Seriously, it will take your breath away with its beauty, and so will my Curlytop.

It looks like fingernails chewed down so far, I will always be astonished they don’t bleed. Autism looks like an endless stream of goofy “posing makes my face automatically look like I’m experiencing painful constipation” portraits, and a hundred perfect and beautiful candid images.

Autism looks like a heavy coat in the middle of summer. It looks like shoes on the wrong feet, on purpose, because they “feel better.” It looks like the most intense connection imaginable, and it looks like a distance so great, it would take the Starship Enterprise a million episodes to cross it… At warp speed.

It looks like plastic spoons, because metal conducts too much heat. Or too much cold. It looks like all the My Little Pony figurines in the world, because nothing else matters. Except maybe Minecraft.

Autism looks like a violent storm, and it looks like a glorious, perfect sunrise.

Autism looks like yesterday, because it’s what we’ve always lived, and it looks like today, because we continue to live it.

Autism looks like tomorrow, because tomorrow brings new challenges, and hope.

Autism looks like my perfect little girl.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!

Monday, April 13, 2015

It Might Be Autism. But It's Probably Not... Unless It Is.

Photo of Curlytop by the amazing
Bailey Brennan Photography.
Please show your love and support by
giving her Facebook page a "like!"
Let me tell you about my lovely Curlytop.

When she came to live with us, she was seven months old, and we’d been told she was a “happy, healthy, typically-developing infant.” Our family couldn't wait to love her.

The day we picked her up was the day I learned that some social workers are either completely incompetent, or outright lie when they’re trying to place a child. Curlytop was grossly delayed in motor skill development, didn't really babble or coo like babies do, usually didn't respond to the sound of her name (we actually had her hearing tested, because we thought she was either deaf, or significantly hearing impaired -- her hearing test came back as normal), and resisted eye contact -- so much so, we learned to feed her facing outward, leaning back against my or Mr. Wright’s chest.

She was beautiful -- bald as a turtle, and loud as a fire engine when distressed, which was frequently. She didn't point to things, so we mostly ran around the house, fetching or correcting things, until we found the magic button to shut off the banshee scream projecting from her delicate mouth.

A lot of times, it was an open door (she preferred “clean lines,” when it came to interior decorating) or a particular scent, or a lack of sensory input, or too much sensory input, or… Hell, half the time, I didn't know what the kid needed.

One thing she really excelled at was making “farting” noises with her mouth. She’s still really good at it, eight and a half years later, but she’s not aware she’s doing it.

We would, in coming months, begin using sign language with her -- a communication tool that would serve as her primary method of communication until she was about three years old.

She didn't crawl until she was 13 months old. She didn't walk until she was 22 months old. When she did walk, she was a toe walker. She insisted on wearing her shoes on the wrong feet (still does, today, at nine years old) because the “pinching” gave her extra sensory stimulation.

When she was two, Curlytop was diagnosed with absence seizures. We researched the medications and their side effects, and decided against medicating at the time. After all, she wasn't driving a car, swimming or crossing a street by herself, and the potential “dulling, dazed” behavior from the drugs wasn't worth it, as she already struggled with so much.

Fast forward to about a year ago, when our team of therapists and practitioners decided maybe it was time to get sweet Curlytop assessed for Autism. The resources for Autism assessment are pretty rare in our area, so we ended up on a waiting list at a major children’s hospital in Seattle for her to be seen. The average wait time, we were told, was a year. For the first appointment.

I reached out to the hospital, and had them put us on the cancellation list. The hospital is three hours away. “Give us four hours notice,” I said, “and we’ll drop everything to be there.” We were lucky enough to catch a break and get a call a few months ago to be seen by the screener, who is not a doctor, but is trained to screen out those who aren't likely candidates for further testing.

Curlytop received a recommendation for further testing, but the screener pointed to one piece of information in the file -- a very low IQ score, gleaned from a test administered about two years ago by the school district psychologist -- as a possible cause for all her delays, quirks, and lack of social integration. Plus, she explained, there is information in Curlytop’s file which indicated prenatal methamphetamine exposure.

Back on the waiting list we went, for the next appointment. Average wait time: nine to twelve months. Once again, I requested to be called if there was a cancellation, and once again, we caught a lucky break.

This time, we met with a psychologist and speech and language pathologist (SLP). The psychologist reviewed Curlytop’s medical history with us, while Curlytop and Snugglebug played with toys nearby. It was a “good day” for Curlytop… She played animatedly with her sister, without any meltdowns. The psychologist noted that she seemed to have a pretty vivid imagination, and I pointed out that the scene she was pretending was based on one of her favorite My Little Pony videos.

