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Survivor's family pledges to 'pay it forward'

Date: 6/23/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- There was little merriment for Chris and Debbi Sanchez last Christmas. Their one-month-old son Christian was fighting the battle of his life at Children's Hospital Boston after being born 15 weeks early weighing only one pound, 10 ounces.

After nearly losing him, the couple left their son, now stable, and returned to their temporary dwelling in Boston without much holiday cheer -- that was until they began to open cards made by Lisa Nettis' sixth grade class at Agawam Middle School.

The laughed and cried while reading through each card, overjoyed that an entire class of students as well as the entire town was pulling for their son's survival.

With the holiday cards in hand, Debbi brought Christian to Nettis' class last week to meet the youngsters who helped make their Christmas bright.

Still on oxygen, Christian has filled out his rosy cheeks, now weighing approximately 10 pounds. He sat before the class on his mother's sturdy lap making little noise while constantly fiddling with his hands.

"Even with all of my nursing background [working at Hartford Hospital], it didn't prepare me to see my child going though all of this," Debbi said, adding that the students' well wishes gave her family hope. "The cards meant a lot!"

She noted that over 140 people were following her son's progress online through The Agawam Lions Club also organized a benefit for the family last May to help offset medical expenses.

"I'm lost for words," Agawam Middle School Principal Marc Costanzi said. "It's great to see our kids want to do the right thing [by others] and to be involved."

Nettis explained that her students followed Christian's progress each day by reading his parents' posts online. She said her students have learned not only the lessons necessary to advance to seventh grade but valuable life lessons as well.

"When I found out that Christian might not make it I prayed for him," Daniel Dobek, a sixth grader in Nettis' class, said. "I really want to do more fundraising [for causes that help premature babies because before] I didn't really think of those people."

Debbi noted the importance of "paying it forward," adding that her family will continue to give back for all the support they received throughout Christian's 102 days in the hospital and since his return home on March 5.

"Every time he laughs, smiles and cries, it's all good [because he's alive and well]," she said.