In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving
Dear Lianna Bayan Hassaballa,
Welcome, my beloved child, to our family. Welcome, my beloved child, to this world. The day the Lord graced us with you was one of the happiest days of my life, and it came on the heels of one of the darkest days of my life as well. I wanted to write to you so that you will know why we gave you your middle name, Bayan.
It is the name of your sister, Bayan H. Hassaballa, who passed away on June 7, 2009 after battling lymphoma. She was the oldest of our children and your big sister whom, unfortunately, you will never get to meet. Thus, I want to tell you about her.
She was born to us on December 30, 1996, when I was a second-year student at Rush Medical College. She was a beautiful child, and she filled the lives of your mother and me with tremendous joy. Her name means, “Articulation or Divine Speech,” and it comes from the Qur’an. Just like the day you were born, the day Bayan came to us was one of the happiest in my life.
Bayan was beautiful little baby. Her smile would simultaneously light up the room and warm your heart. I fondly remember holding your sister in my lap, when she was six months old, and studying for my exams as she tossed all my medical school papers all over the desk. I can’t wait, incidentally, when I can do the same with you. As she grew up, she was beloved by everyone she came into contact with, and your aunts and uncles simply adored her. She truly was an angelic presence in our lives. I still remember when she would come into our bedroom – very early in the morning – forcibly open my eyes and say, “Get up, Baba. The sun is awake!” And I would tell her, “Yes, but Baba is not!”
Your mother and I thought Bayan was just like any other child, although we did feel she was a bit clumsy. People would tell us that Bayan seemed a bit wobbly on her legs, but I thought it was because she was, again, clumsy, and some kids are just more clumsy than others.
Then came Minna, your big sister. She was a bundle of joy, energy, and mischief all rollled into one. Yet, right away I noticed that Bayan was not as “firm” on her feet as Minna. It bothered me a bit, but I continued to pay no attention to it. One day, however, I asked Bayan to walk on a straight line, someting any six-year-old could do, and Bayan hardly took one step without falling. Right away, I knew something was wrong.
We took your sister to several doctors, and no one could figure out what was wrong. We did an MRI of her brain, and it was read as normal. One doctor told me to enroll Bayan in ballet, and she will get better. But, Bayan did not get better, and in fact, she was hospitalized for pneumonia. What’s more, Bayan got a great number of infections ever since she was six months old. But, we never thought that this had anything to do with why she was unsteady in her walking.
Finally, we took her to a specialist at Rush, and she made the diagnosis: Ataxia-Telangiectasia. Although your mother and I were devastated, we pledged to continue to treat Bayan normally, and face whatever would come head on. She was six when she was diagnosed, and it seemed that her function began to deteriorate quite quickly after we found out what she had.
He walking became more and more difficult, and by the age of 10, she was in a wheelchair all the time. Her eyes steadily lost the ability to track, and so when you would call her name, it would take some time for her eyes to follow her head. She continued to have repeated chest infections, and eventually, we had to give her antibiotics all the time in order to suppress the bacteria. Thanks be to God, it worked well, and she was healthy for a few years (even though she could not walk).
Then came September 2008, when we noticed that she became much more tired than normal: that led to testing which led to finding out she had lymphoma. We started chemo and that led to her getting an infection and passing away from that infection one year ago. I just wanted you to get an idea of what happened to your sister, and to let you know why she is not here celebrating your birth along side all of us.
On a more personal level, Bayan was nothing short of extraordinary. Her presence was so calming, so soothing. Her smile would make the worst day become better instantly. In fact, Bayan would smile and laugh frequently, and one of the things I hated most about her cancer was that it robbed her of her beautiful smile. Bayan was so kind, so gentle, so incredibly dignified. Even though she had significant disability, she would never complain, never whine, and she was never bitter. Even though I knew that it made her sad to see everyone around her walk and play freely, it never ruined her mood or spirit. She was an inspiration for me and everyone else who knew her.
And she was so brave.
She faced so much in her short life on earth: from the blood tests, to the surgeries, to the relentless poking and prodding. Every week, we would give her medications subcutaneously (under her skin), and she would face the needle sticks without even blinking an eye. I looked forward, in fact, to those sessions, because it would be our “special time” together when we would watch a movie together – whatever movie she wanted, because it was she who was getting “sub-Q.”
She always wanted your mom and me to be close to her, and we loved it so much. Just being next to her would make us feel such serenity and peace. Everyone who knew Bayan instantly loved her so very much, and she touched people in ways that – to this day – continue to amaze your mother and me. Bayan was a once in a lifetime gift from God, and losing her to cancer was so very, very difficult for your mother and me. Although we love you and your big sisters very, very much, we will always miss your big sister Bayan. I hope you can understand that.
And so, we wanted to honor you and your sister’s memory by giving you “Bayan” as your middle name. We know you are not “replacing” Bayan. You are uniquely special to your mother and me, and we love you so very much. In fact, by giving you “Bayan” as your middle name, we are showing you how truly special you are to us. But, we just wanted you to know who your sister Bayan was, so you can understand and come to cherish – as we do – your middle initial of “B.” It was the best birthday gift we could have ever given you.