SEMINOLE, Fla.—Apnea monitors, feeding pumps and nebulizers are as much a part of Candy and Rick Tremmel's child-friendly home as toys, computer games and baby equipment.
As a medical foster family, Candy and Rick (along with their five children) care for the sickest of sick babies, ranging in age from newborn to about 2 years old.
Over the last 12 years, they have cared for 53 foster children.
“This is a commitment that our whole family has to make,” said Candy. “It takes everybody's cooperation.”
None of the Tremmel children can remember a time when they did not have a foster sibling.
“Our girls (triplets Kayla, Kristin and Amanda) were a little over 2 years old, and Adam was 15 months old, when we took in our first foster baby,” said Candy.
In fact, it was the birth of her daughters that prepared Candy for her role as a medical foster mother.
“The girls were born at 29 weeks gestation,” she said. “Kristin had hydrocephalus, and we were told she would probably be mildly retarded. Kayla had a thin rim of brain tissue and a big open space where her brain should be. Amanda had mild cerebral palsy.”
The girls (who are now juniors at Seminole High School and very active in school and church activities) all came home from the hospital within three months of their birth.
“Taking care of triplets — especially because they had a lot of medical problems — I was on the go all the time,” Candy said. “At 11 months, they started at a special preschool, and were suddenly gone for six to seven hours a day. Adam was such an easy baby. I felt like, ‘There has to be more I can do.’”
That was when an ad appeared in the bulletin at Blessed Sacrament Church, seeking families to do foster care through Catholic Charities.
“I told Rick, ‘I'd like to do that,’” said Candy.
“I didn't know anything about foster care,” said Rick, “but I love Candy so much that if she wanted to do it, I was behind her. Looking back, it seems like something we were destined to do.”
Their first three foster children were perfectly healthy. Their fourth foster child, Courtney, had glaucoma. “We were familiar with glaucoma because Kayla has it,” said Candy. “I knew it was something I could handle.
“Courtney was the deciding factor for us in doing medical foster care. It was so rewarding to take this little tiny baby who had all these problems and watch her blossom in our family.”
The goal with medical foster care is usually that a child will return to his or her family, not get adopted.
“We need foster parents who can work with the biological family and teach them how to care for their babies and become good parents,” said Maureen Barnash, director of the Medical Placement Home Program for Pinellas and Pasco counties.
“Candy shines at this,” Barnash said. “Many parents are initially very angry when their child is put into medical foster care, but no parent has ever stayed angry with Candy.”
“I have never seen Candy and Rick without a foster baby in their arms,” said Millie Coombes, a longtime friend from church. The amazing thing is, their children emulate them. They think it's no big deal to carry these babies around — monitors, breathing equipment, and all.”
“I think that doing medical foster care has been extremely beneficial for our kids,” said Candy. “They've learned a lot about giving and sharing, and they've grown up to be almost without prejudice because we've had different races of babies, different colors, from different ethnic backgrounds.
“Alex (our 11-year-old) has told me that when he grows up he'd like his wife to go to work so he can be a medical foster parent.”
“When you walk into the Tremmels' house, the warmth hits you in the face,” said Paula Masey, whose sons attend Blessed Sacrament School with Adam and Alex. “When one person is running on empty, another one will give them a hug and fill them up again.”
“They give these babies their entire hearts,” Masey continued. “I've seen the pain they go through when it is time for a foster child to leave. It hurts. But their attitude is, ‘It's too bad if it hurts me. I have to do what is right for the child.’”
“It's good for me to know that families like the Tremmels exist,” concurred Mary Surico, a counselor at Blessed Sacrament School. “Their children and other people's children are their priority.”
“My faith has always been important to me, and I was looking for a way to live that out,” concluded Candy. “I hate it when people call me a saint.
“Everybody is good at doing different things. I've found my niche.”
Dana Mildebrath writes from Seminole, Florida.