Anyone that comes in contact with Karen Serva experiences her as pure sunshine. She greets everyone with a warm, radiant smile, whether it is in the rain; at her children’s bus stop; at the Suffolk County Courthouse, in Riverhead, where she works as a court assistant; or in her daughter Caroline’s bedroom at Angela’s House, in Stony Brook, a nonprofit organization that offers 24-hour care for medically fragile children. Serva is the mother of Emily, a third grader, and 5-year-old triplets, “A, B and C”—Abigail, Bridget and Caroline.
Working full-time and raising four children is no small feat. Serva juggles cheerleading, gymnastics, soccer, school and homework, all while working full-time. She is most certainly an impressive mother and woman. All of her daughters are beautiful and unique. While Emily is the fierce little gymnast, Abigail is a free spirit and happy-go-lucky little girl; Bridget is a thinker and wise beyond her years, filled with questions and concern for all those around her; and Caroline is strong, a fighter beyond belief—a beautiful spirit who leads the way and teaches life lessons with every one of her smiles.
Emily is in school full time and occupied with friends and sports. Abigail and Bridget are enjoying life as pre-schoolers, meeting new school friends and playing after-school soccer. Yet, Caroline is faced with a different reality. The triplets were born premature, and while Caroline arrived seemingly the healthiest of the three, due to a medical incident hours after her birth, she suffered severe neurological damage. As a result, she suffers from numerous seizures, remains ventilator dependent and is a medically fragile child requiring round-the-clock medical care.
At three months old, Caroline was transferred to a children’s hospital in Westchester—a two-and-a-half hour journey from the people that love her most—where she resided until after her third birthday. The Servas made frequent trips to be with her, but the travel and distance only added to the enormous heartache. There was another option, though, right here on Long Island: Angela’s House.
More than 20 years ago, Bob Policastro’s own daughter, Angela, was also a medically fragile child who required round-the-clock care. After she passed, he made it his life’s mission to open houses on Long Island to serve children that need 24-hour medical care and their families. He set out to make them “real” houses and not like a hospital, where each child would have a room decorated for that individual personality.
Caroline is happily one of Angela House III’s residents. It is the first home on Long Island with 24-hour medical care for ventilator-dependent children. Angela’s House also provides assistance to chronically ill children living at home and has helped more than 600 families on Long Island in the past year alone.
How do you do it? How do you juggle the needs of three healthy, active children and one beautiful child with additional needs?
I think I do it with a lot of faith. I believe every day that where I am in my life is where I am supposed to be. As far as the day-to-day living, we have to keep a schedule. One of the best gifts has been that Caroline has now been able to come home for visits; she came home for the triplets fifth birthday just last week and for Thanksgiving. That was something we didn’t know would ever happen, and this is due to the graciousness of Angela’s House.
Often when you have a family member with a chronic illness, you can feel isolated or alone. Have you felt that way at times?
It is true that some days you may feel afraid, alone or isolated, yet we have so much support from family, extended family and friends that it is hard to feel alone. We have also met a lot of people through Angela’s House that we have connected with. It has been wonderful meeting other parents that are perhaps facing the things that you are also facing.
What do you find is your biggest challenge?
Feeling guilty about everything. Feeling like you are not doing enough. In reality, I know that I can’t be everywhere and that I am giving 110 percent, but still I judge it as not being enough and always wish that I could be and do more.
What would you say to other moms that feel guilty?
Ha-ha, that’s a good question. I would say unequivocally you are enough. You love your children, and that is all they need.
As a mother, you impress me; as a mother of a child with needs far greater than I can pretend to comprehend, you inspire me. Are there any words of inspiration you wish to share with other mothers or parents specifically about your experience as a mother?
Never give up hope no matter how difficult some days are or what challenges you face. Keep going; tomorrow is another day. Keep persevering.
For more information about Angela’s House or how you can support, visit AngelasHouse.org.