Everything, by the way, is My Little Pony.

“Would you like waffles, or cereal for breakfast, Curlytop?”

“Did you know Rarity loves waffles? One time, another pony made some waffles, but Rarity didn’t want to try them. But then she did, and she liked them… and then… and oh, I forgot to say this part… and also…”

(Five minutes later…)

“Oh, and Mom, this wasn't a regular My Little Pony movie. It was a mod.”

(I don’t know what a mod is, for the record, but she’s always talking about them. I’m pretty sure they have something to do with video games? I also get to hear about Minecraft mods all. the. time.)

“Okay, so was that waffles you wanted, then?”

“Mom, did you know Queen Chrysalis is a changeling, and can change into anyone she wants to?”

(Of course, I do. She told me this yesterday. And the day before. And possibly the day before, although I can’t be 100% sure. That day might have been a Princess Celestia day.)

“Wow! That’s really cool. So… breakfast. Waffles, or cereal?”

“Being able to change into other things might be cool, but she’s EVIL, Mom. She’s not a nice pony.”

“Waffles, it is.”

“One time, she changed into Princess Cadance to trick Shining Armor into marrying her, instead of Cadance. She was so evil that she…”

“Here are your waffles.”

“What? I don’t want waffles!” *meltdown* “I want cereal!”

The SLP went through standard assessments with Curlytop, and we had a short break for lunch, because the speech and language testing took longer than anticipated, because she couldn't stay on task. Rather, she interrupted the work to share random thoughts and information with the tester, and had to be redirected back to the testing process.

After lunch, we all regrouped with the assessment team for an overview of what they’d determined.

What they said was that they can’t 100% rule out Autism, but, based upon her IQ score from the school district, they were inclined to “nearly” rule it out, explaining the following:

  • They didn't currently have access to the raw data from her IQ testing, just an overall low score. The low IQ score must be weighed out against what the “expected” social integration would be for a child with that score. Based upon her performance, her social skills appear to match her IQ.
  • However, the data from the IQ testing is critical, because if it showed excellence in a single category, but produced a lowered score due to exceptional deficits in other categories, that may lend itself to an Autism diagnosis.
  • If the testing was not fully demonstrative of her actual capabilities (which is not unreasonable to imagine, if she was tested on one of her “off” days), and her IQ is actually higher, she may receive an Autism diagnosis.
  • Even if she doesn't receive an Autism diagnosis, everyone seems to agree that there is “something” going on with her, as her social interactions seem to be largely one-sided. So, maybe not Autism, but maybe something else.

We were also told that prenatal drug exposure often “looks like” Autism, with its inability to concentrate, awkward social skills, sensory integration problems, and more. So, in essence, her “diagnosis” might be simply “prenatal drug exposure.”

When we got home, I cried.

As selfish and self-centered as it sounds, I was devastated at the suggestion that Curlytop might never receive a medical diagnosis that will help us unlock the mystery of how she learns and communicates.

Autism is a medical diagnosis. Even Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a medical diagnosis. But “drug baby” is not. It’s a label, and a stigmatizing one, at that.

Which month is Prenatal Drug Exposure Awareness Month? It doesn't exist. What color is the awareness ribbon? There isn't one.

Where is my parental support tribe?

To be honest, we don’t know, with 100% certainty, that Curlytop was drug-exposed. What we “know” before she came to live with us is boiled down into two volumes of reports from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) of Washington state.

We've also learned that not all of the information in the files is factual, or complete.

We've never seen a positive drug test from the time of her biological mother’s pregnancy. We've never seen results from any potential testing that definitively state Curlytop tested positive for drugs at birth. We've never even read a social worker’s report that states that a positive drug test exists.

We don’t KNOW that she was drug-exposed.

Anyway, the next step is for more cognitive testing, and a new IQ test. Then, follow-up testing with actual Autism-focused assessments will come next.

After our appointment, I chatted with Curlytop’s regular weekly speech therapist to let her know how it went. She informed me that the director of our primary therapy center had recently become certified to administer the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) to help in assessing children for Autism.

Yay! Really? We could save ourselves a six-hour round trip to Seattle and back? Yes, please!

