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Agawam Lions band together for ailing cub

Date: 4/21/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- Five-month-old Christian Sanchez is a fighter.

He was born 15 weeks early on Nov. 23, 2008, to first-time parents Chris and Debbi Sanchez of Agawam, weighing only one pound, 10 ounces. He received three life-saving surgeries during the first 12 days of his life and spent 102 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children's Hospital Boston; he's got one more surgery to go.

Ken Fleming, first vice president of the Agawam Lions Club, is spearheading a benefit dinner for the Sanchez family on May 1 at The Oaks to help them defray Christian's medical expenses.

"I'm hoping for a huge turnout," Fleming said, adding that advance ticket sales have not been promising.

He explained that he chose to create this benefit for Chris and Debbi, fellow Lions Club members, who "would have been too proud to ask [for financial help]."

Chris, a state trooper, and Debbi, a registered nurse at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, took leave from their jobs and lived at the hospital with their son for the first 66 days after his birth.

"The first I was able to come home was in January [2009]," Chris explained. "From Nov. 16 [2008] on everything had to stop in our lives ... [it] feels so much better to be home.

"If you have to live in a cardboard box in a basement to be with your family you'd do it [but] you don't realize how difficult it would be to live somewhere 66 days," he continued. "We were a 10-minute walk from the hospital; we ate in the [hospital] cafeteria and [did our] laundry [there] ... our routine was those areas of the hospital."

Debbi noted that her son came home from the hospital on March 5, one day before his due date. He now weighs seven pounds, four ounces but is still on oxygen and has a colostomy bag, temporarily.

"He's a resilient little boy," Debbi told Reminder Publications while Christian rested on her chest at home. "I think he surprised a lot of the medical staff that he's done so well so quickly. Every challenge that he faced he overcame quickly."

Chris said life has calmed down somewhat now that they're at home. He added that he has time to take a seven-minute shower, while intently listening to the baby monitor.

"I'm right back to normal, other than being a new mom and completely tired but I wouldn't trade it for the world," Debbi said.

Chris said the outpouring of support from family, friends and the Agawam community has been tremendous throughout the entire ordeal.

"The Lions really rallied around us," Chris explained. "We would get cards and e-mails and people would check into his CarePage. It's interesting how [Christian's story] has touched a lot of people."

He noted that The Oaks has donated their facility and wait staff for the benefit dinner, without even knowing Christian personally.

"It humbles us," Debbi said. "We feel grateful and humble . hopefully someday we can pay it forward. This whole process has taught us a lesson in humility, friendship and love and I know we're better people for it."

Chris noted that his son's prognosis is good.

"We were very lucky to have Christian in the first place and miraculously lucky that [the doctors] were able to save him," he said. "I don't take things for granted anymore. It's very easy to take things for granted in the rush of life."

The Benefit Ziti Dinner for Christian will take place at The Oaks, 1070 Suffield St., on May 1 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for children four and under. Tickets can be purchased at The Oaks, Letalien Jewelers, 383 Walnut St., Southgate Liquors, 842 Suffield St., Bob's Barber Shop, 13 Maple St., or by calling Fleming at 786-3054.

To read more about Christian's story visit