Resiliency: Grand Forks AFB youth, family an example of strength

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan Sparks
  • 319th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Expectant parents have less than nine months to prepare for the challenges of parenthood. Fears about the child's health and future can creep into a new parent's mind, but after the first few weeks most parents are lucky enough to hear their child is healthy and happy. The real fear of parenthood can be dealing with a health issue that you weren't prepared to face. For the Hay family, fear became a reality on the morning of Sept. 9, 2015.

Tech. Sgt. Alfonso Hay, 319th Communications Squadron NCO-in-charge of client systems technicians, his wife Michelle, and daughters Talia and Emelia have been stationed here since July 2013. Michelle said her daughter Talia, 14, had always been a healthy and active child.

"We found out in sixth grade that she needed glasses," said Michelle. "We thought that was the biggest thing there was."

September 9th was the sixth day of Talia's freshman year of high school and Michelle said it started off like any other day. Talia woke up, got ready and went to school. While walking through the hallway to class, the unexpected happened.

"Her head just popped," said Michelle.

"I had no idea what it was," said Talia. "I just thought I had a really bad migraine that I had never experienced before."

Talia said she blacked out and doesn't remember much between leaving school and going to the hospital in Grand Forks.

Initially, the doctors were unable to determine the issue. Michelle said they decided to give Talia a CT scan and discovered there was blood on her brain. Talia was airlifted to Sandford Health in Fargo, North Dakota, while Michelle and Sergeant Hay drove to meet her.

Talia's positive attitude shines through when she talks about not remembering most of the event.

"I'm really sad I don't remember being in the helicopter," said Talia.

After a successful surgery, the doctors informed the Hay family that the cause of the bleeding was a brain hemorrhage resulting from a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM). According to the Mayo Clinic website, a brain AVM is a tangling of abnormal blood vessels in the brain.

Talia had to stay in the pediatric intensive care unit for 11 days and her parents needed a place to stay and support her. Michelle said the Ronald McDonald House provided a comfortable bed, food and many other amenities, which allowed them to focus on Talia's health.

More support came from an unexpected source, their Air Force family.

"We didn't have to worry about anything besides taking care of Talia," said Michelle.

Michelle said the support from the Air Force community was overwhelming. They had dinners provided every day, group and squadron commanders visited, and Airmen they had never met visited and donated items to help them. Michelle said they even had people help take care of their youngest daughter Emelia.

The Air Force values resiliency in their Airmen. Michelle said Talia is like a superhero and a great example of resiliency.

"I think it's just in my nature," said Talia.

For Talia, her team of more than 15 nurses helped her stay strong during her recovery. She remembers one of her helpers, Ms. Jessica, because she always made her smile.

Talia is being honored by the North Dakota Children's Miracle Network as their 2016 "Champion". She was selected due to the courage and perseverance she exemplified during her recovery.

After just five months, Talia said she is healthy and feels normal. The Hay family has learned a valuable lesson from this unexpected event.

"Every day isn't promised," said Michelle. "You don't know what tomorrow will bring."

Talia echoes those sentiments.

"Life is a big mystery, you never know when it's going to go away," said Talia.

Talia has experienced a lot for a teenager, but her biggest worry for the future is what some might expect from a high school freshman.

"I just want to get through high school," said Talia.