Why We Named Our Baby Boy after St. Joe’s

The Angel Family

Monica Angel describes her pregnancy last year at the age of forty as an unexpected miracle. That’s because she and her husband had been told that they could not have biological children.

Eight years prior, Monica and Ryan embraced the opportunity to welcome the first of two little girls into their lives through adoption. Nina joined their family in 2014, and then, to their surprise and delight, Emmi Grace became theirs in 2015. 

Because she was considered a high-risk pregnancy due to her age and gestational diabetes, Monica needed to be carefully monitored. She put her trust in a place that had come to mean so much to her family, especially because of the care and support they received at St. Joe’s during one of the most difficult times of their lives – her daughter Emmi Grace’s battle with a very aggressive brain tumor.

Monica recalls the whirlwind months after Emmi Grace became part of their family.

“It certainly wasn’t our plan to adopt another baby so quickly after Nina, but it was clearly God’s plan,” shares Monica. “We were incredibly busy, but we also felt incredibly blessed.”

The young parents noticed Emmi Grace seemed exceptionally fussy and sometimes had trouble keeping anything down. Initially, they assumed she was just colicky, but as Emmi Grace became increasingly more miserable, Monica felt something more serious was going on. A trip to the pediatrician proved her intuition to be frighteningly correct. While not evident to the naked eye, Emmi Grace’s head circumference had grown exponentially since her last checkup. And the soft spot in her skull that was typical of most babies her age was anything but. Her pediatrician wanted to move quickly and directed the family to head directly to St. Joe’s.

Monica & Emmi Grace

“We went to St. Joe’s immediately,” explains Monica. “It’s our hospital. It never even crossed my mind to go anywhere else.”

Monica’s family has deep roots in Tampa – and deep ties to St. Joseph’s Hospitals. Both Monica and her husband Ryan were born at St. Joseph’s as well as her dad and sister. Her grandfather was an orthopedic surgeon there and her father-in-law is a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at St. Joe’s Women’s. Most of their families were born at St. Joe’s and many of Monica’s family had worked there. Monica knew it was the only place she wanted her daughter to be.

Emmi Grace was admitted and scheduled for an MRI the following morning – and the results changed the family’s world forever. Emmi Grace was diagnosed with a very aggressive brain tumor called AT/RT.  Treatment options were extremely limited, but it was clear to Monica and Ryan that Emmi Grace’s doctors were doing all that they could to explore all options and offer any and all potential solutions. 

“Everyone there treated us with such kindness and compassion, and their commitment to Emmi Grace’s care was unwavering. Unfortunately, her tumor was just too aggressive,” says Monica. “She died only two short months after her diagnosis.”

As heartbreaking as the loss was for Monica and her family, she is convinced the medical team at St. Joe’s gave them more time with Emmi Grace.

“They never gave up on her – and that was huge. When your baby is only on this earth for 5-1/2 months, getting an extra two months is truly a gift and I am so grateful that St. Joseph’s gave me that.”

After Emmi Grace’s death, Monica and her family combatted their grief through action.  First, they started the Emmi Grace’s Angels Foundation (now called Cure Kids’ Cancer NOW) to fund research designed to treat kids’ brain cancers, especially AT/RT, to send kids with cancer “Home for the Holidays” in honor of Emmi Grace’s birthday, and to educate about the truth of kids’ cancers.

Monica with her daughter Nina and her son Joe

To give back for all St. Joe’s did for them, Monica and Ryan became enthusiastic and generous supporters of the Foundation’s various charitable initiatives including the Heroes Ball and the Philanthropic Women of St. Joseph’s. But when they found out last year, she was pregnant with a little boy, they knew there was something more they wanted to do.

“Since my pregnancy was high risk, there were definitely days we worried. But the doctors at St. Joe’s were on top of everything and their expertise and reassurance meant the world to us.”

Their son Joseph was born happy and healthy at St. Joe’s this past November, continuing the family tradition, and Monica says the decision to name him after St Joe’s was an easy one.

“I’ve always loved the name and St. Joseph is also the patron saint of adopted fathers. But really, it was the phenomenal care Emmi Grace and our whole family received that solidified it for us – one of our favorite nurses in the PICU was even named Joey! St. Joe’s isn’t just a hospital, it’s the way our community heals, and I am proud my son’s name honors such a special place.”