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Faith, Hope, Charity

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After their son was born with a congenital defect, Laura and Jorge Posada decided to dedicate their lives to helping others

Living a charmed life from atop the world and expecting their first child, Laura and Jorge Posada were the very definition of a “super couple.” She was a successful attorney who had worked in modeling and acting, and he was the starting catcher for the World Champion New York Yankees. But with the birth of their son, Jorge Luis, their world changed. He was born with craniosynostosis, a condition where the sutures between the bones in the skull fuse prematurely, causing a growth disturbance that typically manifests into an unusual head shape. After several turbulent years of hiding their son’s affliction and his multiple surgeries from fans and friends, the Posada family rose to the occasion, embraced their reality and began reaching out to others by founding the Jorge Posada Foundation, a nonprofit that brings awareness to craniosynostosis and provides emotional guidance and financial assistance for families in need whose children are affected with the condition.

Moved to shed even more positive light on overcoming adversity, Laura and Jorge teamed up to co-write the recently released The Beauty of Love: A Memoir of Miracles, Hope and Healing, an honest, heartfelt autobiography about the challenges they faced and the sacrifices they made to allow their son to live a healthy, normal, love-filled life. Loyola University New Orleans will host a discussion and book signing with Laura on campus outside the J. Edgar and Louise S. Monroe Library when she graciously returns to her alma mater on Thursday, October 14, at 6 p.m. New Orleans Living couldn’t be more proud of this wise and fierce woman for stepping up to the plate and sharing her story, a testament to the true power of the unbreakable human spirit.

Laura, you and Jorge hit a home run with The Beauty of Love, an emotional account of your ordeal with craniosynostosis. I’m surprised at your raw honesty.

Yeah, that’s the comment I hear from everyone that’s read the book. It was a little scary for me to say some of the things that I said in the book, because you care that people are going to judge or get the wrong impression of you. But that’s the way things happened, and the only way to make a story impact people is to say how you really felt. And I think people will get that honesty, and it will drive them more into the story.

This is a book you don’t want to put down. I read the whole thing in one day! You were on top of the world when you discovered you were pregnant, and that wasn’t necessarily the news you wanted to hear.

That’s precisely the part I was a little scared about, because being brought up Catholic from a Latin family, you’re raised to get married, have a child, be a good housewife, and I didn’t necessarily have it in that order. Also, it wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to become a housewife, a mom. For me, that was a failure. So I wasn’t happy, and eventually I had Jorge, who was born with craniosynostosis. I thought maybe I was being punished for not wanting to be a mother in the first place.

You came to terms with the pregnancy, but when your son was born, something just didn’t look right about him to you.

Yeah, I had finally accepted everything and thought “OK, I can do this, just get a nanny, it will be fine,” but it was like you were trying to get up and you’d get punched down again, and each time you go down lower and lower. And this time, there was no fix, there was nothing I could do about it. It was something I couldn’t just walk away from. It was staring at me right in the eye, every day, every second. I would think I’d wake up from this nightmare, and he’s going to be fine, but that never happened.

And you mostly hid this situation from everyone, including your friends, the Yankee fans and the media.

When you’re used to succeeding at pretty much everything, you are embarrassed, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Also, you don’t have an explanation for it. You don’t know why this happened to you. So the more people you tell, the more questions you’ll get, and I didn’t know the answer. Now I do, but in the beginning, it was a big “I don’t know,” a big uncertain future. I didn’t know what craniosynostosis was, how to deal with it or what to expect—I didn’t even know that he was going to make it out alive. I lost contact with so many people, because I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I didn’t feel like anyone could help me. I was always the one helping people out, so I never knew how to ask for help.

After writing this book, did you and your husband find that allowing others to see your vulnerability made you stronger?

Yeah. I think it would be easy to fake things. It’s harder to show your true colors, at least for me. You can hide anything behind a smile, but it’s important to give people a chance to really know you and understand how you got to where you are. We could have stayed quiet, but that wouldn’t have helped anybody, not even ourselves.

Although this book is written about your specific experience with craniosynostosis, it can help anyone facing any adversity, medical or otherwise, which turns out to be all of us.

Yeah, everybody has a challenge, their dark moments, it doesn’t matter who you are, there’s going to be a time when something’s going to hit you and this book will help you handle those situations. It will show you how to look for help, stay positive, how to never lose hope, and how to triumph over anything you might be facing, not only craniosynostosis.

Your son has taught you so much about life. How did you and Jorge find the courage to be honest with your son about what he’s endured, and how does 10-year-old Jorge Luis handle the responsibility of being a role model for children born with craniosynostosis?

It took me one look into his eyes when he was born and that was it—my life changed forever, because for the first time I started thinking about someone else other than myself. That’s when I learned what true love is, and that’s why the book is The Beauty of Love. We never wanted to hide things from him because we thought it would make him stronger to know he had to deal with this and survive. If he can survive this, he can do anything and accomplish anything he wants. So that’s why, even when he was 7 months old, I would sit there like an idiot and talk to him the night before all his surgeries and explain things to him; when he was 1, 2, 3, 4, every time he was having surgery. Obviously, he doesn’t remember, but it was just something I had to do. And I think he understands that it’s important for people to realize that he’s OK, that even though he’s had this condition, he’s normal, he’s fine. When we have events, he always gets up onstage and tells the audience, “I have this condition, but I’m fine and thank you for your support,” and that’s what parents want to hear.

