The Time Out
I'm going down an elevator to a new stage of life. Nurses just told me that it's time to take my newborn daughter home. Great, I think, before my mind floods with all the things I could possibly mess up over the next forever. Let's just get through the car seat test.
As the elevator doors open, I run into a couple waiting to board. Sorry, I say, as I continue on. Then someone says my name. I look up and immediately recognize two of my co-workers. They're alone.
What are you doing here, I ask.
They tell me a story. They're going to the same floor I just came from. It wasn't their first time.
Five minutes later I, dumbstruck, am no longer thinking about proper use of turn signals. I collect the car seat and return to the hospital room where my wife and mother-in-law wait with my daughter. I tell them the couple's story, and all three of us cry. At the time, I couldn't remember crying in front of my mother-in-law before. When the moment passes, the stress of driving my daughter home has vanished, replaced by calm and guilt.
Sometime later, the couple tells their story again. They want people to know, because there was so much that they didn't.
Two years ago, the Miami HEAT were rolling. In the middle of a six-game winning streak, the team had followed up a one-point win in Toronto, off a Wayne Ellington buzzer-beater, with a rare eight-point victory at Indiana. The playoffs were in sight and though nobody knew it yet, the team was just a few weeks away from reacquiring franchise legend Dwyane Wade.
Just another season in the NBA, but behind the scenes things were about to take a turn nobody would have ever expected, much less planned for.
Eric Glass coaching the HEAT’s 2019 Summer League team
As is customary following a road game in another state, the HEAT's plane didn't arrive in Miami until the early hours of January 11. Eric Glass, now the head coach of the affiliate Sioux Falls Skyforce but then carrying the robust title of Video Coordinator/Player Development Coach, took his usual route back home to Coconut Grove and around 3 AM settled in next to his wife, Ana, who was pregnant with twins.
A few hours later, Ana woke Eric up. Something didn't feel right.
When you're expecting twins, you get monitored a little more closely than usual. With their due date still four months away, Eric and Ana were well into the routine of getting an ultrasound every two weeks, at minimum. The procedure was old hat. They knew what to look for.
Despite the inauspicious start, that particular morning began like many others. Ana called and left a message at her doctor's office, then she drove to AmericanAirlines Arena. When Ana received the return call, Eric was on the practice court working out a player. Go to the hospital, the doctor said. Now.
Upon arrival at South Miami Hospital they moved to a room for yet another ultrasound. Another one of many, was the hope. But as the technician wordlessly moved the probe around, they both saw the difference. 'You saw her face, right?' Ana asked once they were alone. 'There's something wrong, there's something off.' For the next five minutes, they searched. She was probably going to have to be on bedrest for a while, Ana thought. They had always told her that was a possibility. Eric offered comfort as best he could, but his face betrayed him.
"You're kind of holding out faith that it wasn't that," he said. "You didn't want to admit it to each other. I pretty much knew. I didn't want to say anything. I was hoping that it wasn't that, that I didn't know what I was talking about, but it didn't work out that way."
When the doctor returned, she confirmed their feelings. There was only one heartbeat. One of their children would be stillborn. Odds were nine in ten that their other son could come in the next day or two. Eric and Ana held out hope that days would become weeks or months, with chances of survival exponentially higher protected from the world in utero. Eric went back to their home and brought their tv into the hospital so they could watch Netflix. He brought in plants, fresh clothes and a pillow topper for the bed. As much as it could be, their room became recognizable as something within shouting distance of normal. They focused their energies on the son that still had a chance. They focused their energies on each other.
A calendar hung on the wall. A vision board to help focus on extending the pregnancy. Every day crossed off was a good day. On the last one they marked, Eric and Ana had been watching the Margot Robbie-starring I Tonya when Ana asked if they could press pause for a minute. They never hit play.
Twenty three weeks and 0 days into the pregnancy, Ana was admitted into the hospital. Six days of labor later, Cash Glass was born at 1 pound and 7 ounces. Kicking and screaming.