I set up an appointment with the director, to discuss what we’d done so far, and what was on the horizon. I discussed with him the team feedback from our last appointment in Seatte, and how much of it was based upon the IQ score. When he asked what that score was, I told him, and he was taken aback. He’s worked extensively with Curlytop in her ongoing assessments through the therapy center, and he estimated that her IQ score (and he was really just taking a wild stab at what he would expect the results to be) may be as many as 20 points higher.


To put this in perspective, IF he correct, or nearly-correct on her actual IQ, the classification for such a score would take her results from “lower-extreme or well-below-average” to “low-average” or even “AVERAGE.” Both her “current” score and his “expected” score are on the cusps of classification levels, so I’m including a best/worst variance.

As we talked, he thumbed through the ADOS test booklet. He cited many examples of questions, and what he expected Curlytop’s performance might be on each question. I agreed with each of his suggestions on her responses.

Finally, he told me he would not be one bit surprised to find Curlytop somewhere within the Autism Spectrum, based upon her interactions with him and other staff members. We talked about the benefits of screening Curlytop with someone she knows and trusts, in an environment she is comfortable in.

Will an Autism diagnosis help us to access services for Curlytop she might not otherwise receive? Maybe. Will a “rule-out” mean we will stop searching for answers, support, and endeavors to help her succeed? Absolutely not.

When we adopted Curlytop, we really did mean “forever,” which means we will never stop cherishing her for the beautiful, quirky, maddening miracle she is. Regardless of her diagnosis (or lack of one), we know WHO she is. She is our daughter, wonderful, and cherished. She is our gift from God.

It might be Autism. But it’s probably not. Unless it is. And really, does it matter?

April is Autism Awareness Month. Learn more at Autism Society.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Please, Ask Me About My Adoptive Family... But Not Like This

Photo of Curltop and Snugglebug
by Mad Rooster Photography
I love that people are curious about our family, and how it was created. After all, I am blessed to have gained children in every way imaginable -- I gave birth, I've raised full-time stepchildren, and I've adopted. I guess we can rule out immaculate conception, because I'm no saint. Trust me on that one.

Naturally, people want to ask questions, and I am flattered they care enough about our little tribe to find out more.

However, there are some questions that -- no matter how well-intentioned -- leave me bristling. Here are just a few, specifically related to our adoptions:

1. Where's their "real mom?" Or, Do they see their "real mom?" Or, Do they know their "real mom?" Or... You get the picture.

I might ask you, "What is a real mom? Is it someone who gets up in the middle of the night for feedings, cups her hands for a sick kid to puke into, agonizes over every parenting decision from what pediatrician to see to what colleges to look into, maintains a crazy calendar and works her butt off to make sure her kids have what they need?" If you answered "yes" to any of those, I am their "real mom."

Instead, feel free to ask me about their "birth mother," "biological mother" or their "first mother." We use those terms interchangeably, and we reserve a place of honor in our hearts and our family for the woman who gave birth to our daughters.

Incidentally, the same goes for their "birth father," "biological father" or their "first father."

2. Are they sisters?

Yes. Yes, they are sisters. They are sisters not only to one another, but also sisters to our five other children. They are sisters, because we are a family. 

In our particular case, our two youngest daughters do happen to be biologically related, and have the same birth mother and birth father, but even if they didn't, they would still be sisters.

3. Where did you get them?

Oh, you know... someone was outside the grocery store with a cardboard box and a sign that said, "FREE TO A GOOD HOME," so we packed them up, and brought them home. Actually, not really. 

Ask me if we adopted through foster care, or if we had a private adoption, or if we had an in-family adoption, instead. I'll be happy to share with you! Where we adopted from isn't the question you're trying to ask, I assume. Rather, I expect you're more interested in how we adopted.

4. Did you adopt because you couldn't have any more of your "own" kids?

Please, just don't.

Infertility, difficulty conceiving, miscarriages, high-risk pregnancy... It's all hard to talk about, and really -- it's none of your business, unless we are very close. Even then, it may be none of your business, unless I choose to share it with you.

Nonetheless, we adopted because it was right for us, and the decision had nothing to do with whether or not we could have more children of our "own." All our children are "ours," regardless of how they were conceived, and my adopted children are "my own kids."

5. Aren't you afraid they'll have... problems?

This is usually followed by a story about how the person asking has a cousin, or a friend, or a cousin of a friend, or they heard a story about someone who adopted, and the kid had all sorts of "problems." The perceived problems might be medical, behavioral, neurological, or any combination of these.

