Marina Marasca with her parents, Nikki and Geno Marasca.
SEMINOLE – On Wednesday, June 19, a 6-year-old girl from Seminole, Marina Marasca, and her parents, Nikki and Geno Marasca, will go to Washington, D.C., and stand before Congress to advocate for funding and pediatric research at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and other children’s hospitals.
While there, the family also hopes to increase awareness for omphalocele babies like Marina and research for the condition. Omphalocele is a type of abdominal wall defect in which the intestines, liver and, occasionally, other organs remain outside of the abdomen in a sac.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year about one out of every 5,386 babies born in the United States is born with omphalocele. Many babies born with omphalocele also have other birth defects, such as heart defects, neural tube defects and chromosomal abnormalities.
Marina’s story began a little over six years ago, when her parents found out Nikki, who was 35 at the time, was pregnant with their first child. The results of blood work and the amniocentesis were not good and doctors recommended the pregnancy be terminated. But the Marascas didn’t abort their child and Marina turns 6 on May 31. She also will graduate from kindergarten, a day some doctors thought would never happen, and if it did happen, they certainly thought she wouldn’t have any quality of life.
After 21 surgeries at All Children’s Hospital, Marina has defied the odds. Today, she’s just like other kids her age. She is in karate working towards her orange belt, takes dance lessons, and competes in cheerleading competitions.
“We fought to get her here. We went through hell and back,” said Nikki. “I just couldn’t believe my obstetrician in Tallahassee when he said it was a death sentence. I just didn’t want to give up.”
During her pregnancy, Nikki travelled from where she was living in Tallahassee to see doctors at All Children’s Hospital. Doctors at All Children’s delivered Marina, who was six weeks premature. It was a rough few months because when Marina was born she was not breathing. After her birth, she was in a coma for five weeks and spent 20 months in the neonatal intensive care unit. But even though there were struggles, Nikki knew Marina was going to be fine.
Nikki had been angry about her daughter’s ailments during her pregnancy, though, and nearly lost her faith. She asked her God for a sign that he existed and to tell her that her baby was going to be OK. The very next day Nikki says she got that sign she was looking for when the results from the amnio showed no signs of any other type of genetic abnormalities. They were all clear.
“I asked God for a sign and knew it was meant to be,” she said. “It was a long battle, but paid off. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again. I would go through the heartache, the tears.”
Nikki believes what her daughter has been through has made Marina who she is.
“She is a phenomenal little girl,” Nikki said. “She is very loving and kind.”
Marina still has two or three more surgeries ahead of her and in the next month will be going to the plastic surgeon to get a belly button. But, Nikki says, Marina knows she is lucky to be alive.