January 11, 2018: Eric and Ana are admitted to the hospital
January 17, 2018: The day Cash is born
Eric Glass didn't always want to be a coach until he always wanted to be a coach. His senior year of high school in Newport Beach, he volunteered to coach a youth flag football team. He got so sucked in to the job he sent friends out to film games of competing teams so he could review the VHS tapes at home. This led him to helping out with basketball teams, and he found his career path. He knew he was a talented enough player to catch on with a Junior College team, but that was a dead end. The goal was coaching, wherever that took him.
After earning his Masters in kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton, where he was a men's basketball graduate assistant, and catching on with UC Irvine as a video coordinator, another coach who happened to know some HEAT staffers recommended that Eric send in his resume for an internship. As it turned out, Eric had a number of random connections to the HEAT and only the HEAT – 'dumb luck' he calls it.
"On my first day, [Erik Spoelstra] told me, 'We don't know if you're any good, but if we had one more person calling about you, we were going to lose our minds,'" Glass said.
Ana moved to Miami from Ecuador with her mom and her sister when she was nine years old. She taught herself English with a dictionary and copies of The Babysitter's Club in her school library. After graduating from Florida State University, Ana joined the Heat's Premium Services Department as a part-timer. Thirteen years later, she's the Director of the department.
Before he got the job, Eric had to interview. Everyone waiting for an interview waits at the AmericanAirlines Arena reception area. While sitting there for a couple of hours in June of 2010 – he got there early – Ana walked by. 'Wow,' he thought, 'Who is that?'
Eric made a mental note that day to introduce himself. Months later, he spotted her eating popcorn in the back hallways of the arena before a game. I need to know who this is, he remembers thinking. So, Eric walked up, said hello, and introduced himself. When Ana extended the box of popcorn, offering him some of her snack, he promptly refused, mumbling something about staying in good shape.
"She probably thought I was weird," he says.
"Yes. I did," Ana says. "I just said, ok, more popcorn for me…"
The awkwardness worked as an icebreaker, however, and they struck up a friendship. A few years later, after a couple of HEAT championships, they started dating. If you took out all the walls in the arena they could shout to each other from their desks, but they almost never bumped into one another at work. Same workplace, they never had to navigate the pitfalls of an inter-office relationship. In 2016, they married.
Soon after, as it does for many couples, the topic of children came up. Ana knew what she was getting into marrying a coach. He travels, and the work is both time and life-consuming. They make the most of the time they have when he's around.
They tried to plan for an offseason baby so they could have plenty of time to spend together. That didn't work out, but soon they would have more time together than they had ever had before.
Three days after Cash was born, Eric and Ana are in a room together, alone.
Cash had been whisked away into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at South Miami Hospital, a world neither of them knew much of anything about, moments after birth. The Glasses had been told, ad nauseam, that the NICU was like a rollercoaster. Neither of them had thought much of it during the first two days. Every dour statistic about Cash's chances had come their way to the point where they didn't want to hear them anymore, but 30 percent was 30 percent, and that was before considering significant developmental issues. Their son's first two days on earth had gone as well as they could have hoped for.
Today, they understood what everyone meant. Yesterday the hospital had told them to go home and get some rest. Parents need sleep, too, and there's only so much you can get curled up in hospital furniture. While they were eating breakfast together this morning, the phone rang. The hospital usually waited to deliver good news in person.
The doctors had told the Glasses that due to the risk of bleeding in the brain, they didn't want to touch Cash until three days had passed. When they couldn't get a feeding tube to stay it was discovered that Cash's esophagus and stomach weren't connected. Corrective surgery would eventually be necessary once his body had a chance to mature. But on the morning of January 20, Cash's stomach was expanding rapidly. It was getting air from his lungs. Surgery was happening today.
In the room where they wait, neither has much to say. Eric, as private an individual as you'll come across, sits writing a journal entry on his phone. With nothing to do but wait, his thoughts wander the dark places of his mind. Is this it? Is he going to make it? Ana is on her phone, too, but she scours the internet, searching medical terms like tracheoesophageal fistula, searching for stories that might give her hope. They want to reassure each other, but neither can offer certainty. Only hope. They're sitting in a hospital room as sterile as any other, they've already lost one son and the second is fighting for his life.