Yes, I am afraid my kids will have problems. All of my kids. I have an adult child with severe allergies. I have another adult child who has struggled with addiction. I have yet another child who has screamed and punched her way through emotional issues and behavioral problems. Perhaps most concerning, I have a kid who actually thinks Skrillex is "music." 

None of those kids were adopted.

As parents, we worry. We worry a lot. We question every decision we make, and we worry our kids will face challenges we can't save them from. We worry about whether we should save them from challenges and, if so, which ones. We worry they'll get sick, or hurt, or abducted or sucked into a destructive cult.

I'd worry about those things, even if all my kids grew in my uterus. In fact, the "grow your own" method doesn't alleviate the risk of health or behavior issues. 

My kids have 99 problems, and being adopted isn't one of them.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Project 2,996: Remember Zandra Cooper Ploger

Photo source
This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

Zandra Cooper Ploger, a 48-year old resident of Annandale, Virginia on September 11, 2001, was a manager at IBM for over 20 years. She was dedicated to her work, loved her two adult daughters, reading, and hosting parties. In fact, she was busy planning a birthday party for her new husband, Robert, who would turn 60 in December.

Zandra and Robert had married on May 12, 2001, but their busy work schedules - Robert was a computer systems analyst for several different companies - prevented the couple from honeymooning right away. When they boarded American Airlines Flight 77, they were headed to finally enjoy that honeymoon, in Hawaii. Zandra was looking forward to not thinking about work for two relaxing weeks, and enjoying a break with her new husband.
Photo source

Friends called her "Z," and she was known for her ability to organize and throw parties which brought together her many loved ones. She was a devoted mother, attending sporting activities and school events for her daughters, and even helping to orchestrate their high school graduation ceremonies. Described as a self-starter, Zandra didn't sit around, waiting for life and opportunities to come to her. Rather, she seized every moment and threw her ambition into exceeding the goals she set for herself, whether it was a work issue, or planning a social event.

Zandra's older daughter, Zena, was born with a heart condition, and Zandra carefully loved and comforted her child through childhood and into adulthood while avidly supporting the American Heart Association. She was the sort of mother who taught her children they could accomplish anything in their lives, and when her younger daughter, Erin, wanted to make a big move, Zandra supported her choice. Even though the distance would be difficult for the two, they maintained a strong bond. In fact, both of Zandra's daughters continued to look to their mother for advice and wisdom, even after they reached adulthood.

Max, Zandra's cat, was a source of joy for her, and by all accounts, she pampered him. Her daughter, Zena, related:
I just remember that when Erin and I were younger, my mom told us we could get a cat. On the trip to pick it up, we were thinking of a name. By the time we got there, she had named it and it was just her cat ever since. Max would cuddle up with her. He slept with her. She would spoon-feed him. He got groomed once a month. One time my husband came to visit and [he] was going to shoo the cat out of the chair and my mom said, ‘Let me get you another chair.’ She just loved this cat, and she showed him a lot of affection.
Photo source

Flight 77 was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the Pentagon at 09:37EDT, cutting short Zandra and Robert's much-awaited honeymoon.

Zandra leaves behind a legacy of love, friendship, laughter and inspiration to those who knew her. Please remember in your prayers Zandra, Robert, Zena, Erin, and all those whose lives were touched by this beautiful woman.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!

Project 2,996: Remember Michael Theodoridis

This tribute is respectfully reposted from 9/11/09.

Michael Theodoridis, 32, and his wife, Rahma Salie, 28, were passengers on American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11, 2001. Rahma was seven months pregnant with their first child. The two were looking forward to being parents as they boarded the plane, intending to travel to California to attend a wedding.

Michael was of Greek descent and grew up in Switzerland. He graduated from Boston University and worked as a technical consultant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It was difficult to find information about Michael's life, but many online memorial comments helped me to understand the kind of man he was, and how desperately missed he will be:

It's nearly 8 years later and I still vividly remember the day shortly after 9/11 when it went from being a national tragedy to also being a more personal tragedy for me after I found out that Micky and Rahma were on Flight 11. Each summer when my second son has another birthday, I think about Micky's unborn child being the same age as I remember Micky congratulating me and telling me how excited he was about his future as a father.

I pray that they both rest in peace and be granted a place in Heaven. Amen.
- Abdullah Haydar


I never forget your kindness and always positive outlook on life. I had a great time working with/for you at i-cube in Cambridge.

