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Brook Chelmo and his baby Aria, who has struggled through multiple problems, but has also made amazing progress in just a few months. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)

Rough start for baby Aria

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It started out as a love story, but it's turning out to be a heartbreaking tale.

"After college," Joyce Chelmo explained of her son, Brook, "he moved to Japan doing missionary work and teaching conversational English."

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For those three years Brook lived in Japan and taught English; one of his students was Keiko. They were close friends but never dated -- he didn't date her because of her Buddhist religion, and she didn't date him because students were not allowed to date teachers.

But, his mom said, they did everything together and all the pictures he showed his mother of his travels had Keiko in them.

"I think I fell in love with her before he did," Joyce, of Detroit Lakes, said with a laugh.

After returning to the United States, Brook applied for pastoral jobs and got an internship in California.

After he was settled, Keiko and her brother came to California for business. While her brother worked during the day, Brook served as Keiko's tour guide. It was during those three months here that Keiko told Brook she had loved him for years. He said he couldn't date her though because of their religious differences and she replied, "Give me Bible lessons," Joyce said.

In September of 2008, the two got married in Japan. Brook had to return to the United States for work, and Keiko continued to live in Japan. They worked on her visa, but since 9-11, it's a much longer process.

Last year, they saw each other at the start of the year, and then met again in April in Italy. It was after that trip that Keiko learned she was pregnant.

"Of course we were thrilled because she's our first grandchild," Joyce said.

While pregnant, Keiko received several ultrasounds, a standard procedure in Japan, but nothing caught that the baby was going to have some major problems.

Keiko went into labor three weeks early and Aria had to be taken by C-section on Dec. 18. The umbilical cord was twisted, thin and around her neck. Aria's brain was swollen and bleeding, and she was undernourished from the cord being so thin and twisted. A CT scan showed the bleeding brain, which predicted brain damage.

"Blood is like acid to brain tissue," Brook said.

That wasn't all though.

When she was born, she had defecated and it mixed with the umbilical fluids, so she breathed that in and got an infection.

"So she had an infection in her lungs. She had lack of oxygen so they had to keep her on oxygen and get her up to speed. Then she was born with a circulation problem, a breathing problem, which still persists, and brain damage," Brook said.

The first CT scan taken when Aria was born showed blood on her brain. The CT scan taken when she was about a week old showed two dark spots in the frontal lobe, where the breathing is controlled, and a dark spot on the occipital lobe, which affects vision.

Within about a week, the infection went away, but the brain swelling was still there. She also had apnea, which caused her to stop breathing more than 10 times a day.

"And all of her problems are when she sleeps," Brook said. "When she's awake, she breathes fine and everything else, but when she falls asleep, that when all the breathing problems would happen and the breathing machine would kick in."

"The brain scan and MRI were pretty bleak," Joyce said. "We were pretty much devastated at that point."

An MRI a week ago though revealed a "normal" brain, so the breathing issue must be physiological, Brook said.

"It's horrible" being in the United States when his wife and baby are in Japan, he said.

Brook already had a ticket purchased when his wife went into labor, but trying to change his ticket to several days earlier would cost $3,000 more for the $881 ticket.

"It was a nightmare. I had to wait every single day."

When Keiko did go into labor, Keiko's mother was texting Brook updates while Keiko gave birth. The delay time was about 30 minutes though.

"So all I knew for 30 minutes at a time that my wife was in labor. 30 minutes later she was going in for a C-section. 30 minutes later the baby was being transported to the hospital. Oh the baby might die. Oh the baby might have brain damage, we're not sure if she can survive. All these nightmarish things 30 minutes at a time while I'm still at work, trying to hold together my company and everything else," Brook said.

They try to see each other every three months. For now, they are still working on Keiko's visa and waiting for their baby to get healthy. Brook is planning on taking a leave of absence from his job in California and finding a job in Japan to be with his family.

"My full-time job has become prayer requests," Joyce said.

Thank goodness for Facebook and YouTube, Joyce said, or she wouldn't know anything about her granddaughter, what she looks like or receive the regular updates on her health.

"It's so hard being his mom right now," she said of Brook. "I want to fix my child's problems."

Also because of Facebook, Brook said he knew people who knew people and got hooked up with a doctor from Harvard.

"From my limited experience, he's probably one of the best people in the world to talk to. He's a Harvard professor and his focus of study is child respiratory care."

Aria's infection has gone away, the circulation problem solved itself and the brain damage disappeared.

"We're not out of the woods yet, but it's looking much more positive than when she was first born," Brook said.

"We need prayers for Aria to start breathing," Joyce said.

"The plan now is basically to fatten her up so she has enough calories and everything else so the body can start breathing again," Brook said. "That's the goal."

If in two months that hasn't happened, the doctors will place a tracheostomy in her neck for her to breath.

"They see all of her improvements so they're willing to wait two more months," he said. With Aria, "it's a pray and wait situation."

In the meantime, Joyce is hoping to organize a fund-raiser in Detroit Lakes for her son, who graduated from Detroit Lakes High School, and his family, but she said, she has no idea where to start.

Anyone willing to help organize a fund-raiser can call Joyce at 844-3504 or e-mail her at rjd@tekstar.com.

Anyone wishing to see videos of Brook, Keiko and Aria can see them online at www.youtube.com/user/brookchelmo.

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