Andrea Safford, Eagle Mountain mom of three (Bradyn, 3; Angelina, 3; and Cristyn, 1) sits at a table in the corner of the waiting room at Johnson Family Therapy Center in Richardson. We’re here because daughter Angelina is undergoing a new treatment, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, in hopes of honing her abilities to make simple actions (like sitting or crawling) easier for her to do.
I have a laundry list of questions ready for Safford, but before I even get to them, she opens up to me with the details of their life—the good, the bad and even the just plain ugly.
Tears well up in her eyes as she recounts the birth of her twins, son Bradyn and daughter Angelina. Six months into Safford’s pregnancy, she and husband Larry were told that, although Bradyn was healthy, Angelina was not thriving in the womb. Ten days later and only 27 weeks into her pregnancy, they got just a quick glimpse at their newborns before they were both rushed to the NICU. Safford recalls weeks and months filled with uncertainty—and heartache—as little Angelina struggled for life. She describes feeling helpless. “Larry and I just kept asking God to let her come home to us,” she says.
And, one day, their prayers were answered. Angelina was released from the hospital and joined twin brother Bradyn (who was released after only 11 weeks) at home … but not without complications. Safford speaks with a calm, almost serene composure as she shares Angelina’s diagnosis: spastic quadriparesis, static encephalopathy, epilepsy and dystonia cerebral palsy. While in incubation in the NICU, Angelina suffered brain damage. It’s a sobering diagnosis—one that would make any mom’s heart ache.
“Would you like to come back and see her?” Safford suddenly asks.
She walks me into the back room where Angelina is undergoing therapy. The first thing I notice about the 3-year-old is her smile. Like mom’s, it’s contagious. Sandy-blond ponytails bounce as she playfully kicks her legs into the air. She is happy.
Safford looks on lovingly, her motherly pride as immense as Angelina’s Texas-sized smile … and I get a sense that in this moment … all is well.
Although they still have those days, Safford admits, she says life is far less intense. Much to the relief of the entire family, life is delivering better news these days. And Safford is quick to point out, “Good news means less drama.
Less drama also means a little more time for herself—so much so that Safford is taking classes online. “I’m studying to be a nurse,” she says. “I mean I should do something with all the medical stuff I’ve learned through all this!” And somehow, with her easy laughter, I get the feeling she’s never been one to take herself too seriously. Humor, she says, is “what got us through some of our darkest days.” The picture Safford paints of her husband is heroic, and it’s clear their journey together has only strengthened their bond. “When Angelina was diagnosed, one of the nurses told us to brace ourselves—that this is the type of thing that can crumble a marriage.”
But the opposite seems true for this couple. After meeting in high school, the two married and spent a little over a decade enjoying their time as a man and wife—life was uncomplicated and all about each other, says Safford. “We decided that, when it was time to start a family, that was it. Everything would be about them.” These days, she says, their free time is spent with their kids, playing outdoors in the backyard or “15 minutes down the road” at her grandmother’s farm. And as she describes their day-to-day life, I get the picture of a woman who’s content, joyful and wise—one who takes pleasure in matters of the heart. “You find out what’s really important to you. … Everything superficial—there’s just no time for it—it gets left behind. I discovered what I was made of,” admits Safford.
And what is this Texas mom made of? From our bird’s-eye view: true grit—it’s not just for Clint Eastwood flicks after all.