"Other people at that point are trying to make you feel better, but really there's nothing anyone can say to make you feel better," Ana says. "You're just trying to get through the day."
There was one person. Jewel Smith, wife of NBA player JR Smith, had recently brought her daughter home after she was born five months premature. HEAT assistant coach Juwan Howard had played with JR years before in Denver, so he offered to put the two families in touch. Eric declined, but Ana sends a text. That same day, she and Jewel spoke on the phone for two hours.
Ana is in the room searching for stories not only for hope but for relief of the feeling she hadn't been able to shake: guilt.
"As a woman, I felt like not being able to have a full-term pregnancy made me a failure." Ana says. "You wonder what could I have done different."
Jewel Smith is the only person Ana reaches out to during surgery, because Smith made her feel normal. Your son is in that room, you're in this room, and it's not your fault. "It's just biology", Ana says.
With the minutes crawling by, Eric and Ana hear a knock on their door. When they see who it is, hearts sink.
'Oh my god,' Ana thinks, losing her breath. 'They sent the priest.'
False alarm. The priest had just heard about what was happening and sought them out to offer support. Breathe. For three hours nobody else would join them, per their request. The next person they saw was the surgeon, red and sweating and pregnant herself.
"Your baby's a fighter. He did great."
All three, doctor included, begin to cry, but not before they got a few smiles in. As the surgery ended, Cash had punctuated the event by peeing all over the surgeon. The shroud of darkness was lifted.
"I'm not very religious, but something in my body told me that after he got through that surgery, he was going to make it," Eric said.
The next day, Eric and Ana hold their son's hand for the first time.
January 21, 2018: Eric holds his son’s hand for the first time
Surgery was a blessing. During the surgery the doctors found that Cash's stomach had inflated so much it had perforated. Had they waited on the surgery, even another couple of hours, he might not have made it. Timing made all the difference. Now Cash had a feeding tube and while a sense of security was far too much to ask for – the TE Fistula Artresia was such a rare birth defect, and coupled with severe prematurity the hospital had trouble calculating a new survival rate – the Glasses could at least try and settle in for the haul. South Miami Hospital was to become their second home.
A home that was always beeping.
While doing their best to make the room feel like any child's room should feel, full of books and photos and aided by the small revelation that they could buy and bring in their own bed sheets and eventually clothes for Cash, the machines were always there. Oxygen monitors. Heart monitors. Every sound meant something different, but the sounds determine what are Good Days and Bad Days. "You can't even imagine how those machines make or break your day," Eric says.
It's not until Day 26 that Ana gets to first hold Cash. With all the machines the simple act of picking up a baby takes a team of nurses to keep all the wires and connections in line. Eric, left to watch due to the sheer complexity of it all, grits his teeth with jealousy as he takes photos. Ana texts those pictures to some close friends and a day later one of those photos arrives on a canvas frame. It's from Jewel Smith.
"She understood the importance of holding your baby for the first time," Ana says. "Other people were excited for me, but she understood looking at your child through plastic for a month before you could hold him."
February 12, 2018: Ana does kangaroo care for the first time
Nurses, especially primaries like Dayami Fajardo and Jenessa Alvarez, were the first line of defense, there for the babies when the parents were away, and there for the parents in their worst moments. This is a positive space, Fajardo would tell them. "No negative, no crying around the baby. All that, you leave outside my doors." Babies sense all of it.
Within a week of Cash's birth, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, a true believer in the power of group energy, passed out rubber wristbands with Cash's name printed on them to every HEAT player and staffer. That same week Spoelstra would visit, and he had no idea what to do.
"I was walking on eggshells. I didn't want to sit on the chair, I didn't want to breathe," says Spoelstra, who was at the time expecting his first child.
"Aww, come on," Eric says, urging Spoelstra to put on the gloves and hold Cash's hand.
Their son may have been about the size of a fist and the machines may have been beeping, but the Glasses did everything they could to normalize the environment. The next time Spoelstra visited, along with assistant coach Chris Quinn, he entered the room clapping his hands, fired up, telling Cash how he was going to beat the odds.
