Eleven Scars

June 1, 2011
“Sorry I’m not younger for ya Nicole,” Charlie said after winning a round of disc golf on the Wii. This kind of remark takes one by surprise, for Charlie is typically very shy. He’s just a regular twenty-two year old college student who works part-time at Sam’s Club. Although he lives an average life, “average” isn’t the correct word to describe him. Charlie is six-foot-two, two-hundred-and-fifty pounds, and was born without a diaphragm.

Charlie Cronin was born with a diaphragmatic hernia, meaning most of his organs were on top of his lungs. As a result of this, his lungs weren’t able to develop at the same rate as the rest of his organs. Immediately after being born, he was flown from Appleton to the Children’s Hospital in Chicago, so that a specialized team of doctors could put him on an ECMO machine. This device acted as Charlie’s lungs, helping to oxygenate his blood. At eleven pounds, Charlie was the biggest baby to ever be put on this machine.

As a result of being born with a diaphragmatic hernia, Charlie had to have a fake diaphragm placed in his chest. This diaphragm stretched as Charlie grew, so he never had to get it replaced. “I spent three months in the hospital after I was born,” Charlie explained. He not only had to be monitored because of the condition he was born with, but doctors had to fix his broken collar bone as well. When Charlie was born, the doctors were too concerned about getting him on the ECMO machine, that they never noticed this broken bone. Within these three months that Charlie had to stay in the hospital, he had acquired eleven new scars.

“As Charlie grew stronger, so did I,” Debbie Van De Hey said of her son being born without a diaphragm. After giving birth to Charlie, Debbie was very sad that her first baby boy could die. While he was staying in the hospital, Debbie had some really down days. Her family helped her get through the rough time she had, and she decided that if she had positive feelings, maybe her optimism would somehow connect to Charlie. “I think Charlie and I have a really strong bond between us because of all the things we went through,” Debbie said of her relationship with her son today.

Anyone who doesn’t know Charlie personally would have no idea of the things he went through as a newborn, because of how quiet he is. When around new people, Charlie doesn’t say a word, and even around those people he knows and is used to, he doesn’t speak up much either. “I couldn’t get a word in edgewise as a child, because my Mom talks a lot,” Charlie explained. He blames his shyness on how talkative his Mom is. Although he is very quiet, every once in a while he’ll shock people by saying something funny or sarcastic. When asked to describe himself in three words, he responded with, “Super, sexy hot.” His fiancé burst into laughter after he said this, because she knows how reserved and humble he really is.

Danielle Van Hout has been dating Charlie for six years now, and has been engaged to him for eleven months. Before they started dating, Danielle brought him to a dance at school, and called home an hour into the dance, wanting her mom to come pick her up. She thought Charlie was way too quiet, and she wasn’t having any fun at the dance because of this. To her family’s surprise, Danielle began dating Charlie a few weeks after this incident. “Two of my friends were dating two of his friends, so we were going to see each other and hang out with each other no matter what,” Danielle said, trying to explain why she started dating him.

Just a few months after they started dating, Danielle was in love with Charlie. She’d always have him over to swim at her house, and her Mom began to notice the large scar across Charlie’s abdomen. When she asked Danielle what this scar was from, Danielle had no idea what scar she was talking about. She was completely oblivious to Charlie’s flaws because of how in love she was with him. This lead Danielle to find out about the condition Charlie was born with.

Charlie describes his childhood as “typical”. He grew up with two sisters, one older and one younger, and attended school in the Kaukauna School District. Charlie was the first baby that didn’t develop a disability from the ECMO machine he was put on as a newborn, so he had no trouble participating in sports as a child. The diaphragmatic hernia he was born with didn’t hold him back from playing football, baseball or basketball. In fact, Charlie enjoyed playing sports so much that he put athletics before his academics. When asked how well he did in school, Charlie paused for a minute, and then answered, “Well I graduated in the top 30% of my class, but that’s Kaukauna, so that’s not saying much.”

“I would think you would have found someone more interesting than Charlie!” Debbie Van De Hey said. Both Debbie and Charlie agree that he leads an average life. He gets through each day minding his own business and keeping his thoughts to himself. The story he has hiding behind his shyness though, is one that captivates people.





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