For 12-year-old twin brothers Jack and Sam Reeves, coming of age in their Jewish tradition has a profound meaning. In November, just weeks after turning 13, they will observe their B’nai mitzvah — a moment that symbolizes crossing the threshold of boyhood and becoming accountable for their own actions.
But the Reeves brothers will celebrate another milestone at Congregation B’nai Jehudah come the end of November: growing from a very shaky beginning into thriving young men.
Jack and Sam Reeves of Leawood weighed a combined 3 pounds 12 ounces when they were born on Nov. 5, 2000, and spent the first 79 days of their tentative lives in the Overland Park Regional Medical Center NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). The boys’ mother, Lisa Reeves, recalls watching her tiny, fragile sons in their incubators with husband Matthew, wondering if they would each survive the years to become a bar mitzvah.
“Would they walk or talk, what would their quality of life be,” says Lisa, a school psychologist in the Blue Valley School District. “There were more questions than answers for a long time.”
Lisa went into pre-term labor week 25 of her pregnancy and on Halloween 2000 delivered the boys at 26 weeks. She remained in the hospital for a week following Jack and Sam’s birth. When Lisa was discharged and ordered to go home and rest to regain strength, she and husband Matt took the worst car ride of their lives.
“On the way home we talked about being scared and not knowing what to expect,” says Lisa. “We were shell-shocked and shaken but prepared to take Jack and Sam’s progress one day at a time, one step at a time. Although we were emotional because our newborn sons weren’t with us, we knew the boys were in the best possible hands.”
Some days during Jack and Sam’s wobbly journey to self-sufficiency the Overland Park Regional Medical Center NICU nurses reported to the anxious couple that the brothers took one step forward and two steps backward.
On other days there were monumental victories, like when Jack and Sam started inching their way up on the weight scale.
Requirements for the boys’ homecoming included being able to breathe on their own; to take food by mouth rather than via a feeding tube; and to maintain a consistent body temperature. It was a joyous occasion when on January 23, 2001, at three months old, Jack, who weighed 4 pound 15 ounces and Sam, at 5 pounds, 6 ounces, were approved by neonatologists to go home.
“They were huge compared to their auspicious beginnings, but pretty tiny for almost 3 months old,” says Lisa. “They came home on supplemental oxygen with apnea monitors, but they came home,” says Lisa. “At last we were a united family.”
Fast forward to 2013 when Jack and Sam, now middle school students and brothers to sister Abby, 7, began planning the community service portion of their B’nai mitzvah. Jack, who is hearing impaired, loves music and drama; Sam, who has cerebral palsy, is into sports. Finding common ground for a collaborative project posed a bit of a challenge for two boys with passionate opinions.
“The project needed to represent something that impacted their lives,” says Lisa. “One day during a family brainstorm session we talked about the Overland Park Regional Medical Center NICU. That resonated with Jack and Sam, who said they wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for those doctors and nurses.”
Lisa called Elaine Riordan, a social worker at the Overland Park Regional Medical Center NICU, to discuss the idea of outfitting a playroom.
“Elaine was there in 2000 when the boys were born,” says Lisa. “In fact, I discovered many of the same nurses and doctors were at the NICU.”
Elaine receives updates from many NICU parents on their babies.
“Every year hundreds of little miracles leave the NICU and go home to grow and become the persons they were meant to be,” she says. “All NICU staff members love to get holiday cards or Facebook posts from our graduates. Anyone will tell you, it is very heartwarming to see babies — and their families — flourish.”
Like many other parents, Lisa and Matt proudly sent updates on Jack and Sam to the NICU. Elaine wasn’t surprised when she received a call from the Reeves about the boys’ philanthropic project.
“To me, it’s part of the miracle,” says Elaine. “The twins’ efforts will provide a play therapy room for older babies and developmental equipment and toys for preemies. And probably most importantly, their story will provide inspiration for hundreds of parents that sit at the bedside of their babies, hoping and praying for their own little miracles.”
Project Reeves-NICU was launched in earnest. NICU occupational therapists briefed the family and drafted a wish list of items for the room. The boys appealed to family and friends for support and donations started appearing daily in the Reeves’ mailbox.
Cash in hand, the boys piled into the family minivan for shopping excursions to purchase a squishy floor mat, rolling shelves, crib and wall mirrors, bouncy chairs and other equipment.
The initial wish list was satisfied, more money was raised and the boys continued checking things off a second list. In early September the family gathered to assemble items in their basement for transport to the designated room at Overland Park Regional Medical Center.
“We’ve collected more than $3,000,” says Lisa. “We will continue to raise money and hope to help out NICU families through the Overland Park Regional Medical Center Circle of Hope Foundation to address ongoing needs.”
The Sam and Jack Reeves Play Therapy Room becomes a reality on Sept. 29 when the Reeves family fills it with not only material things, but also the spirit and compassion of two young men who celebrate the gift of life.