"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars."
— Three years, eight months and 20 days.
|Steven and Cindy Bergren pose for a portrait in 2009 with their son Levi who suffered from Hydranencephaly. Levi died Sept. 10, 2010 at age 3.|
Numerous blessings were packed into the short life of Levi Bergren.
Many others have yet to be unwrapped.
That's the story behind Levi's Toy Drive an annual effort of his parents Steven and Cindy Bergren and others to gather new toys for children at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center.
Born Dec. 21, 2006 with hydranencephaly, the cerebral hemispheres of his brain were absent and replaced by sacs filled with cerebrospinal fluid. Levi's condition was terminal.
Their firstborn child would never crawl, play with Star Wars action figures or build Legos towers.
“We knew people wanted to give him gifts on his birthday so we said ‘Well, he doesn't need anything, let's help somebody else out,' Steven said.
That's why Cindy made a call to The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center before Levi's first birthday.
She was told blankets would be nice. The Bergrens along with friends collected 264 blankets. The next year, the Bergrens were informed that toys would be good. They filled a minivan with toys. The next year they gathered toys again.
When Levi died in September 2010, Steven and Cindy decided to continue sponsoring the toy drive.
“Being in the hospital over Christmas and having such a traumatic event happen in our lives around the holidays, made both of our hearts really sensitive to people who aren't having such a great holiday,” Cindy said.
Presents collected during the toy drive will be unwrapped later this month.
But year-round Steven and Cindy celebrate the gift of life, Levi's life.
Around the bend
“I think I just expected that when we had kids we would have our 2.5 cute kids running around and we'd do PTA and those things that you just do as a mom,” said Cindy, while sitting in the living room of their Edmond home. “I just assumed that was what life was going to be like and it wasn't.”
Then she muted “Toy Story 2” on the TV and looked down at their 23-month-old son Jonah.
“He's a perfectly healthy little boy,” she said, “Because of Levi, I don't take for granted the time that I do have with Jonah because not everybody gets that time.”
True, with Levi, along with the constant need for care came never-ending worry.
“You grieve all the time, never knowing what's around the bend,” she said.
Actually, what was around the corner often wasn't all bad. The parents spent countless hours cuddling Levi, stroking the wavy hair thick as a lion's mane.
Cindy considers that a blessing.
She's had mothers tell her that as their children got older “they wished they could just hold them again.”
“For 3 1/2 years I got to hold him all the time,” she said, “and that was great.”
Happy 5th birthday
On Dec. 21, Levi won't be around to blow out candles or devour cake on what would have been his fifth birthday.
But there are other children who will celebrate for Levi when they open the gifts gathered during the toy drive.
“It's a way to remember him every year at his birthday in a happy sense and for the fact that he's not here any more,” Steven said.
That's because in some ways Levi is still present. Steven and Cindy see it every time someone hands them a toy.
“To see people love on our child by giving to others,” she said then paused, “well, that's very special to our hearts. That is in itself, a gift.”