On this 7th anniversary of the attacks, I pray Rahma's, your kid's and your souls are blessed and somewhere special.
- Rob Garcia

Sincere sympathy for the loss of my cousin Michael, rest in peace in God's hand. - John Pondelis

In a business culture full of people whom you forget and whom forget you the instant you part, both Micky and Rhama were anything but forgettable. I still remember Rhama asking me to do an imitation of her accent and it makes me laugh with the memory. Like someone else who commented on this site, it was also Michael's humour, patience and support that kept me going in a very difficult work situation. The world is a much colder place without these two stellar human beings.
- Colin Owens

I worked with Mickey on multiple projects in i-Cube (Stuttgart, Germany; Phoenix, AZ and later in NYC). He was a great friend of mine in addition to being a professional colleague. He was very funny and used to crack me up at difficult times. He worked very hard and managed to keep his sense of humor. He and Rahma were made for each other. It is sad that they could not be together longer. It's so sad! My deepest condolences to his family and friends.
- Jay Natarajan

America Cries
We see your sorrow-
and our hearts cry....
We can not erase your pain
but you do not have to face the anguish alone-for we-
-the American people-
are beside you.
We so desperately want to have the touch that brings you comfort,
the strength that gives you courage,
and the words to lighten your spirits.
And when we are left speechless
may the silence of our nation weave love into your hearts
to ease your sorrow.
May you find healing through our nation's strength as we-
-the American people-
face this difficult time together. Our hearts are with you.
- Teresa Jahn

Please light a candle for Michael, his family and those who loved him. Say a prayer for the father-to-be, husband, and friend who lost his life on September 11, 2001.

Never forget.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Joseph DiPilato

This post was originally published on 9/11/09 on Citizen Gonzo. I've moved it here because I haven't blogged at Citizen Gonzo for a long, long time, and I get thousands more hits on this blog than on CG. I think Joseph deserves those thousands of views and more, don't you?

Electrician Joseph DiPilato, age 57, was working in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center when Tower 1 was struck on September 11, 2001. As he prepared to leave the building, he called his wife and childhood sweetheart, Maria, to tell her he was safe. He was last seen in an elevator, intending to evacuate.

Joseph was a romantic fellow who took his wife to dinner every Friday and held her hand as they spent summers strolling the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland. He took pride in maintaining his backyard, patio and swimming pool. He coached and managed his sons' Little League team. He was, above all else, a husband and father.

Neighbors like Mrs. Phyllis Buono grew to appreciate the blooms Joseph planted and look forward to the seeing the flowers he would select each season. "He set that yard up like it was a resort," Mrs. Buono said. "In the spring the flower pots would explode with blossoms." Phyllis's husband, Mike Buono, enjoyed working on cars with Joseph.

Maria and Joseph grew up together in Little Italy, where Joseph's childhood friends gave him the nickname "Joey Brillo," a nod to his short, wiry hair.

I didn't know Joseph DiPilato, but I am touched by the words of those who did:

"He would do anything for me. He cared about me and I always came first," said his wife, Maria.

"We loved him more than anything and he's going to be missed by a lot of people," said his son, Joseph. "He just meant everything to us."

"I remember Brillo as a kid, a year older than me. He was the best basketball player in Columbus Park on Mulberry Street. He gave me great pointers on getting the ball through the hoop. Everyone in the neighborhood loved Brillo. He was a great role model in a tough neighborhood. A natural athlete, terrific sense of humor and a decent human being. A guy like him is surely missed by many,"
said childhood friend Anthony Venturato

And this, dated August 19, 2008, from his daughter-in-law, Andrea:

Dearest Dad,

It has been almost 7 years since you have been with us. We miss you tremendously. Something wonderful happened yesterday that I wanted to share. Your granddaughter Olivia typed in what she thought was her brothers name & brought up this website. As soon as she saw your picture she screamed with such excitement and said, "Mommy hurry come see Grandpa on the computer". It stopped me in my tracks & touched my heart more than you could ever know. All I could think about was how much you could not wait to be a grandfather. And little did we know on the last night that I was with you, I was already pregnant with your first grandchild. Leo & I would have given anything to be able to tell you in person you were going to finally be a Grandpa.

Olivia talks about her "Grandpa in heaven" all the time. She wishes she could have known you. You would be so blown away by Olivia. She has such a huge heart just as you did.

As Olivia & Joseph grow up they will know everything there is to know about their very special "Grandpa in heaven". We all miss you terribly!

