Jewish Journal


December 27, 2007

The Rose Parade’s miracle rider


Marisa Wax with Rose Queen Dusty Gibbs. Photo by Jeffrey P. Cutting/Kaiser Permanente

Marisa Wax with Rose Queen Dusty Gibbs. Photo by Jeffrey P. Cutting/Kaiser Permanente

To most, Marisa Wax looks and acts like a typical 12-year-old; even her pediatrician, Stephen Watson of Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, admits that when he sees Marisa, he sometimes forgets that she has been poked, prodded, X-rayed, cut into and sewn up again more times than anyone this side of the late Evel Knievel.

Born 13 weeks premature, weighing less than three pounds and suffering from bleeding in the brain and blocked kidneys, Marisa nonetheless fought off a death that would have claimed lesser infants who underwent nine surgeries in their first four months of life as she did.

Since then, Marisa has gone under the knife many more times. Her parents can't keep track of how many surgeries there have been (best guess: it's approaching 20), but they know their daughter still has a shunt in her brain and mild cerebral palsy.

Yet here she is, full of life, acting, dancing and singing in plays and preparing for her bat mitzvah at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

She also will be riding on the Kaiser float in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day.

"Wow! I can't believe I survived everything I survived," she said recently. "I think my strength is to overcome it all, and my will, will take care of me.... It will only make me stronger."

"She is a living, walking medical miracle," said her mother, Bobbie Wax-Levintman.

Indeed. Doctors had often told her and husband, Larry Levintman, that their baby might not make it through that first night on March 7, 1996.

"I was pretty sure she was going to die," Watson said. Yet, that didn't happen, and each day that Marisa survived was another good day, doctors said.

Still, a crisis like this would test anyone's faith. Wax-Levintman suffered the worst.

"I questioned how God could go ahead and do this to someone who so badly wanted a child," she said.

Yet Marisa's recovery has shown her God works in mysterious ways. Today, she counts herself a stronger believer.

"I am amazed at what a fighter she is to overcome it," Wax-Levintman said. "The doctors thought she wouldn't make it, but she's a fighter. She was put on this earth for a reason."

For his part, Larry Levintman wasn't religious. Growing up in an Orthodox community, he never liked how the rabbis seemed unapproachable. So with his daughter, he put his faith in the doctors because he felt they knew best.

But as Marisa has prepared for her bat mitzvah, she has dragged her parents with her to synagogue. As a result, her father said he is more interested in Judaism now.

"I think someone upstairs was watching over her in ways we couldn't, literally," he said.

Marisa said she wants to be a neonatologist when she grows up.

"Being a living, walking miracle, I want to give that gift [of life] I got ... back to others who need it," she said.

But first comes the parade. She said she's excited and nervous but not looking forward to that early morning wake-up call to get to the staging area.

Who can blame a typical 12-year-old for that?

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