The attention that Jorge gets has made his little sister, Paulina, who was born completely healthy, slightly jealous, right?

Yeah, she gets a little upset sometimes. She doesn’t understand why he gets the foundation and all this attention, but we went to Hawaii and she got sick and was throwing up, and I explained to her that that’s what being sick is like. We try to make it special for her and involve her. Last gala, she got up onstage and said, “I got hurt, too. I got a little boo-boo and got stitches at the hospital!” She now understands that we’re not giving preference but that he’s what gave voice to us starting the foundation, and it’s a thing we do as a family.

People will enjoy reading about the courtship between you and Jorge, especially how his version of things was a little different than yours! [Laughs] I know in law school, you were the smart, beautiful party girl with the level head that all the guys were in love with, so I’m not surprised that Jorge had to relentlessly pursue you too!

[Laughs] I think what they liked is that I didn’t really care! Honestly, I didn’t care! I just wanted to have fun, travel, meet new people. I wasn’t willing to change for anybody; I was always going to be me. If I was dating a guy and he didn’t like it, too bad. Next! [Laughs] I wasn’t trying to be mean or anything, it was just how I was. And as soon as I saw that Jorge laughed at everything I said and he didn’t want to change me, that was it. I mean, what else do you want? He likes me just as I am, so that’s perfect, because after a while it’s not so much about being in love, it’s about having a friend that likes the same things you do and someone you can get along with. So I think that’s how he won me over! [Laughs] And there was a reason why Jorge saw me when I was 16 and he remembered me 10 years later. There must be a reason why he saw me on TV and then he went out that night and he saw me again. There must be a reason why he had that obsession with marrying me. Like, there had to be something there.

Without you two, we wouldn’t have the Jorge Posada Foundation, which provides mentors, emotional support, and in some cases helps to underwrite initial surgeries, but one of its biggest roles is to create awareness of craniosynostosis. And while pregnant women are informed about complications such as Down syndrome, never is craniosynostosis mentioned, which affects one out of every 2,000 babies.

Never. I was never even slightly warned that there may be the possibility of something being wrong with Jorge. I had all my tests, checked for everything. It was never a question, especially for two healthy, young, athletic people; it never crossed our minds. The most important part of what we’re doing is raising awareness, because if we don’t educate people, then the condition will go unrecognized, and these children will go on to have brain damage and other consequences if it’s left untreated. We do medical conferences; we created this pamphlet that shows things to test for. As much as I can prevent parents from hearing, “Oh, he just has a weird-looking head,” or like they told me, “It’s just the forceps,” I will. We have had an overwhelming response from people around the world, and I think we’re making a difference in this area and I’m proud. When the Yankees went to the White House, President Obama talked about us; that’s a big deal for the president to mention the job you’re doing.

That’s amazing! And you’ll be at Loyola soon for a speaking engagement and book signing for The Beauty of Love and Fit Home Team, your book from last year that centers on family exercise and eating right.

I’m really excited to visit; I haven’t been there for a while. Certainly I learned many lessons at Loyola. I got there when I was only 17 years old from Puerto Rico—I had never lived by myself—so I grew up there with friends and school, and I had many experiences that shaped me and certainly helped me handle what happened with Jorge. I’ve never given a speech in front of students like that—I’m a little scared. I’m going to have to figure out what all the cool words are now so I don’t bore them! [Laughs] It’s really an honor for me to have been invited.

The foundation has hosted some fabulous galas and events, and on Halloween there will be a 5K run/walk in New York City and then the Celebrity BaseBowl Tournament on November 7 at Chelsea Piers. Will any of the Yankees be at the tournament?

Yes, the BaseBowl tournament will be a fun event for everybody. We’ll pair up celebrities and teams with cranio kids. Jorge’s teammates always support us and show up. Even though some of his teammates now weren’t there through all the surgeries, they still know about it. We gave every one of them a copy of the book and some of them are reading it and they’re super excited. It’s nice to have that support because they have so many games and travel so much and for them, sometimes it’s a pain to attend these functions, but I have to say that for us they’ve always been there, and I really appreciate it. It’s awesome, and I think that shows a lot about Jorge, how much they love him and support him.

You’re not the only one in your family bent on helping others. Your sister, Dr. Jane Mendez, is an extremely innovative breast surgeon who has helped so many women, many of them underserved and unable to speak English. I have to mention her for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She is an amazing woman!

No, forget it—my sister is amazing! She went to Harvard, Mount Sinai and Sloan Kettering, and she’s one of the best breast cancer surgeons out there. She’s in Boston right now; she’s a board member of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She travels to give conferences. She’s been published in I don’t know how many journals, she’s dedicated 100 percent to her patients, and that’s a beautiful thing. Personally, I’ve dealt with so many doctors that don’t have that bedside manor, don’t know how to talk to people, and she’s the opposite. All her patients love her. She’s sacrificed much of her personal life to be where she is. I don’t think I could have done what she has done, and I’m so proud of her. I swear, she knows a few words in every language! I’m like, “How do you know that?” and she’s like, “Oh, I like to learn a few words so I can talk to my patients, like ‘pain,’ ‘good,’ ‘bad.’” She’s a doctor who really, really cares.

So look into your crystal ball: Will the Yankees be headed to the World Series by the time this article is out?

Listen: I have to say yes! I just have to! You always have to think positive. They did it last year, they feel they have the team to do it again, and they just have to stay healthy and avoid injuries and hopefully they can take number 28. That would be awesome!

-CHRISTINE FONTANA