Montreal Children's Hospital move like 'losing a home' for Orsini family

The Montreal Children's holds a special place in Lili Orsini's heart — not only because she has worked there for 39 years, but because she and her husband adopted two babies from the hospital.

Jessica Orsini was a patient in intensive care when a hospital employee decided to adopt her

As paintings come off the walls and colleagues keep filling boxes, Lili Orsini says the Montreal Children's Hospital's move to the Glen site is hitting home — her family home.

The Children's, which is relocating on May 24, holds a special place in Lili's heart, not only because she has worked there for 39 years but because it was the connection to two patients — babies she and her husband Aldo Orsini adopted nearly 30 years ago.

"If I had not been here during those years I would never have met my children," said Lili, who is now coordinator for the general surgery department at the hospital. 

"We would never have the children nor the family that we are now."

Adopting Christopher

In the 1980s, after trying to have children for years, the Orsinis decided to try to adopt. They were placed on a list and told it could take up to seven years.

One day a colleague, a social worker, told Lili about a one-month-old patient, who needed surgery for a cleft lip and cleft palate. 

He was waiting to be adopted but when the Orsinis checked with their own social worker, they were told they were too low on the waiting list.

The baby wound up in foster care but it was difficult to find parents willing to accept a baby with a medical problem.

Three months later, the Orsinis got a call about that baby and everything changed.

"Twenty-four hours to get ready, to get a crib, get baby supplies, special bottles for feeding him, clothes, diapers….we shopped until we dropped…and picked him up the following morning," Lili said.

Now the Orsinis had a son named Christopher. 

He would need 10 surgeries in the years to come.

When Christopher was fifteen months old, there was another big change for the Orsinis.

Adopting Jessica

The chief of emergency surgery at the time, Dr. Luong Nguyen, knew Lili wanted children and suggested she go see a baby girl in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The baby was two-and-a-half days old, weighed less than three pounds and had just gone through two major surgeries for two malformations. 

Jessica Orsini, 2 days old, after two major surgeries. This is the first moment her mother saw her. "I became bonded, bonded. It was instant," says Lili Orsini, who along with her husband, signed the adoption papers Christmas Eve 1986. (Submitted by Orsini family)

She was born with 75 percent of her intestines outside of her body and she had a blockage in her esophagus.

Lili discussed it with her husband and decided to go look at the baby through the glass window at the NICU.

"I think if I hadn't seen her it would have been a lot easier to say 'Oh, I'm not doing this' but having seen her, I had no choice. I had to do it…I thought this is what I'm meant to do,"

The Orsinis signed the adoption papers Christmas Eve 1986.

That baby — Jessica Orsini — is now a 28-year old nursing student a Dawson College, who just completed an internship at the Children's and works part-time in the hospital's allergy research department.

"I cannot imagine what my life would be if they didn't come and see me. It's almost inspirational to hear that just seeing me was enough, that was the connection it took," Jessica said.

Extended family

The surgeon who brought them together is now retired but still returns to the Children's once a week for rounds with young doctors and he keeps in touch with the Orsinis.

"After 30 years at the Children's we come across a lot of stories," Nguyen said. 

"Jessica's was one story I (will) remember for many many years, until the end of my life."

His eyes sparkle when he talks about Jessica studying nursing and he insists he did not save her (even though her mother says he did) and says he just helped create the conditions for her to thrive.

"(Dr. Nguyen) is a friend, he's a very good man, he's part of my family," Lili said.

And Lili is surrounded by family at work.

Her son Christopher, now 30, works at the Children's part-time while he studies civil engineering technology at Dawson College.

He and his sister Jessica often pop by Lili's office to spend time with their mother.

"I love my family and I'm very proud to say this is where we grew up, where we came from," Christopher said.

He's taking the Children's move in stride and is more focused on his future in engineering.

For Jessica, who spent more time at the Children's as a patient and wants to work in pediatrics, it's tougher.

"It's really like losing a home. It's not easy…and it's hard to imagine it, not being here anymore," she said.

And Lili understands.

"It was where Mommy worked, where they came to play on the 8th floor terrasse, where they played at the 5th floor library, where they watched movies - it wasn't just a hospital for them," Lili said.

The hospital is home to many family memories that cannot be packed or moved. That's why Jessica says she can't just walk away without somehow saying goodbye to the building.

"I probably would like to take pictures… pictures with my family outside of the hospital because it's not just my story it's our story and I'd like to bring that all together," she said.


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