"Mommy got mad at me for over stimulating you," Eric writes in their NICU journal. "But come on mom, boys will be boys. We are just having fun!"
The nomenclature that makes up the foundation of HEAT Culture permeated the experience. Eric was a coach, after all, and he practiced his boss' preaching. The goal was one percent better every day. Eric would staple a For Competitors Only T-Shirt where Cash could see it. When Rodney McGruder visits he tells Cash, 'he looks tough as shit.' Okaro White was traded right as he planned to visit, but as soon as the All-Star Break hits he returns to Miami to see Cash. The HEAT's player development program had never had a younger indoctrinate.
Support is felt in many ways. Assistant coach Dan Craig calls regularly asking for their takeout dinner orders. Bam Adebayo writes Cash's name on his sneakers. Flowers filled the Glasses house. HEAT General Manager Andy Elisburg tries to visit, twice, and both times the Glasses have to call and tell him to turn around because Cash was having a bad day. Not every family has people on the way.
A few days after members of the team start visiting, Eric and Ana visit a funeral home. Following the birth Eric held Cash's brother, Dylan, and shared a few moments with him. But with Ana under the effects of heavy anesthesia she wasn't able to do the same. Everything happened so quickly, she was never afforded time to grieve. They handle Dylan's arrangements, and take the time.
A few days later, Ana returns to work.
Around the same time, Eric wanted to rejoin the team. Spoelstra resisted, telling Eric to take all the time he needed, but they worked out a plan that would keep Eric from long road trips. Cash was getting strong enough that he didn't need his parents watching him all day, every day. Hospital staff, including many not assigned to Cash, would often stop in just to say hello and check in. But every morning Eric and Ana would get their coffee and see their son, and every day they would return after work, possibly for a third time after dinner. Everyone knew them. The workers at Starbucks. At the cafeteria. If Eric flew with the team and didn't get in until after midnight, he would stop in before going home. Every night, they read to him.
April 5, 2018: Cash goes through physical therapy
And so it went.
Some days were good. Visits from family and friends. Kangaroo Care. Body weight goes up. Heart rate stable. The machines don't beep as much. A few months in, they get to try breastfeeding. Cash does a pull-up in his crib.
Some days were bad. The machines beeped more often. Heart rate drops. Cash has to get shots in his eyes due to a condition similar to what Stevie Wonder had as an infant. Eric and Ana rush in from a dinner after the nurses call to tell them that Cash had ripped out his own oxygen tube. Later, Cash also rips out his feeding tube. Breastfeeding doesn't take, and all the milk Ana had saved up for months pumping eight times a day, every day, either had to be thrown out or donated. Corrective surgeries loomed.
"It was hell," Eric says. "But your only real choice is to be strong. You can't run from it. You have to find a way to push forward."
The routine never stopped. Be there. Be present. Be positive. Complications. Improvements. For 136 days.
There's a quiet moment towards the end of Robert Shaw's semi-fictional USS Indianapolis monologue in Jaws. After detailing the sinking of the ship that delivered the Hiroshima bomb, and the struggle to survive shark-infested waters in the days after, Shaw's character Quint tells of the day that a helicopter came down and started to rescue the men.
You know that was the time I was most frightened. Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again.
June 2, 2018: Cash goes home
As weeks turned into months and Cash's body weight followed an upward trend, the medical staff begins to hint, carefully, that he could soon return home. In late April, under the care of the University of Miami Pediatric Surgery team, he has surgery to connect his stomach and esophagus, and a week later he has another surgical procedure. In between Ana has to visit urgent care herself, at the urging of Dayami, after breaking a finger at the gym, a surprise for Eric as he returned from the team's first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia. But the finish line begins to crest on the horizon.
Then, setbacks. Cash goes in for X-Rays and his heart-rate drops. Code Red. Home is delayed a week. Then his blood sugars are low. Three days before his next return date, Cash gets sick and has to get a spinal tap. Another delay. Every time the Glasses get close, the universe pushes back. All they can do is keep waiting.