All our Love to you in Heaven, Leo, Andrea, Olivia & Joseph

Please light a candle for Joseph, his family and those who loved him. Say a prayer for the father, husband, neighbor and friend who lost his life on September 11, 2001.

Never forget.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Deborah Merrick

Image from Project 2,996
Mr. Wright originally wrote this tribute for Deborah on 9/11/09. He posted it on a blog we set up for our business, but never ended up using. Therefore, it gets relatively no traffic. I wanted to move Deborah's tribute here, where thousands can stumble upon it and say a prayer in her memory.

Deborah Merrick
45 years old
Resident of New York
Worked for the Port Authority
Victim of World Trade Center Attack 9/11
Appears to have passed away subsequent to 9/11

I looked and searched for details of your death. I looked and searched for details of your life. Unfortunately, not much was to be found.

Forty-five years old is too young to die, but certainly there was time to live.

There must be a story there. There must be a story to tell.

I wonder: What if...?

What if your story is never told?

Then it occurs to me...

How many other stories never get told?

Deborah, I want to recognize you.

In the end, you are not a story. You are not a statistic. You are not a name. You are a person; you have a soul. You had a life and that life was cut short because of 9/11.

Deborah Merrick, we remember you by name. As we remember your death, we remember to celebrate life.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Kenneth Watson

This tribute is respectfully reposted from September 11, 2010.

Kenneth Watson was laid to rest on November 9, 2001 - almost two months after terrorists decimated the World Trade Center, where his body was finally found. He served as a firefighter with Engine Company 214.

Engine Company 214 responded to the devastation caused when the towers were struck. By mid-day, several members of the crew were missing. Kenneth was among them. The company's remaining men searched through the rubble and chaos with their bare hands - they had no tools.

In the days and weeks that followed, Engine 214 members continued to search for their fallen comrades, and became part of the bucket brigade, filling and passing buckets of debris from the wreckage along a line to be dumped into trucks, then hauled off to Staten Island.

By early October, there was still no sign or information about the fallen members of Engine Company 214. Then, the crew received word that a shield badge from a 214 helmet (belonging to Lieutenant Christopher Sullivan) had been found - but no body was recovered to go along with it.

October 31, the body of one of the company's men (Michael Roberts) was recovered, along with shields from two more 214 helmets (belonging to Carl Bedigian and John Florio).

By this time, enough rubble had been cleared that recovery crews were finally able to get to where Engine 214's men had been - on the first floor near the elevator, waiting to go up to rescue people.

The surviving members of Engine 214 dug and tunneled and worked, moving the debris, concrete, blocks of marble and ash, until they recovered each of their fallen, the last being Kenneth Watson.

It is a long-held tradition that each company recovers their own men. It is a tradition of honor, of pride, of sacrifice, of brotherhood.

Each of the fallen heroes of Engine 214 deserve so much more than respect and honor. They deserve for their stories to be remembered and told again and again.

For Kenneth's story, I looked to the people who knew and loved him, and their comments on his tribute page.

Kenneth was a loving husband to Susan, and devoted father to his five children. Friends and family describe him as brave, generous, and heroic.

Attempts to find more, more details, more stories, more specifics about Kenneth's life fell short. It saddens me that somewhere, today, a wife and children grieve Kenneth's loss, and I can't share their story, can't tell how he met and married Susan, how he felt the first time he held each of his children, how he became so devoted to committing his life to serving others.

But, really, that's the enormity of it. 2,996 lives were lost on September 11, 2001. So, so many stories I'll never know, so many names I won't be able to remember, so many prayers left to say.

Never forget.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Matthew Gerard Leonard

Image from Project 2,996
This tribute is respecfully reposted from September 11, 2010.

Please note: I was heartbreakingly unable to find a photo of Matthew Gerard Leonard. If any friends or family stop by to read this post, first, I hope you'll read in the following words my respect, care and admiration for such a wonderful man. Secondly, if you have a photo you wish to donate to this post, please contact me at so I may add Mr. Leonard's image to this tribute.

Matthew Gerard Leonard was a 38-year-old lawyer working as director of litigation at Cantor Fitzgerald in the South Tower of the World Trade Center when tragedy struck on September 11, 2001. He was husband to Yolanda, brother to Helen, and father to Christina, seven months old at the time.

Matthew was a devout Catholic, steadfastly involved in his church. He was compassionate attorney, with an extensive history of pro bono work for those who could not afford legal help. A good singer, he sang Christmas carols in the hallways of his office and with the homeless on the streets of New York.

