Birthday cards from far and near bring a smile to Williamstown girl’s face
WILLIAMSTOWN — While many adults understand the need for being distant and canceling events during the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept can still be hard for children to grasp.
Adalynn Gunnoe, 5, of Williamstown is like many children. She likes TV, seeing friends and going places. Gunnoe is also considered high risk if she were to contract COVID-19.
“Adalynn has been our little miracle since day one,” explained Crystal Ambrose, her mother.
Due to pregnancy complications, Gunnoe had to be delivered via emergency cesarean section at 27 weeks old.
“She was extremely small for gestation, weighing under 1 pound and was only 11 inches long,” said Ambrose.
While in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Cabell Huntington Hospital, Gunnoe developed pneumonia and a blood infection, her mother said.
“To give her a fighting chance, she had to be placed on a ventilator a majority of her NICU stay,” said Ambrose. “Every day was an unpredictable rollercoaster.”
Gunnoe spent her first Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in the NICU.
“At times, the doctors remained unsure what the outcome would be, but she proved to be tiny but mighty and kept on fighting through everything,” Ambrose said.
When Gunnoe did finally get well enough and up to 4 pounds, she was able to come home on oxygen.
“She remained on oxygen for over a year-and-a-half due to having severe bronchopulmonary dysplasia,” said Ambrose. “During this time, it was critical we kept her isolated and away from all germs, as her fragile lungs could not take her getting sick.”
Ambrose said that as Gunnoe got older, she could see a few friends and family while the flu and other respiratory viruses were not heavily present.
“Being a 4-year-old little girl, this is difficult for her to understand,” said Ambrose. “She wanted to be around her friends and go places. Her Dad and I kept giving her hope if we could just wait ’til April when the flu should not be as bad, she could start to see a couple friends, but as March came around, we got new test results from her pulmonary doctor that her lungs are actually worse and not improving from the bronchopulmonary dysplasia.”
The next week, COVID-19 hit West Virginia. Due to her weakened immune system and the bronchopulmonary dysplasia, Gunnoe has been completely isolated.
“Being completely isolated has been emotionally devastating to her,” said Ambrose. “Turning 5 is a big milestone, and I kept trying to think of ways to make it special for her without being able to leave the house or be in direct contact with anyone.”
The family had a Doc McStuffins party in their backyard for her, but the entire time, Gunnoe kept mentioning how sad it was none of her friends or family could be there.
“You could see the disappointment in her eyes,” Ambrose said.
Ambrose then got the idea to make a post on the Williamstown community Facebook group about Gunnoe’s birthday, asking for cards.
“Since we have not been able to be directly mixed and active within the community due to our isolation, I didn’t know many people,” said Ambrose. “I was hoping and praying that there would be a couple people out there (who would) see it and send her a card.”
The family did not imagine how far that post would travel and how many letters they would begin to see.
“She loves getting mail, so I figured a few cards would be a nice surprise for her, and then the post began to take off!” Ambrose said.
Many members of the community wished Gunnoe a happy birthday on the post, and over the next few days, the family’s mailbox filled with cards.
“Randy (Gunnoe, Adalynn’s father) and I were blown away at the response, and Adalynn was beyond excited,” said Ambrose.
Gunnoe has received cards and numerous packages.
“We saw Adalynn begin to get her spark of happiness back,” said Ambrose. “She would tell us she couldn’t believe that many people know about her and her birthday.”
Ambrose said that when opening cards, Gunnoe takes the time to look at each sticker, name, location from which it was sent and each special message on the cards.
“The response from the community is something we will never forget,” said Ambrose. “The time and thought that went into each detail on the cards or gift is amazing.”
Gunnoe has received cards from West Virginia, Ohio, Idaho, North Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania.
Ambrose said that in one of Gunnoe’s favorite cards, the family wrote about their kids and pets.
“Each child drew her a picture on the card and signed it,” she said.
Gunnoe even received mail from people’s pets with pictures included, which her mother said she really enjoyed.
“This act of kindness gave our little girl hope again,” Ambrose said.
Williamstown Mayor Paul Jordan signed a proclamation and declared her birthday, Sept. 23, Adalynn G. Day in Williamstown. Along with a copy of the proclamation, she received a key to the city, a piece of Blenko glass and an official letter signed by the mayor.
According to her mother, Gunnoe was overwhelmed with happiness, and she couldn’t believe even the mayor knew about her and wished her a happy birthday.
Williamstown Police Chief Shawn Graham and the Williamstown High School football team and cheerleaders all sent her cards and other items.
“Many times, while reading the cards and seeing the response from our community, we broke down in happy tears,” said Ambrose. “There are no perfect words to explain how much this truly meant to our family.”
According to Ambrose, doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital want Gunnoe to continue to be isolated and homeschooled while the COVID-19 infection rate is increasing.
“We want everyone to know how thankful we are,” said Ambrose. “Adalynn was telling her lung doctor how special her birthday was this year and it was not the ‘party’ we had for her in our backyard with decorations and cupcakes; it was the support and cards from the community. She told him that she got a million cards and a million people are thinking of her and praying for her.”
She received around 130 cards and numerous packages, but to a 5-year-old, it felt like a million.
Gunnoe and her mother are working on putting all the cards in a binder, so she will be able to look back on this birthday in years to come.
Madeline Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org