Family drama turns to a hopeful chapter

Still three weeks shy of her original due date, the premature baby is home.

She opens her eyes wide, squirms and gives a little wriggle of her mouth at the sound of her older sister Zenia’s voice.

Camila Acedo is 5 pounds, 10 ounces. That’s more than double her birth weight by C-section two months ago.

It will be years before the baby is old enough to understand the drama of her first few weeks. Her mother was terminally ill with cancer when Camila was delivered at Truman Medical Center, and she never really regained consciousness.

Before the mother could be buried, the father was deported to Mexico because he had re-entered the country after previously being ordered to leave.

Suddenly, 19-year-old Zenia was the head of the Acedo family. Zenia eventually will be the legal guardian of her four younger brothers and, now that the courts have interceded, Camila too.

Monday afternoon, Zenia picked her little sister up from foster care and brought her to the family’s new home — two apartments they’ve moved to in Kansas City, Kan. The foster care was necessary until Zenia could be granted temporary guardianship. The extra time allowed the family time to move, after being accepted into a program designed to help homeless teens.

Since their story was first told a few days before Christmas, the Acedos have been overwhelmed by generosity: financial donations, clothing, furnishings for the two apartments and legal expertise.

No one has enveloped the family more than Adrienne Foster, mayor of Roeland Park and executive director of Gov. Sam Brownback’s office that oversees concerns within the Latino community.

Tuesday afternoon Foster flipped open her laptop at the family’s newly donated kitchen table and began scrolling through spreadsheets. Foster is helping Zenia develop a household budget, lists of chores for everyone, meal plans and methods for keeping up with the boys’ homework while still making time for a range of goals, including Zenia earning her GED diploma by May.

Zenia is in charge of the family. But Foster is ready with a stream of tips about burping, diapers, feedings, vaccinations. She’s also been instrumental in handling many other family troubles, like trying to get Zenia’s 2000 Chevy Impala running better.

Foster’s parenting skills are well-honed from rearing five boys with her husband of 16 years.

Next week Zenia will start as a receptionist at a law office, a professional step up from her last job in fast food. And the eldest brother, 18-year-old Fabian, will begin community college.

The younger boys, 12, 13 and 14, are settling into the routine of walking to a new bus stop for their schools.

Family portraits are up on the walls. And the rooms are coming together, decorated with plants given to their mother during her hospital stay, rosaries and pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Zenia knows the boys are grieving, missing their parents. “I don’t know what to tell them,” she said. “Poor babies, my heart breaks for them.”

She still cries sometimes, too.

Their move from a rented house marked the children’s new reality — without their mother.

“When we were still in the other house, I think we kept thinking she’d come back,” Zenia said. “But you can really feel that she’s not here.”

Camila begins to stir, and the boys rush to the bassinette to peer in. Zenia goes to the kitchen to prepare a bottle of formula.

“Camila,” they coo in singsong voices. Their little sister squeezes open an eye.

To contribute, go to any US Bank and request to make a donation to the Zenia Acedo Relief Fund. Or, checks made payable to Zenia Acedo ReliefFund can be sent to US Bank/Truman Medical Center, attn: Fran Smith, branch manager, 2301 Holmes St., Kansas City, MO 64108.