He was an early riser - always wanting to get started on work before the busyness of the day set in, and September 11, 2001 was no exception. He awakened, got ready for work, and headed out the door. His wife, Yolanda, looked at the clock as he left. It read 7:11 a.m.

How could Yolanda have known he wouldn't return that day?

People described Matthew as "kind," "a saint," "loving," "wonderful," and so much more. Remember Matthew Gerard Butler, a compassionate attorney, a loving husband, a doting father, a son, a brother, a friend. Let his memory, and the mark he made on the world, not be forgotten.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Andre G. Fletcher

This tribute is respectfully reposted from September 11, 2010.

Andre G. Fletcher was a 37-year-old firefighter with Rescue 5, an emergency response unit with NYFD. Andre and his twin brother, Zack, also a firefighter, responded to the crisis on September 11, 2001. Andre was killed in the first tower collapse at the World Trade Center.

Zack described he and his brother as "type A-plus" personalities, thriving on action, adventure, danger and excitement. The brothers last spoke as Andre raced toward the burning towers. Zack told him he'd be there soon, to work alongside him, and not to do anything stupid - "Don't be a hero," he told his brother.

But Andre Fletcher was a hero, through and through. And he was a man of action. When he joined the fire department in 1994 and learned they didn't have a baseball team, he started one. He played on the department football team. I imagine him playing catch with his son, Blair, 12 years old in 2001.

I imagine, when Andre arrived on the scene at the World Trade Center, he never had a second thought about being a hero. It seemed to be what came naturally to him, and that, quite simply, is how I imagine him; a hero in death - and in life.

Say a prayer for Zack, who must certainly feel the loss of his twin each day. For Andre's parents, Lunsford and Monica, Jamaican immigrants who must be incredibly proud of their sons, but mourn the loss of one of the twins. For Blair, who lost a father at that all-important time of adolescence when a boy needs his father's guidance and patience. Say a prayer for the memory of Andre G. Fletcher, killed in the line of duty, doing what he lived for.

Never forget.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Shekhar Kumar

This tribute is respectfully reposted from September 11, 2010.

Shekhar Kumar was a 30 year-old programmer analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He'd been married in November 2000, and didn't have the opportunity to celebrate his first wedding anniversary.

A co-worker described Shekhar as "a gentle man with a great capacity for figuring our arcane problems, and who had a smile on his face and a way about him that when he asked you to move a mountain, you'd say, 'no problem.'"

On Shekhar's page, friends describe him as "a really great friend," "energetic, enthusiastic and optimistic."

Please say a prayer for Shekhar, his family, and the young widow left to grieve for him.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Paige Farley-Hackel

Photo source
This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

Paige Farley-Hackel of Newton, Massachusetts was a motivational speaker and writer, on the verge of her dreams. Her new radio program, "Spiritually Speaking," was preparing to hit the air, and she had lofty goals of appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show - or of becoming Oprah's competition. She had a Master's degree in substance abuse counseling, and was a tireless advocate for the Salvation Army.

In keeping with her passion for spiritual growth, 46-year-old Paige was headed to California for a conference at Deepak Chopra's Center for Well Being on September 11, 2001. She was traveling with her best friend, Ruth Magdaline McCourt, and McCourt's four-year-old daughter, Juliana. Together, they'd celebrate Paige's certification at the Center for completion of the Debbie Ford Shadow Process and take Juliana ("Miss J") to Disneyland.

The group ended up flying out of Boston on different airlines through the use of frequent flier miles - Paige on American Airlines Flight 11, and Ruth and Miss J on United Flight 175.

Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, followed by Flight 175's collision with the south tower, minutes later.

As USA Today noted, "Ruth Clifford McCourt and Paige Farley Hackel were inseparable in life. Tuesday, in a fluke of airline ticketing, they became inseparable in death."
Paige Farley-Hackel with Juliana and Ruth McCourt
Photo source

Family, friends, supporters and loved ones have not allowed Paige's untimely death to derail her passions. They've established the Paige Farley Hackel Free Care Fund, which provides addiction treatment at no cost to those most in need. In 2007, the Paige Farley Hackel Memorial Playground was dedicated at the Salvation Army Children's Learning Center in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

In my research on Paige Farley-Hackel, one of the most profound and all-encompassing statements was what she wrote in her 1973 yearbook:

There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.

Paige knew changing lives begins with changing oneself. She bettered herself to better the world. I am proud to remember Paige. Please say a prayer for her family and those she loved so dearly.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!

