LOCKPORT – One day in 2001, when Elena Winters, then 9, was home recovering from a ruptured brain aneurysm, she called for her mother, Kim Winters, because the angels were singing too loudly and she couldn’t sleep, Winters said.
Elena’s words took her mother aback, Kim Winters said.
“We went to church regularly but we’re not an angel family,” Kim Winters, of Lockport, said. “I tried to rationalize myself out of it.”
“Elena’s Angels” is featured in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen: 101 Inspirational Stories about Hope, Answered Prayers, and Divine Intervention,” which was released Feb. 4. This is the second time an “Elena” story has appeared in the popular motivational series.
Two years ago, Kim Winters wrote about her experiences as a round-the-clock caregiver for “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers: 101 Stories of Love, Sacrifice, and Bonding.” Although many years have passed since the angel incident, Kim Winters felt the time had come to share it.
“It’s a story about hope,” she said. “It’s not just about us alone in the world. Even though life throws obstacles in our way, there are individuals in our lives that can lift us up. If you look, the signs are there.”
Not until Elena, now 22, was 5 years old did her mother know this daughter was a primordial dwarf; she had mistakenly assumed Elena, whom Kim Winters adopted from Korea when she was 21 months, was simply small for her age. Kim Winters’ oldest daughter had been premature so she thought Elena just needed some time to catch up.
In addition to the small stature – Elena is just 37 inches tall – this rare subtype of dwarfism can bring a slew of vascular and endocrine problems, Kim Winters said, and that has been true for Elena, who suffers from both.
Following the rupture, Elena spent three months in the hospital and another month at in-patient rehabilitation before returning home to complete her recovery, Kim Winters said. Elena’s medical professionals said that Elena might experience hallucinations while her brain repaired itself, something her mother had witnessed firsthand during Elena’s fever-induced delirium, she said.
However, Elena was past the crisis stage; she spoke with conviction, Kim Winters said.
“She was learning how to be 9 again. It had not occurred to her that she could ask them to let her sleep,” Kim Winters said. “So I gave her suggestions on how to quiet them down.”
As Elena continued recovering, these child-sized angels remained in her room, loudly singing Elena’s favorite hymns. It was, Kim Winters said, a very different experience than the fever-induced imaginings of Elena’s recent past.
“This was more than cool,” Kim Winters said. “It was reassuring to know that she had this kind of squad or cheering section or protection, whatever it was. She had been through a roller coaster of recovery. She survived multiple brain surgeries and procedures after the rupture. She had stood on death’s door yet she was saved from walking through it. Her details were so specific. Who makes up kid-sized angels?”
Recounting the story helped Kim Winters, too. A writer, she has several young adult fantasy books in progress, blogs at kimwinters.blogspot.com and leads a monthly teen writers group at the Lockport Public Library.
She spends most of her time, as she stated on her blog, as Elena’s “healthcare manager, chauffeur, personal assistant, activity coordinator, advocate and cheerleader.” Kim Winters also is Elena’s personal chef, as Elena can only eat “kidney friendly meals.”
“I don’t have a lot of time to write,” said Kim Winters, who occasionally feels frustrated at her inability to carve time for her own projects, “so I was grateful that someone felt it was worth reading on that kind of platform. I hope people are inspired by it. Elena’s my inspiration. For her, the glass is always half full. She lifts us up.”
Elena no longer recalls the angel incident. She now has moyamoya, a progressive neurological disorder caused by artery constriction in her brain, Kim Winters said. Last year, Elena’s kidneys failed, so Elena now receives twice-a-week dialysis treatments and is on a transplant list awaiting an adult kidney, Winters said.
So what happened to the angels?
“One day they were gone,” Kim Winters said. “They told her they had to help another child, that she could now do this on her own, that she was fine. And she was.”