"I was at the point where I was like, if you guys don't let me take him home I'm going to just take him right now," Eric says. "I was completely irrational."
On June 2nd, about three weeks before Eric leaves for Sacramento and Las Vegas to head the HEAT's Summer League team for the first time, the day comes. Expecting a little excitement after such an elongated stay, the Glasses arrived at South Miami that day only to find that hardly any of their regular hospital staff was working that day. No tears. No celebrating. They picked Cash up and drove home at 15 miles an hour, like any new parents.
Eric had made a pact with his son not to touch his beard until they all came home together. Finally, he got to shave.
July 7, 2018: Ana and Cash watch Eric coach at Las Vegas Summer League
As it turned out, just as it does for most parents who go through the NICU, the lack of fanfare was appropriate. Going home is a victory, but it wasn't the finish line Eric had daydreamed of in the months-long lead-up. Those beeping machines, The Good Day/Bad Day machines, some of them would follow them home. The hospital procedures had to continue, which meant pricking Cash's foot every three hours to check his blood sugar or changing a feeding tube that, if not done right, could be catastrophic. Their nurses were a text message away, but now they were full-time parents.
"The first night I asked Eric if we could take him back to the NICU," Ana says, half-joking.
There was plenty to learn, particularly with Eric on the road. How Ana would find sleep for herself, to start. But Cash was home, in his own room, where in a wooden letter block Dylan could always be near.
Elizabeth Simonton, co-founder of ICU Baby, was enjoying an anniversary dinner with her husband when the hospital called. Her foundation had a steady partnership with South Miami, where they would provide meals and supplies to parents too bewildered to consider their own day-to-day needs, but this call was unusual. We have a couple here that may need to speak to someone, said the voice on the other line. Knowing what that meant, Simonton cancelled her plans.
The couple she encountered was scared, confused and living minute-to-minute in the early days of Cash's life, but they were together.
"Sometimes at the time of grief, at the time of trauma, it's difficult to remain positive," Simonton says. "They were always such loving and kind people.
"I felt like I was talking to my friends."
Eric and Ana were too often reminded of an unfortunate truth about NICU experiences. Hospital tours for expecting parents tend to skip over the NICU, it's over there and let's move along, because nobody wants to think about such a thing being necessary for them. Many parents the Glasses included, arrive equipped with little to no information. It's understandably easy for all energy to be poured into the child that needs it, but it's easy to forget about yourselves and each other. The longer the NICU stay, the less of a chance the parents have of staying together.
"When people go through this sort of thing, you really see how it could go either way," Eric says. "There's no staying the same from that. You understand, this could have gone south [for us]."
In diving into each other, the Glasses had the strength to advocate for Cash. Coached by nurses like Fajardo who would eventually become close friends, Eric and Ana came to know what was best for him. They didn't let the NICU just happen to them.
In diving into each other, they're able to give back with their own story, knowing how much it helped them that ICU Baby had people who could speak on what they went through.
In diving into each other, they were able to come back to the surface as a family.
Cash will always carry the NICU with him. He has scars on his torso that will never go away. He has chronic lung disease that may improve some with time, but after he eats he sounds like someone who just smoked a pack of cigarettes. He has regular visits with 10 doctors monitoring his progress. Twice a week, he sees a physical therapist.
He also just turned two. He's happy. He's healthy. Though they sometimes feel guilty about it, Eric and Ana get to worry more normal parenting worries about things like walking, talking and timelines for sending their son to school.
They also get to tell a story with a happy ending. They got lucky, they know, but maybe it's a story that will help some other family when they're alone in a room, confused and searching.
"You can never give up hope," Simonton says. "You have to hold on as dark as the days may be. The days get pretty dark, it can seem pretty lonely, it can seem like the end of the road. If you maintain hope, that is key to surviving the NICU."
The Glasses held on, and now their son will someday be able to tell his own story.
The Miami HEAT Charitable Fund and the Micky and Madeline Arison Family Foundation are making a generous donation to ICU Baby. To learn more and donate yourself, please visit their website at ICUBaby.org or Donate Here.