By A.J. DeLaGarza, Los Angeles Galaxy
Life is precious. And it can be short. That’s why I hold my family close, even when I’m on the road.
My daughter, Noelle, just turned one. She was born at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance on Oct. 22, 2015 at 8:28 a.m.
Remember that number.
She was born almost a year after my wife gave birth to our first child, our son, Luca, on Aug. 28, 2014. Luca was born with a rare congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which essentially means he only had half a heart, and needed immediate open heart surgery upon birth.
During just his second day of life, Luca’s heart crashed, which resulted in him needing another immediate, unplanned, open heart surgery to save his life. At that time, Luca was put on a heart-lung bypass machine, another form of life support. Luca’s heart defect proved to be too much for his little body to handle when he came off the heart-lung bypass machine a week later. He passed away peacefully in our arms on Sept. 4, 2014 at just one week old.
|Luca in his bed at LA Children's Hospital after being put on heart lung bypass machine. August 29,2014.
My wife and I were lucky to be expecting another baby, our daughter Noelle. She was scheduled for delivery on Oct. 22, 2015 at 7 a.m. at Providence Little Company of Mary.
When Noelle was born and finally placed into my arms, I asked the nurse for the actual time of birth. She told me 8:28, and immediately my heart nearly dropped. I took that as a sign that Luca was watching over his little sister from Heaven.
Now, at the age of one, Noelle could not be more filled with joy and happiness. She sleeps more than 12 hours a night and takes two naps during the day. Our friends and family even ask us for tips on parenting because Noelle is always easygoing and happy. Her even-tempered personality is just what my family needed after losing Luca.
Luca was expected to be in the hospital for the first four months of his life. If by a miracle he reached the age of six months, he would have needed yet another open heart surgery. Since we knew that Luca would require around-the-clock intensive care, we had no immediate plans of expanding our family. But, Noelle was born just 15 months after Luca, which probably wouldn’t have been the case if Luca were still here.
Now that Noelle is with us, we consider her our rainbow baby with her brother watching from above. When she was born, my wife and I did not expect to be those parents who were obsessed with their child and post tons of videos and photos on social media.
That did not last long.
We are obsessed with her, like all parents are with their children, and she has brought so much joy to our family. We know just how lucky we are to have a healthy child, especially after what we experienced with Luca. We cherish the moments of laughter, and, oddly enough, her infrequent cries.
Luca wasn’t able to cry -- his lungs weren’t strong enough -- so we don’t ever take those moments for granted with Noelle.
As a professional soccer player, I am always on the road and gone for days at a time. It’s hard to leave your family, whether it be for those days we just go to training for a couple hours, or for road games when we’re gone for up to a week.
On road trips, once the team has collected our bags from baggage claim and headed out to the bus, the calls to our families usually begin. The different sounds of baby voices coming from a bunch of guys as they talk to their kids is entertaining.
Even though it is hard to leave my daughter, the most fulfilling moments are those when I walk back through the door and her face lights up with the biggest smile. On road trips, I try to FaceTime my wife and daughter every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Days when I am at home, I FaceTime my parents and family who live nearly 3,000 miles away just so they can be involved in Noelle’s life as well.
Just a couple days after Noelle was born, I had to leave for our last regular season game in Kansas City. My wife was still in the hospital, recovering from giving birth and I was already back to work. I would FaceTime just to see Noelle, even when I knew she couldn’t see me.
When my wife was coming to the end of her hospital stay, I was still on the road, but I wanted her to stay an extra day just so I could be there for those first moments of getting home as a family. Those are moments I never got to have with my son, the moments of leaving the hospital, the first car ride, introducing him to his bigger brother, our dog, Diesel.
For the first four months, Noelle was just too young to understand anything about FaceTime and couldn’t recognize my face. But I captured the first moment when she did. She gave me the biggest smile, and, from then on, I started a photo album of all the screenshots I took of her grinning at me.
I want to stay connected even when I am traveling as she is learning new things daily. My wife also sends me daily videos of Noelle learning new words or photos of Noelle and Diesel.
Having a child is the greatest privilege in life and I can’t wait to watch Noelle grow every day, every month, and every year. And even when I am traveling it’s important to me to stay connected with her through calls, photos, and videos.
That’s my story, and the experience has made me stronger.
It’s also made me more determined to stay in touch with my wife and daughter.
How do you stay connected with your loved ones when you’re traveling?
More on parenting:
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a helpful resource guide for parents who are setting family routines and structures.
Here are some of the stories we’ve written for new parents:
A.J. DeLaGarza is a defender with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer. The son of a Native American mother and a Mexican-Guamian father, he plays for Guam’s national soccer team. After Luca’s death, he and his wife founded Luca Knows Heart, a charity that has contributed money and held blood drives to benefit Children’s Hospital L.A., and has helped raise money for the American Heart Association and the Ronald McDonald House.