Khloe Sassman didn’t speak her first word until she was almost 3 years old. Instead of saying “mommy” or “daddy” her first word was Bella, the name of her family’s puppy.
It’s nothing short of a miracle that the tiny toddler with the deep blue eyes is even alive, so every step she takes toward having a normal childhood, her family embraces it that much more.
“It was like having a baby all over again,” said Khloe’s mother, Staci Sassman. “Her dad had to go back to Newton, and we were in Cincinnati and it was just her and I. So I recorded it on my phone so that he could hear it. And he was like, ‘I’m at work bawling like a little baby, I’m so sorry’ and I was like, ‘Don’t be sorry.’ It’s an emotional moment.”
Before Khloe was born, doctors advised the family to get an abortion. They said she wasn’t going to make it and all of the sonograms showed a multitude of problems with the child. She had posterior encephalocele, which is a condition that caused her to have a protruding sac on her head. She also had hydrocephalus, which causes fluid on her brain and a bilateral cleft lip/palate.
“Me, personally I am against abortions,” said Sassman. “They told us to abort her, and I was like ‘NO! Not an option.’ We feel like over and over again God keeps giving us miracles. When I was pregnant with her, they told us the day she was born she wouldn’t make it and that she would die right there.”
The doctors, however, underestimated Khloe. The tenacious infant proved her parents’ decision right by living after being born. She immediately went through a series of surgeries after birth to correct some of her ailments.
More than three years later Khloe is still going strong. She loves Dora the Explorer and Bubble Guppies. Her favorite food is yogurt and, like any little girl, her favorite color is pink. She has a strong affection for her dollies and even plays doctor with them using a play doctor kit, a gift from one of her nurses during her time in an Iowa City hospital. And of course she loves her puppy, Bella.
“I tell my sister all the time, ‘We have come so far,’” Sassman said. “There are days that you get emotional. They actually brought us into the operating room, put us in scrubs and told us, ‘You need to tell your daughter goodbye.’ And we went in there and told her goodbye, but yet we said, ‘Khloe you have got to fight for us. We love you, and if you got to go, we understand but please fight for us.’”
“I couldn’t walk out of that OR. The doctors helped us out and we just fell to the ground bawling. And we kept saying, ‘God, you have got to save our little girl.’
A few hours later the doctors came up and told the family that she made it. To this day, Khloe is exceeding all expectations that the doctors gave her. She still has a few medical issues she is battling. She is losing her hearing, and she was losing vision in both of her eyes before a corrective surgery alleviated some of the fluid on her brain. She takes four medications daily, including antibiotics for which there is no time table for her getting off of. She suffers from what are believed to be silent seizures, ones in which there is no physical movement but the person just seems to zone out and then pop back in as if nothing happened. Khloe also has a surgery next month to have a piece of her hip removed to try and fix her cleft palette.
“Cincinnati tells us she will never be a cheerleader or never be a basketball player,” said Sassman. “But you know what? I think she will. I think that she will show them that she can do it.”
The medical expenses have been a heavy burden on the family, but they don’t dwell on it. They say the support from the community around Jasper County has been amazing. A fundraiser they held two years ago was attended by more than 1,000 people. They have received letters of support from all over the U.S and from Africa to. Malaysia.
“The donations were incredible,” said Sassman. “I remember talking to my daughter one night and saying, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to afford this trip to Ohio.’ We have lots of medical bills and we were sitting there talking away and there was a knock at the door. And a lady says, ‘I’ve been driving by your house. And every time I go by, God keeps saying, ‘You need to stop they need help.’ So she goes here’s my help.’ I didn’t look at the check at all, we sat there and we talked for a bit and then she left. So I opened up the check and it was a $1,000 check.”
Khloe still has a long way to go and she and her family have overcome so much. The Sassman family retains their faith through God, their little girl and the love and support they have received from so many people in the community.
“She’s taught us not to take anything for granted,” said Sassman. “It’s by the grace of God she is still here. I know that she is not there, but I feel that we are close to having a normal 3-year-old as possible.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.