About the authors:
Hikaru Nagahama and Stefanie Santana are the parents of Mia Sachi, who was born missing her entire left leg. Hikaru is a businessman working in Tokyo, and is simultaneously pursuing his Executive MBA studies at IE Business school (university) in Spain. Stefanie is a law student at McGill University in Canada. She is currently living in Montreal with Mia Sachi.
About this article:
This is the first article of a series inviting the reader to learn more about life as parents of an amputee child. One of the very first things we noticed when we became parents of Mia Sachi was our very limited knowledge regarding amputations and the difficulties of being an amputee in Japan. There are over 14.2 million amputees (1 person /[SVS1] 845 people) and 3.6 million disabled people (1 person / 33 people) in Japan, but it is uncommon to cross one on the streets. This has created misunderstanding about amputees and even taboo about this condition. We want to change the perception surrounding amputees and create equal opportunities for them so that Mia Sachi and millions of amputees around the world could live in a fairer and empathetic society. These series invite you to follow our journey to turn these goals into reality.
The beginning – By Hikaru Nagahama
In early 2012, while I was working in Bangkok, Thailand, I met a wonderful woman that would later become my wife. Her name is Stefanie. She was an exchange student from Canada studying business. She was assigned to study in Japan, but due to the 2011 earthquake, her school sent her to Thailand.
Some days before Stefanie left back to Canada, we had our first date. Once she returned home, we kept in touch and met in Canada some months later. In December 2013, I asked her to be my wife while we were travelling in Peru.
After finishing her business degree, Stefanie got accepted to McGill University’s Law school. This complicated our plans, as my work was based in Thailand but her school was in Canada. We decided to pursue our goals and continue our long-distance relationship until Stefanie graduated. We got married in December 2014, after nearly three years of long-distance relationship from our first date.
After her first year of law school, Stefanie joined me in Thailand for the summer 2015. It was still the beginning of our married life. One Sunday morning, she came to me holding a positive pregnancy test and a happy face.
This was the beginning of a beautiful adventure and a great blessing from heaven.
A lower limb missing
After confirming Stefanie’s pregnancy, she had regular check-ups in Thailand. I remember being nervous when receiving results, fearing something unusual would be found. I remember having conversations with Stefanie about what would happen if there was something abnormal with the baby; but every time the gynecologist reassured us: “everything looks fine”. I remember being relieved from the bottom of my heart.
During a check-up at 17th weeks, we were curious to learn the baby’s sex. After performing the usual ultrasound, the doctor claimed again that everything was fine and added that it was too soon to determine the baby’s gender. We insisted and although she was annoyed by our request she looked again. This time, her face turned serious. “I can’t see the left leg, please wait here”, she said as she left the room. We did not believe it, we thought she was wrong. We tried to keep it cool, but the uncertainty was devouring us. She came back with the head of gynecology department and we were transferred to another room to perform a 3D ultrasound. With a cold tone, he confirmed: “she is a girl, and her left leg is missing.” We were in shock, completely overwhelmed by the mix of good and bad news.
The doctors explained that an amniotic band caused the amputation. They believed it tied around her left leg, cut blood circulation and caused the amputation. They warned that the membrane could damage other limbs and suggested an abortion. We were devastated and left the hospital with broken-hearts. That night, we went to bed in tears. Our pain was not so much caused by the idea of having an amputee daughter but more about the suffering our little baby endured while having her leg amputated in the womb. We feared potential damages to other limbs too. According to the doctors’ diagnosis, the best option was to abort. If only someone could assure us that our little baby would only miss a leg, what a relief that would be! We decided to get a second opinion and visited a different hospital.
The third obstetrician and gynecologist checked Stefanie 2 days later and concluded that the amniotic band was not the cause of the amputation. She reassured her other limbs were not at risk of being amputated and discouraged an abortion, unless we did not have the means to care for an amputee child. Her diagnostic was a great relief for us. Raising an amputee child was going to be quiet an adventure, but there were no doubts in our hearts that she had the right to live.
Mia Sachi’s birth
Since the diagnosis, there were 25 more weeks until baby was born. Stefanie and I continued with our lives, she returned to school in Canada and I stayed in Bangkok for work. It worried me to be away from Stefanie during so many weeks, especially since this was her first pregnancy. But we had faith that all was going to work just fine. And it did.
In discussing our daughter ‘s name, Stefanie and I were talking to make her name easy to pronounce in Spanish, Japanese and English. Since my wife got pregnant with our eldest daughter, I felt that I had many opportunities to meet inspired people and received many kinds of blessings, joy, and happiness. Then I came up with Sachi which Sachi could state all three meanings in one word in Japanese. My wife liked that pronunciation “Sachi” is very sweet in Spanish and also had the same feeling, so in Spanish, Stefanie would like to name our daughter “Mia” meaning “My” in Spanish. We decided Mia as her first name and Sachi as the middle name.
Regarding a name of our daughter, we decided to name her “Mia Sachi” which means “my blessing” Mia means “my” in Spanish and Sachi means “blessing in Japanese”. On January 25, 2016, we welcomed Mia Sachi. I took a three-week vacation and headed for Canada to be with my girls.
Mia was born on a cold Canadian winter morning. On our way to the hospital, I kept thinking “I am going to become a father today.” I felt anxiousness and pleasure all at once. I recall receiving a message from my company’s president: “When your baby is born, it is going to be the peak moment of your life, please enjoy.” His words were accurate.
Stefanie entered the operation room and I waited my turn to enter. I was impatiently waiting along with my older sister when I heard my name “Hikaru Nagahama” with an awkward pronunciation. I entered the room and found my wife laying on the operation table, with her lower-body anesthetized. Some minutes later, we heard Mia Sachi’s crying for the first time, I looked at my wife and she looked at me. We both knew the adventure of our lifetime had begun.
When Mia was born, I felt an indescribable happiness, I felt that this was exactly “the peak moment of my life”.