- Associated Press - Friday, December 23, 2016

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Suzanne and Cory Ozbun didn’t realize their baby daughter’s birth would someday have the makings of a modern Christmas story.

At the time, there was only heartbreak and sadness.

Last year at this time, Suzanne was pregnant with their daughter Elizabeth “Ellie.” Ellie was stillborn on Christmas Eve 2015, The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/2i0lawG ) reports.

The past 365 days have brought the family a roller coaster of emotions, and their story now is prompting strangers to perform acts of kindness in their daughter’s name through the website Bless4Ellie.

It’s a story of love, devotion, birth, death, birth again and finally joy.

It begins with an ultrasound.

At 20 weeks, the ultrasound showed that Ellie’s brain wasn’t developing and that she had an extra copy of chromosome 13.

“And babies that have that can die at any point,” said Suzanne Ozbun. “We anticipated that if she was born alive, she would live for only a minute or two.”

Suzanne Steffens grew up in Andover. She graduated from Andover High School in 2002 and went to Kansas State University, where, in 2006, she received her bachelor’s degree in physical science. That same year, she married Cory Ozbun, who had received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from K-State.

In 2007, the couple moved to Overland Park, where she began studying to become a family physician at the University of Kansas Medical Center and he became a minister for Colonial Presbyterian. She graduated in 2011 and now is an attending resident at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Their first child, Samuel William, arrived on May 23, 2014.

And with the anticipated birth of their daughter, the couple kept hoping for a miracle.

“When we got pregnant and we found out it was a girl, it was so exciting,” Cory Ozbun said. “We already had a son. The potential for the whole daddy-daughter thing was so fun. But then, at the 20-week mark, we noticed something was wrong. It would become the first step in a multiple-month process of the hardest season of our lives.”

The chromosome abnormality, Trisomy 13, can cause multiple defects, Suzanne Ozbun said.

And Ellie had them.

“She had significant heart defects and abnormalities with her breathing system, especially with her nose and mouth,” Suzanne Ozbun said.

For 12 more weeks, Suzanne Ozbun felt baby Ellie moving and growing inside her womb.

And the couple kept hoping.

“My hope was to love her, raise her and see her become a kid and adult and teach her to do things,” Suzanne said. “She’s my daughter. She still is. And my hopes for her are the same for my boys.”

Knowing this could be the only chance to interact with Ellie, the couple read to the tiny fetus each night before bedtime.

“We were always hopeful, expectant for a miracle,” Cory Ozbun said. “I know miracles are possible. At some point, I was desperately seeking God for a miracle and at the same time balancing the potential of hurt and death. The situation was incredibly difficult.”

On the morning of Christmas Eve 2015, Suzanne was told that Ellie had stopped moving, and her heart ceased to beat.

“I was mad when I found out she died,” Suzanne said. “I was mad because I felt we were robbed of this holiday. Because I love Christmas and suddenly it would be different forever. I was mad as we drove home to pack up stuff and go back to the hospital.”

The doctors induced labor on the afternoon of Christmas Eve.

Elizabeth “Ellie” Joy was stillborn later that night.

And Suzanne’s anger began to turn to wonder.

“She stayed there with us in the room all through the night,” Suzanne said. “We let her go in the morning. It was hard not to feel grief, and I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but we both felt joy when we saw her. We knew she was going to have some abnormalities, but we didn’t know how that would go. We had this tremendous joy and love when we saw her, and I think God allowed us to feel peace during this time, because I have no other explanation.”

Ellie had the long legs and feet of her daddy.

Her mouth was just like her older brother’s.

She had blonde hair like her mommy.

“I felt that connection to her like I did with the other kids,” Cory Ozbun said.

Brother Sam, who was 18 months old at the time and just beginning to identify body parts, climbed on the bed with his mom and dad and pointed to his baby sister’s face.

“One thing she had that was abnormal was her nose, and surely everyone noticed what was abnormal about her face, but the adults didn’t say anything,” Suzanne said. “And here he comes and the first thing he says is ‘nose.’ He called out the elephant in the room. It was actually one of the most precious things ever. It was just what he knew. Just how she looked. This was his sister, and he knew she was Ellie.”

A week later, the family held a memorial service and Ellie was buried in Johnson County’s Memorial Gardens in Overland Park in Baby Land.

As Christmas Eve neared this year, the Ozbuns wanted to do something in honor of their daughter.

They created a website, Bless4Ellie. They are asking people to do random acts of kindness, things like rake a yard for a neighbor, take dinner to a friend or buy coffee for the next person in line. They are asking people to take a picture of the acts of kindness they’ve received or given and submit it to Ellie’s website.

“There are hurting people all around,” Suzanne Ozbun said. “That’s something I have become a lot more aware of because of Ellie - there are moms, dads, brothers and sisters, grandparents, spouses that are grieving, and their grief doesn’t get recognized or resolved. It comes in cycles and comes back around. It changes and sometimes is most prominent on the holidays.”

Kristen Trumpp of Kansas City, Mo., was one of those who received a Bless4Ellie act of kindness a week ago. Her car was stolen. She received a card with $100 in it from some friends of the Ozbuns’. A few days before then, Trumpp had given some help to a mother who has had some financial needs.

“She needed help with bills and groceries,” Trumpp said. “So we made a Costco run and got all the staples and were able to tell her about Ellie and why we wanted to honor her life. Then, a week after that, my car was stolen. It was overwhelming how friends responded. . To me, God and Ellie are using this to teach me to be the recipient of a blessing.”

Wichitan Jenae Crowley gave blankets to some Somalian refugees who arrived in Wichita on Monday. On their cards, she wrote “#Bless4Ellie.”

The Bless4Ellie action is “a powerful testimony of finding joy in the midst of indescribable grief,” Crowley said. “The timing is providential. We have an opportunity to bless others with love and kindness on Ellie’s birthday (Christmas Eve) all while we are preparing our hearts to remember the birth of another baby born more than 2,000 years ago.”

On Nov. 1, Suzanne gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Nathanael John.

Sam, who is now a year older, is excited to have a baby brother but will sometimes talk about Ellie.

“It caught me off guard,” Suzanne said. “It was sweet he remembered. I said, ‘Sam, do you know where Ellie is?’ He said, ‘Yeah, she is in heaven with Jesus.’

“He knows her birthday is coming up.”

Suzanne’s hope is that people will continue to care for her daughter’s memory “and that her life will mean something, because it meant a lot to us and our friends.”

Baby Ellie, through Bless4Ellie, continues to touch lives.

“She continues to touch more people than I have ever touched,” Suzanne Ozbun said. “There is something compelling about that.

“I hope her life keeps touching others.”

___

Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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