I remember the day I first laid eyes on Andrea Swanson. I was working the afternoon shift at the county hospital. It was a pretty much routine day. A case of food poisoning, one youngster had got his leg caught in the spokes of his bike. And a few cases of chest pains. Those are typical days at county hospital.

I was just sitting down to my desk when the call came over the P.A. system: "Nurse Pennyington, emergency room, two." I ran down the hallway, my heart beating wildly in my chest, for the voice that made that announcement was not in her normal tone. I knew something was drastically wrong.

I entered the emergency room, and my fears were right, for there lay a small female child with long golden blond hair. I saw the swollen face and the bruises forming on her face and neck. One eye was completely closed, already turning purple and black. Two nurses were bending over her as I ran up. "What happened?" I asked. "The mother is in the waiting room and claims she fell out of a rocking chair", replied one of the nurses.

I stared at the child and I knew this was not a rocking chair injury. The child's legs were swelling and black and blue marks were appearing on her calves and thighs. She was unconscious.

I found out that her name was Andrea, age 4, the only child of a divorcee who had been awarded custody just a few months before. I found out that her ribs were broken also. A patch of hair had been pulled from her scalp. My stomach somersaulted as I stared at the tiny angelic looking child. I had worked in the hospital long enough to know this was a case of child beating. The doctor on duty was summoned, he was the one who called the police department and filed a complaint.

Andrea was hospitalized for three days and I was in charge of her. I sat by her bed, talking to her, I caressed her tiny hand and told her she was not alone. Her mother was permitted, with an officer present, to visit but she only came twice in the 3 day stay.

Andrea was one of the brightest children I've ever seen. When she came to on the first evening and opened her eyes, her eyes were the color of the ocean. A beautiful blue and when she smiled, her smile lit up her whole face.

Being a nurse, working in an emergency room, you see many things. I felt I learned something with each patient. But there was some- thing about Andrea, something that tugged at your heartstrings and I hated to see her leave when she was discharged. I think I was afraid for her. I found she was released to her mother, and that the incident was under investigation.

Two weeks passed and each day I thought about Andrea. Wondering how she was doing, and how things were going for her in her home. I thought about her all the time.

I remember it was on a Saturday around 6:00 P.M. when the ambulance pulled up to the entrance of the emergency room doors and pulled the portable bed from in back of the ambulance. I clamped my hand over my mouth to keep from crying out as I stared at Andrea. My heart went out to the child and I bent down next to her as she was wheeled into the emergency room. A police officer was behind the stretcher this time and I was glad to see him. I wanted to talk to him, but Andrea needed medical attention first. A team of four of us began to work on her. This time she suffered a fractured skull, a broken leg, and one of her front teeth was missing. Again, as before, I smiled at her when she became conscious.

She looked up at me and through bruised swollen lips, said, "Nurse, I'm glad you're here." Her words cut through to my soul. I replied, "I'm glad I'm here too, honey."

Andrea stayed with us for over a week that time. And as before, I dreaded the day she would be discharged and taken home. Only I found out home this time was not to her biological mother, but to a foster home where two other young children lived. A home filled with love and laughter.

Andrea and I talked about her new home and she was looking forward to the change. "Mommy hurts me bad," she said. "Mommy drinks beer all the time and says I'm a bad girl." I assured her that she was not a bad girl and that the new home she was going one would ever hurt her again. She trusted me, she believed what I told her, and I only prayed that my promise to her would be fulfilled.

That little girl won her way into my heart and every spare moment I found, I spent it with her in her new home. Her foster parents were two very nice people who knew the story, knew how this child had got to my soul, and they were more than willing to share her with me. I always picked up something on my visits with her. Some- times a little trinket, sometimes a teddy bear, sometimes a book. My gifts never ceased to bring a smile on Andrea's face. Nor to have her wrap those tiny arms around my neck and say, "Nurse, I LOVE you!"

That was five years ago. Andrea's has a good home today. She was removed from the foster home and adopted. She is being raised as an only child but she doesn't mind. She still has long golden blond hair and eyes the color of the sea. Her second tooth replaced the one long ago that was knocked out. She has a closet full of clothes and shoes. She loves to wear dresses. She is loved, and I believe she has put in her past and in the back of her mind, the mother who gave birth to her.

I still buy her gifts but not as many as I once did. We have other things we do together now. She's in gymnastics and I go to her meets and watch. She is so proud but not as proud as I am. She quit calling me nurse a long time ago. Today she calls me mom, for Andrea lives with me.

Written By: Sharon Bryant

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About the author: My name is Sharon Jean Bryant. I am 56 years old. I am the mother of an angel who was born on my birthday on January 22, 1972. A little boy named Andy Dunbar who left this world on October 24, 1977 when a tree fell on him at the age of five. I have two other children, my daughter, Amy, who I adopted after Andy's death, and my other son, Randy who I had 9 years after his brother's birth.

I live in Alabama now but I am originally from Detroit, Michigan. I have had a website built, "Angels Remembered," in memory of my son and all parents who have lost a child. It is my hopes the site will bring comfort to a weary heart on nights when the hearttugs begin. It is my hopes that every parent out there know, they are not alone, that every eleven seconds, somewhere in the world, a child dies.

I have been writing poetry and short stories since I was in grade school. I have two years of college in creative writing and folklore. I love to write about different things. Mostly true life incidents. I've had the opportunity to travel around the U.S. in my job (food management) and I have met many wonderful people. I've heard many beautiful stories. I store everything in my head, and often dip into my memory for a certain person that told me a certain story.

I work full time and operate my own chocolate shop where I make homemade chocolate candies and goodies. Writing is my hobby that I do evenings. I also knit and I am a wood crafter. I love making patterns on my scroll saw and creating crafts for my shop.

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