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Young mother delivers a miracle

Jennilee McNeill wasn't expected to recover from a severe accident five years ago. She has thrived.

By JAMIE JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 3, 2002


SPRING HILL -- She stood in the bathroom, her hair tucked beneath a purple towel, her belly swollen and aching. She picked up a razor and moved it gently across her legs, wondering when the baby would come.

Jennilee McNeill was ready.

She had bought a new house in Spring Hill, filled her bedroom with baby clothes -- dresses edged in lace, pink booties with satin bows. She had a new bassinet and carriage.

The baby was the missing piece, the only piece that mattered now.

Jennilee, 18, did not expect to get pregnant so young.

But her life had never unfolded in neat, predictable ways.

"She is so stubborn and bullheaded," said her mother, Jeanine, 39. "If they say she can't do it, she will do it. She's defied anything they ever told her."

They told Jennilee five years ago that she would never again walk, talk or breathe on her own, much less have a child.

Jennilee was 12 when a car slammed into her on Spring Hill Drive and knocked her 10 feet in the air.

An off-duty paramedic found her crumpled in the median and cradled her head until an ambulance arrived.

"She did not look like she was going to survive," said Tony Carollo, the Hernando County paramedic who found her. "With little kids like that, they usually don't make it. It's too hard for their system to fight off the injuries."

Doctors at a St. Petersburg hospital told Jennilee's parents that she might not live through the night.

She did.

Jennilee was in a coma for two weeks. Her room quickly filled with balloons, teddy bears and cards from fellow students at West Hernando Middle School.

Jennilee's parents waited for her eyelids to flutter, for any positive sign. Doctors cautioned them that if she lived, she would likely be a quadriplegic.

Jennilee finally woke. Her neck was broken, her spinal cord twisted, her pelvis crushed. She had a hole in her lung, and cuts crisscrossed her body.

But she was determined to heal.

After four weeks, she was strong enough to go home. She remained in a wheelchair for about a year and slowly learned to walk again.

She entered her teenage years relatively healthy.

One afternoon, while at the beach with friends, she met Jarvin Anderson, a high school student in Clearwater. They started dating. After four months, Jennilee got pregnant.

"I was scared to tell my mom," Jennilee said. "I didn't want her to be disappointed in me."

Her mother calmly listened, and they talked about how a baby would change Jennilee's life. She went to bed with questions on her mind. But by the time she woke up, she had decided to raise the baby.

She was worried, as doctors had long told her she could never have a child because her pelvis would not support a baby. Also, she had been taking seizure medication that can cause birth defects. But sonograms showed that the baby was growing fine.

Jennilee started reading baby books, memorizing information about nutrition and child development. She ate vegetables and tried to keep her weight down to avoid problems with her pelvis. And she had long conversations with Jarvin about how they would take care of the child, vowing to spend as much time together as possible.

Jennilee bought a house next door to her mom on Spring Hill Drive with insurance money she received after the accident. She knew she would have all the help she needed from her mother.

The contractions started early on the morning of Sept. 24.

Jennilee's family piled into two cars and drove to Oak Hill Hospital.

She lay in a bed, silver hoops dangling from each ear, hair pulled back in a ponytail.

She curled her right hand around the bedrail and grimaced.

"Ahh, ahh, ahh," she said, riding waves of pain.

Her mother sat on her left, holding Jennilee's hand, chuckling.

"Once they put the baby in her arm, she won't remember the pain," her mother said.

"I'll remember," Jennilee replied. "I can't handle this. Oh, I hate this."

Hours passed, and the baby would not come. The family gathered, read newspapers, napped and talked.

Jarvin held Jennilee's hand.

"I'm a little scared," he said.

"Me, too," she said softly.

Early in the afternoon, doctors decided to do a Caesarean section.

Alexia Marie Anderson -- 6 pounds, 10 ounces -- arrived at 5:05 p.m.

Jarvin sat in a rocking chair next to Jennilee's hospital bed, rocking the baby.

"I'm proud that she's here," he said. "I hope to be a good father."

In the past month, Jennilee has been adjusting to motherhood, her biggest challenge so far.

Firefighters who remember Jennilee's accident have stopped by the house, as they have done since her accident.

"How is our miracle girl?" they ask.

Now, Jennilee points to her new baby.

"We have two miracle babies now," her mother replies.

Jennilee said she will soon will take classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College and plans a career in the medical field.

She spends her days taking care of Alexia.

"She's so cute," Jennilee says. "We'll be fine."

-- Information from Times files was used in this report. Jamie Jones can be reached 754-6114. Send e-mail to jjones@sptimes.com.

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