GAIL WHITE A heart for fatherhood sparks a quest to adopt
This will be a special Father's Day for Brian Rozzi of New Castle. It will be the first time he has celebrated the holiday as a father.
Brian didn't wait the usual nine months to hold his baby. His journey to fatherhood has taken more than 20 years.
It is a story that touches the heart in more ways than one.
"I lost a baby girl in 1978," Brian said. "She was stillborn." The memory still saddens him.
"We had the room all decorated, new furniture. And came home to an empty house."
The loss destroyed the relationship with his girlfriend. Brian delved into his work as owner and operator of Dark Horse Fitness on New Castle's North Hill.
"For 20 years, I was a workaholic," he confessed.
Heart attack: In January of 1998, his life began to change. A heart attack stopped him in his tracks.
"I realized that nothing I had accomplished in my life mattered," he said, rattling off numerous powerlifting awards.
In November 1998, a second heart attack, followed by quadruple bypass surgery, brought a complete change.
"During my surgery, I went into respiratory distress," Brian explained. "I felt like I was drowning, and I kept fighting and fighting to get to the top because this little girl was at the top."
He woke up from surgery determined to adopt a baby girl.
Brian knew the regulations about a single male adopting a baby girl. But the desire became a consuming fire within him.
"It became so powerful," Brian said. "She became my whole reason to fight to live after my surgery."
He called more than 200 adoption agencies in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. "Impossible" and "never" were the responses he heard. One agency suggested that he would have a better chance of success if he were homosexual and sought assistance from lobbying groups.
A find: After a year of searching, he found an agency in Pittsburgh that gave him hope -- the possibility of a child from China.
After six months of paperwork, with a picture of a baby girl in his hand, Brian was scheduled to go to China.
Days before his departure, he received a call from the Cleveland Clinic, where his heart records had been transferred. He needed surgery right away.
"There was never a decision in my mind," Brian said. "I was not going to surgery."
The doctor told him the flight could kill him.
"I'm not going to die before I get that baby in my arms," Brian responded.
In China, Brian was warned that the baby may not go to him because Chinese babies do not have much interaction with men.
"I don't know how to explain it," Brian said, beaming. "I just knew she would come to me."
Hunter Marie put her arms around her new father and never let go.
"It was like she had been waiting for me like I had been waiting for her," Brian said, smiling a proud-father smile. "Like we were both home."
Child's condition: After they returned home, Hunter had a temperature of 106. At the hospital, the doctor informed Brian that she had a severe bladder infection. If it had gone untreated for much longer, it would have reached her bloodstream and Hunter would have died. Brian, risking his own life with his heart condition, had saved Hunter's.
"It was like there was an 8,000-mile umbilical cord," he said. "I knew I had to get there."
There is yet another twist to this heartfelt journey of destiny.
A call to the doctor regarding Brian's heart surgery revealed that there had been a mix-up in the record transfer. The doctor had read Brian's charts from before his bypass surgery. His heart was fine.
With Hunter Marie in his arms, Brian already knew that.