Overcoming the odds

Published 10:40 am Friday, April 29, 2016

“She could fit in the palm of your hand,” said Aaron Rice, the Chesapeake Lady Panthers’ head softball coach and Laura’s father.

“She could fit in the palm of your hand,” said Aaron Rice, the Chesapeake Lady Panthers’ head softball coach and Laura’s father.

Chesapeake senior successful after birth complications

CHESAPEAKE — At just 5-foot tall, Laura Rice is not an imposing figure on the softball field.

But compared to the day she was born, Rice looks more like Andre the Giant.

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When Rice was born three months premature, she weighed just 2.5 pounds and was 13.5 inches long. After her birth, the weight dropped below 2 pounds and she spent the next 60 days in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“She could fit in the palm of your hand,” said Aaron Rice, the Chesapeake Lady Panthers’ head softball coach and Laura’s father.

“There were 13 medical professionals in our room when she was born. There were a couple of times we got calls in the middle of the night to get to the hospital. It’s amazing how they fight to live when they are born.”

Laura was due in October but born in July. Aaron Rice was an assistant football coach at the time and the team was in preseason workouts.

“I kept calling (head coach) Phil (Davis) and telling him I wouldn’t be at practice,” said Aaron.

When Laura came home, she weighed 4 pounds and 5 ounces.

“She was on a heart monitor until she was 6 months old. That goes off at four o’clock in the morning and panic hits,” said Aaron.

“When (the monitor) would work its way loose, it would go off and you’re dead asleep and hear that and that will bring you out of that slumber pretty quick.”

Premature births always run the risk of the child being developmentally delayed or impaired.

But 18 years later, Laura Rice is now a senior at Chesapeake High School and will graduate second in her class. She scored a 30 on her ACT, including a perfect 36 on the reading part of the test. She was interviewed by Harvard University and accepted at Duke University.

She is a semifinalist for the prestigious Yeager Scholarship at Marshall University and is making plans to attend Marshall, Ohio University or the University of Kentucky.

Laura recalls the first time her parents told her about the drama that surrounded her birth.

“I was around six or seven whenever I really understood what they told me,” said Laura. “I kind of think about premature kids today and how hard it is for them and it makes me think how I survived. It puts it all in perspective.”

The height factor isn’t a result of her premature birth. Aaron is 5-foot-6, mother Kim is 5-5, sister Kristin Wine, now 31, is 5-7 and sister Sara, now 22, is just 4-11.

“I’ve never really noticed any differences in myself compared to others. I attribute that to my mom who worried about me when I was little. That made a difference,” said Laura.

“We made a point to read to her and now she is reading all the time. There were times we went to ballgames with our daughter Sara when she was playing and Laura would be sitting there reading,” said Aaron.

Listening to her father talk about how hard she fought to live as a tiny newborn made Laura want to continue that fighting spirit.

“It really does make a difference. I see how hard I fought and I feel I need to fight that hard now to reach my full potential and my goals,” said Laura.

The ordeal made for a more close-knit family. Although Laura admits it might be hard to go away to college and be separated from her family, she knows it is something that everyone understands.

“I think seeing how hard they work for me I see I need to work hard for them. Even if I go away to school, I need to do what will work for me and they see that. I feel I owe it to them to be successful and do well and I want to do that for myself, too,” said Laura.

Now that sounds like a fighting attitude of giant proportions.