Project 2,996: Remember Rahma Salie

This tribute is respectfully reposted from 9/11/09.

Project 2,996 volunteer Asher Styrsky wrote the following tribute to Rahma Salie, wife of Michael Theodoridis, on Facebook. Since only Asher’s friends can see this wonderful tribute, Asher asked me to copy and post it here, where Rahma’s tribute can be joined with Michael’s.

Here is Asher’s tribute to Rahma:

For several years now, I've participated in Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. This year, my assignment failed to come thru via email, but fortunately I was contacted by another participant last minute who got me on track.

The name ... Rahma Salie.
Rahma was of Sri Lanken descent, and grew up in Japan. It seems she considered her Muslim faith to be a very important part of her life, for her husband Michael Theodoridis converted to Islam just before their marriage in 1998. Soon after, Rahma discovered she was pregnant. Seven months later, she and Michael left their home on the outskirts of Boston and boarded a plane headed to California where they intended to attend a wedding. Tragically, the lives of Rahma, Michael, and their unborn child were taken from them by radical jihadists in an event that would change history.

As I searched online for information on Rahma ... trying to learn as much as possible about her ... I discovered an online collection of photos from her life, including childhood gymnastics and pictures from her wedding. A beautiful human being ... (look on the right under 'Tribute' for more photos) Also, please note that a tribute has been put together for Rahma's husband, Michael here.
Having never met her, I have no way to know first hand the type of woman that Rahma Salie was. And so I must rely on the words of those who knew her.

Common words used to describe her ... effervescent, smiling, joy, and kind.

"Rahma was a beautiful person, always smiling, always caring. I had the pleasure of working with Rahma only for a short time, but she made a distinct impression on my life.
~ Pam Sheen, Kingston, Massachusetts"

"Mmissing you rahma! and remembering you. i never got a chance to tell you just how much of a role model you were to me. thank you."

"I met Rahma when I became a teacher at the International School of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo in 1990. I'll always remember how welcome she made me feel. She was so friendly and warm. The following year I was lucky enough to be her International Relations teacher. We had lots of laughs in class. I was so proud when she majored in International Relations. When Rahma was killed she was seven months pregnant. My wife was seven months pregnant too. Our daughter is now five and a half years old and my love for her sometimes is a reminder of how lucky I am, and how Rahma and Mickey were robbed of their happiness. My deepest condolences to their parents.
~ Paul Doolan, Z├╝rich"

May we never forget the lives that were taken so suddenly on September 11, 2001.

Today, I hug my wife and children a little tighter, remembering the life and tragic death of Rahma Salie, killed at age 28.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Pendyala "Vamsi" Vamsikrishna and Prasanna Kalahasthi - a Victim of Grief

Photo source
This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

Pendyala Vamsikrishna, "Vamsi" to friends, was 30 years old on September 11, 2001. A project manager for the consulting firm of DTI, he was a talented software developer.

Vamsi and his wife, Prasanna Kalahasthi, like most young couples, had dreams and plans for their future. Both from India, they'd moved to the United States to pursue education and career opportunities - Vamsi to study engineering, and Prasanna to attend USC as a grad student in the International Student Program for Foreign-Trained Dentists. Brought together by an arranged marriage, the two were lucky enough to truly find love and devotion in one another, and had been married two and a half years in September 2001. They'd planned to start a family, had received their green cards, and dove into their pursuits in the U.S.

A devoted employee known for his strong work ethic, Vamsi had been in Boston for business and ended up staying an extra day, missing his original flight. On Tuesday, September 11, he left a voicemail for Prasanna, telling her he'd be home to Los Angeles soon:

Hi, sweetie, I've just boarded the flight, and I'll see you in Los Angeles this afternoon.

Vasmi never made it. His plane, American Airlines Flight 11, was the first to strike the World Trade Center, crashing into the north tower at 08:46:26.

Photo source

On October 19, 2001, Prasanna took her own life, leaving behind notes and an audio recording for her family, stating she just couldn't go on without her husband.

All I want is for you people to understand and respect me for what I'm doing. It's a lot, I know... But I'm responding to this in the only way I can bring peace to myself.

I chose Vasmi's name blindly from a list. Within minutes, I knew I had to include his young wife - and the tragic end to both beautiful, promising lives - in this tribute. Please, pray for the families and friends of Vasmi and Prasanna. Years may have passed, but this loving couple must not be forgotten.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!