Some have hurdles to leap in quest to become mothers

| Saturday, May 12, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

In homes across Western Pennsylvania, portraits of smiling mothers and their families line living room walls.

Some pictures show families in matching sweaters. Some moms pose, smiling, amid holiday decorations. Yet behind many of the smiles are stories of hardship, fear and ultimately, triumph in giving birth to life's most precious gift.

In honor of Mother's Day, the Tribune-Review shares the stories of four triumphant women.

The McLane Family, Cranberry

Two years after a routine pregnancy brought Dani Jo McLane and husband, Craig, a daughter, she was excited to be pregnant again. The couple could not have predicted how atypical the pregnancy would be.

Nine weeks in, Dani Jo started bleeding. The bleeding persisted, and six sonograms failed to reveal a clue about what was wrong.

"Most people have one sonogram photo. We had more pictures 15 weeks in," Craig, 39, said with a laugh.

Finally, Dr. Richard Scott Guido, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, linked the bleeding to a golf ball-sized malignant tumor on Dani Jo's cervix.

Dr. Robert Edwards, executive vice chairman of gynecologic services at Magee, who treated Dani Jo, recalls just two cases of cervical cancer during pregnancy in the past five years.

They needed to remove the tumor and perform a hysterectomy.

They would terminate the pregnancy.

"We thought that was it," said Dani Jo, 39, her eyes brimming with tears.

Then Dr. Daniel Edelstone, a maternal fetal medicine specialist, joined her team. The doctors said they would help Dani Jo carry to 31 weeks, considered fetal maturity, then remove the tumor.

"Dr. Edelstone told us this could make or break our family," she said. "We had to stay strong and stay together."

On July 26, 2006, Dani Jo delivered Addison, a 3-pound, 15-ounce girl born eight weeks early through C-section. Dani Jo saw her daughter for an instant before the doctors began her hysterectomy.

Today Dani Jo is cancer-free and Addison, 5, is a strong-willed blonde with a big smile who describes herself as "tiny but mighty." She gets along well with sister Ainsley, 8.

"Addison is proud to know she saved my life," Dani Jo said.

The Oliver Family, White Oak

Six months after their long friendship deepened into love, Becky and Rob Oliver faced a challenge that would shape their lives together.

The couple, friends for 15 years, vacationed with friends in the Outer Banks, N.C. Rob, then 21, was body surfing when a wave pulled him high in the air and then slammed him down, snapping his neck.

"A wave brought a piece of his swimsuit up. Our friend pulled him out of the waves. You see it happen and you think, 'He could be OK. It could not be too bad,'" Becky, 39, recalled

But Rob was not OK. He could not walk and would have limited use of his upper body.

The couple married in 1994 and a few years later talked about starting a family. Rob was worried about what he could not do with his children, but Becky quelled those fears.

"She helped solidify what a dad does," said Rob. "A dad loves his kids, regardless. A dad is there for his kids when they need him. All that I can do."

The couple pursued in vitro fertilization. After a third round of treatment, doctor appointments revealed that Becky would have three babies.

On Jan. 30, 2002, in Forbes Regional Hospital, Joshua, Lauren and Chloe arrived one minute apart.

Rob, who works as an advocate at the Disability Right Network, helps the triplets, now 10, with homework and oversees baths. Becky keeps everyone's schedules.

"I tend to be very organized and need to have a plan," she said.

Together, they've created the life they wanted.

The Bowman Family, Baldwin Borough

Kristie Bowman's cancer saved her mother's life.

Marjorie Bickerton, 62, of Clairton had endured her own struggle with breast cancer when doctors diagnosed Bowman, 36, then a newlywed, in 2007.

Having witnessed her mother's courage during eight rounds of chemotherapy, Bowman found the strength to get through four treatments.

"I knew if she could do it, I could do it," said Bowman.

The disease brought them closer.

"I told her about image. A lot of women feel badly because breasts are so important to self-image," said Bickerton, a retired nurse who worked at Hillman Cancer Center. "It's not about breasts; it's about who you are."

During treatment, Bowman underwent genetic testing that revealed she carried the Braca 1 gene, which made her susceptible to ovarian cancer. Doctors suggested that Bickerton be tested for the gene. The results showed that she was a carrier.

While removing her ovaries and uterus, doctors discovered Bickerton had stage 1 ovarian cancer. Patients with ovarian cancer often don't exhibit symptoms until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. The discovery saved Bickerton's life, she said.

Bowman and her husband, Jim, went on to have Benjamin, 3, and Joshua, 6 months. Bickerton still gives Bowman advice, but now it's about motherhood.

"She says, 'It's all about the babies. You make decisions now for the babies,'" Bowman said. "She's right. I don't want to miss anything."

The Keller Family, White, Fayette County

Each Mother's Day, Chrissy and Ryan Keller make sure families with children in neonatal intensive care units at five Western Pennsylvania hospitals get cards with their children's handprints and footprints.

The Kellers know the importance of such gestures to help parents get through unimaginable times. They lost their first child, Emma Marie, in January 2008 at 5 months old.

Chrissy, 34, was 28 weeks pregnant in August 2007 when she began vomiting and experiencing body pain. She delivered Emma two days later at Magee. The baby weighed less than 2 pounds.

Chrissy had experienced pre-eclampsia, a condition characterized by a rapid rise in blood pressure that can lead to seizures, strokes and organ failure. Mother and baby can die. Only delivering the baby combats the condition.

Within 24 hours of delivery, Chrissy's health improved, but Emma's struggle had just begun.

Weighing only 5 pounds after five months in Magee and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, she died during a surgery to remove blood vessels pushing on her eye.

Each year since then, the Kellers have organized a walk to raise money for pre-eclampsia awareness and research at Cook Township Community Center on the weekend of Emma's birthday. This year's walk is scheduled for Aug. 18. Last year's event raised $5,000. May is Pre-eclampsia Awareness Month.

The Kellers provide toiletry kits for parents with children in neonatal care units at Children's Hospital, Magee, the Children's Home of Pittsburgh, West Penn Hospital and UPMC Mercy.

The couple went on to have their son, Wyatt, in July 2010 after a pregnancy without complications.

"He is happy all the time," Chrissy said.

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